The advent of Christianity in Tonga witnessed the loss of several indigenous practices such as the practice of tatatau or tattooing. Although the art of tattooing was retained in the nation of Samoa, it was completely erased in Tonga. However, the art and practice of tattooing has been enjoying a revival in Tonga in recent years. This is a result of the work of scholars, researchers, visual artists and tattoo artists such as the two brothers – Carl and King Afa Cocker. Carl and Afa’s knowledge of Polynesian art and culture – specifically the art and tradition of tattooing – has influenced and inspired their approach to reviving the art and practice of Tongan tattoo. All of the tattoos shown on this page are original designs by Carl and Afa and should not be copied or replicated without their permission.
Shown above is a picture of a Tongan Kalia. Artistic skill and astronomical expertise went into building and navigating canoes of the early Tongans, who were among the greatest Polynesian seafarers. Depicted here are some of the vessels used around 1773. Larger war canoes, capable of carrying up to 200 men, had previously allowed Tonga to extend her domain to Samoa, the Wallis and Tokelau Islands, Fiji and elsewhere.
This picture is of a Tongan warrior complete with his sharks’ teeth necklace, a war club and the traditional warriors tattoo. Notice that the tattoo covers half of his body with solid black. This particular type of tattoo was symbolic of defiance and self confidence in the face of the enemy. (1827)
Tattooing designs on this Tongan woman’s arms from 1793 are characteristic of the general simplicity of tattoo patterns for women. In contrast, men in Tonga were tattooed more intricately and extensively, particularly on their trunks and thighs.
This picture shown above is from an engraving of a Tongan man’s thigh. This picture, drawn from life during Captain Dumont d’Urvilles voyage of the Astrolabe, is the only visual account left of a traditional Tongan male tattoo. Captain d’Urville became immortalized later in life for his discovery of the Venus de Milo on Melos….Malo Aupito!