KIRIBATI TATTOOS

 

Extensive body tattoos are not now an integral part of Kiribati life although limited tattooing is still done. The following rare information was compiled in about 1930 and indicates the extensive tattooing that was done in certain parts of Kiribati at this time.

 

           

The tattooing instrument was called Te Wii n Taitai, the tattoo marks being termed Taitai.

The handle of the wii n taitai was made of tarine wood (the wild almond) and the points of sharpened turtle shell.

When tattooing, the wii n taitai was hit with any suitable piece of ba (midrib of the coconut frond), the hammer being termed Te Kai n Oro.

The turtle shell was cut with a large Te Batino (sea urchin) which had previously been sharpened by rubbing it against a stone from the reef known as Te Em.

The wii n taitai was then inserted into a slot in the tarine wood. It was not bound at all with string, but the inserted end was wasted.

The tattooing ink is made from the ashes of the coconut known as Te Wae, which has no kernel, mixed with salt, or occasionally fresh water.

The pattern is drawn by a straight length of Te Noko (the midrib of the coconut leaf) being pressed on the skin.

The ink is put on with a length of Te Noko bent into a triangle.

One side of the triangle is dipped into the ink and drawn along the line already made. The wii n taitai is then hit down with the hammer along the inked lines.

The designs are as follows:

Te Atu Ni Kua
Four feathered lines from the shoulder blades to the top of the thigh, ending on the back of the thighs.
 
Te Kana Ni Kua
Extending from where the Atu ni Kua leaves off to the top of the ankle, going down the side of the thighs and legs.
 
Te Manoku Ni Wae
Extending from the back of the ankle, straight up the back of the leg and thigh to the top of the buttock.
 
Te Moa Ni Wae
Extending from the chest above the breasts to half way down the thighs. Only the ends at the thighs are known as Te Moa ni Wae, the continuation upwards being called Te Kua n Nanoa.

Te Kua N Tarawa or Te Moani Kua is the continutation upwards of Te Atu ni Kua as only the ends at the back of the thighs are rightfully called Te Atu ni Kua.

Te Kuan Nanoa
The continuation of the Moani Wae upwards.
 
Te Nanon Nange
Situated on the inside of each thigh.
 
Te Uba
Ran up the shin bone of each leg, starting at the top of the ankle and going straight over the knee and ceasing at the top of the thigh.

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A properly tattooed man would also have three or four lines running up his foot from his toes to below the ankle. There was always a gap at the ankle, or around. The face was also tattooed and if the man was bald, the top of his head. There was also a necklace line tattooed around his neck.

Women were also tattooed. They had no Te Nanon Nange but instead had a line going right around their legs at the bottom of their riri and known as Te Korea N Riri.

A well tattooed man or woman was termed Aekia and if tattooed all over as Bonotia (shut).

All tattooing consisted of a single or a double straight line with feathers going out on either side, sometimes straight and sometimes bent.

The reason given for tattooing is to beautify the person.

When a man or woman dies and his spirit is wandering on the way to the lands in the west, his part is blocked by Nei Karamakuna who had a face like a bird and pecks out the man's tattoo marks. Should the man not be tattooed the bird pecks out his eyes instead and he has to proceed on his way blind.

There were only tattooed men and no women on Banaba (Kiribati) in 1931: Te Baiti, Na Ewantabuariki and Kabunginteiti.

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Jane Resture
(E-mail: jane@janeresture.com -- Rev. 22nd June 2012)