Volume 35 1926 > Volume 35, No. 137 > Tapitapi or the tatooing of females on Santa Anna, and Santa Catalina (Solomon Group), by Henry Kuper, p 1-5
                                                                                             Previous | Next   

- 1

[See also the picture at the end of the previous article]


AT the age of thirteen or fourteen years the girls are considered ready to undergo the operation of being tattooed (tapitapi). It is a painful process and only a small portion of the body or limbs is tattooed at one time. The patterns are drawn and punctured by skilled female artists (wefene-tapitapi). It may be done at any time except when the initiation (maraufu) of young men is being carried on, or when the canoes used during the process of such initiation are being built. At that time the women folk should keep as much as possible in the background of village affairs, so as not to disturb the attention of the spirits whose powerful influence is needed to make the initiation a success.

The girl to be tattooed goes into the forest and scrapes resin or gum from some bleeding place in the bark of the trunk of a tree, a Barringtonia bearing edible almonds, called gatoga, or another one called maramarangali, a tree resembling the wild almond. The gum is black and burns well, and is used for native torches. Having collected enough she returns to her home. Early the next morning she lights the gum and catches the soot in the concave stem of a fresh coconut leaf. The pronounced concave stem of the leaf of a pale-green coconut called niu-marauwa is generally used, it forms nearly half of the frond, and very little smoke escapes. The reason for doing it early in the morning is because the smoke is heavier then and less inclined to rise quickly in the still moist morning air. The reason given by the natives is, however, quite different. This soot the girl scrapes into the half shell of a coconut, and mixes it into a paste with a little water. After three days she squeezes the juice of the fruit of the tree aguru into the paste to thin it and make it suitable for tattooing. She takes this to the tattooing artist and the work commences. Using a small - 2 stick from the rib of a coconut leaf the artist traces one complete pattern and then tattooes the same.

A small two-pointed bone of any seagull (suri na manu) is inserted in a length of reed (ate) and lightly tapped with a small stick made of any hardwood. The black palm (makemake) is generally used, and the stick, irrespective of material used, is called korekore. To ensure a permanent effect, the skin is punctured till the blood appears. After working about an hour or two the completed portion of the pattern is washed with water and afterwards rubbed with the leaf of a certain croton (agofere). This leaf is freshly picked and held over a fire for a short while to make it more pliable.

The operation sometimes causes a slight fever to set in, and should symptoms of this appear, or the pain caused through the tattooing be too great, the work is stopped and is not resumed till both subside.

The start is made with the centre piece (gogoakau) (Fig. 1, c1) on the abdomen, running from the division of the breasts to the navel, the whole pattern across this part of the body being called aobonna (Fig. 1, c); funimaro (Fig. 1, d) crossing the hips, follows next, and then taupito (Fig. 1, c2) and bepe (Fig. 1, e). The last-named can be completed by a quick operator on both legs in one sitting, but generally occupies two. Then follows kaura (Fig. 1, c3) and after that susu (Fig. 1, b) on both breasts. Boroniuwa (Fig. 1, f) on both legs, just above the knees, follows. The tattooing so far accomplished takes about one month or even longer, for the girl must in the intervals assist in household and other duties, and besides this the operation is really painful.

The back of the body is now tattooed, and work is begun with kafa (Fig. 2, j) to be followed by rau-na-bara-bara (Fig. 2, i), berena-rorowagaro (Fig. 2, 1), and rabo (Fig. 2, k), and mamarugu-na-uwa (Fig. 2, m) on both upper legs, and boe-na-uwa (Fig. 2, o) on the back of both lower legs.

This is followed by rari-na-uwa (Fig. 3, n) on both shins, and robou-faga (Fig. 3, p) on both upper arms near the shoulders.

Now the upper chest is crossed with barageimatona (Fig. 1, a) and the shoulders with bau-ni-fagana (Fig. 2,

- i
FIG. 2.
Back of Body and Upper Legs., G—bau-ni-fagana, —kafa, M—ma-marugu-na-uwa, H—geilina, K—rabo, I—rau-na-barabara, L—bere-na-rorowagaro
- ii
FIG. 3.
Patterns on Legs and Arms., N—rari-na-uwa, P—roboufaga, R—eiga, O—boe-na-uwa, Q—kaura, S—baito
FIG. 4.
rorofa on cheeks of mwane-apuna.
- iii
FIG. 5.
Front view.
- iv
FIG. 6.
Back view.
- 3

g). After that geilina (Fig. 2, h) along the spine, and afagu (Fig. 1 c4) in aobonna (Fig. 1, c) across the ribs.

It may be that some girl friend has already tattooed eiga (Fig. 3, r) on both upper arms, and kaura (Fig. 3, g) on both lower arms. The whole is now finished with the tattooing of baito (Fig. 3, s) round both wrists.

The whole process has probably taken from one to three years, or even longer, and the girl, or married woman, is now called maore-ni-ropo, after a brightly-patterned small fish. This is used as a compliment, for a completely tattooed woman is nowadays a rarity. To my knowledge there are only six on these two islands with a population of 530 souls. The reasons for so few complete patterns are various; the trouble is too great—the pain too severe, especially when children are being borne. The pain is the reason most often given, but my belief is that it is the dawning of the new period, and that owing to Christianity and civilisation, the custom will disappear before long.

There are no distinctions in the patterns, and no special times selected for the single or married women or for different clans.

The following is a concise list of the patterns, their positions, and the reason for their names, when known:—

FIGURE 1. a—barageimatona Across upper chest.
FIGURE 1. b—susu The breasts.
FIGURE 1. c—aobonna Abdomen between breasts and and navel.
FIGURE 1. C1—gogoakau Three-lined upright in centre of aobonna.
FIGURE 1. C2—taupito On both sides of c1.
FIGURE 1. C3—kaura Chevrons on outsides of c2, named after the frigate bird.
FIGURE 1. C4—afagu On both sides across ribs, named after native umbrella, afagu; meaning place where same is carried when folded up.
FIGURE 1. d—funimaro Abdomen below navel.
FIGURE 1. e—bepe Front of thighs; named after dragon fly.
FIGURE 1. f—boroniuwa Leg just above knee.
FIGURE 2. g—bau-ni-fagana Across shoulders; named after pattern of ornament out of red and white money, faga, when hung across the shoulders.
FIGURE 2. h—geilina Down back along spine.
FIGURE 2. i—rau-na-barabara Across lower back; named after pattern of leaf of tree barabara
- 4
FIGURE 2. j—kafa Lower back, just above buttocks; named after pattern of belt out of red money.
FIGURE 2. k—rabo At hip bone.
FIGURE 2. l—berena-rorowagaro Curves on buttocks; named after rainbow, rorowagaro.
FIGURE 3. m—mamaruga-na-uwa Back of thighs.
FIGURE 3. n—rari-na-uwa Shins.
FIGURE 3. o—boe-na-uwa Back of calves.
FIGURE 3. p—robou-faga Upper arm; named after armlet of red and white money.
FIGURE 3. q—kaura Lower arm; named after the frigate bird.
FIGURE 3. r—eiga Outside of upper arm; named after small fish, eiga.
FIGURE 3. s—baito Round wrists; named after wristlet of red and white money.

As is seen, the patterns are named after parts of the body, after birds, insects, fish, ornaments, leaves, and even the rainbow. The patterns named after ornaments made out of small white and pale-red shell-money, faga, are, however, most worthy of attention.

The black, even the dark-skinned native, has no use for tattooing, as it will not show up on his skin. He raises weals, or cuts his skin for ornamentation, and it is left to the light-skinned Polynesian to use tattooing for the same purpose. The dark native will ornament his person with light-coloured shells or shell money. Now some of the tattoo patterns are called after these shell ornaments, and I venture to suggest that the Polynesian came after the black or dark-skinned races had already entered into possession, brought with him the art of tattooing, and called some new patterns after the ornaments of the dark races.

There is certainly a great influx of Polynesian blood in these dark people. Besides, only a hundred miles from here are Rennel and Bellona Islands, and Sikiana, all peopled by pure Polynesians. The Polynesian in his last, or westward drift, arrived in these islands and was allowed to mix.

It is not the custom for men and boys to tattoo their faces or bodies, though in later years boys who have been away on ships or working in plantations sometimes return with their faces tattooed with marks as used by natives of other islands, chiefly those of Mala, but that seems to be only a desire to look foreign, or to resemble the more virile Mala boy, who is by reputation FIGURE 2a devil of a fellow.”

- 5

Of course, should a man through inheritance or by his own personal gifts achieve the rank of mwane-apuna, or priest and medicine man all in one, he may get the sign of rorofa, two small fish (eiga) tattooed on his cheeks, a sign that he is sacred (apuna) and in intercourse with spirits (ataro) (Fig. 4).

A few notes are appended on the names and position of the islands and others in their neighbourhood.

Santa Anna (Owa-raha) and Santa Catalina (Owa-riki) are two small islands five miles to the east of the south-east extremity of San Cristoval (Bauro or Makira). Owa-raha is about three and a-half miles long by two miles broad, and Owa-riki, situated about two miles to the south of the former, is slightly smaller. Both are of volcanic origin, and are surrounded by reefs. The population of Owa-raha is 360, and that of Owa-riki 174.

Stewart's Islands (Siki-ana) lie about 150 miles from Santa Anna in a north-east direction. They are a group of five small coral islands forming a lagoon, and have a population of about 150.

Rennell and Bellona Islands (Muava and Muigi respectively) are two islands distant 100 miles in a south-west direction; they lie about 90 miles from the nearest land on San Cristoval. Rennell Island is about 35 miles long by 10 miles broad, is rarely visited, and has a population of about 500 (estimated, as no census has been taken). Bellona Island is situated about 15 miles west of Rennell Island; it is much smaller, and on account of having no anchorage is very rarely visited. The population, which appears numerous, is not known. Both islands rise sheer out of the water to a height of several hundred feet, are of volcanic origin, and densely wooded. They are known to the San Cristoval natives as Owa-raha, and Owa-riki, the names simply meaning “large” and “small” islands.

The names Itapa and Aguari, applied to Santa Anna and Santa Catalina respectively, are the nearest the Spaniards under Mendana in 1568, could get to the names Owa-raha and Owa-riki. The former is now known even to the natives as Santa Anna, the latter to natives and whites as Owa-riki, that name being shorter than Santa Catalina, and, therefore, more attractive.