Wearing their grandmother’s ink
Pushing ink into the skin by hand is surprisingly gentle, the tattooist says.
It would have been a thorn that made the tiny cuts decades ago but these days a needle is attached to the bamboo skewers, Julia Mage’au Gray said.
‘‘I know how deep to push it because I’ve tattooed myself,’’ she laughed.
‘‘It’s certainly less painful than the tap method or the electric needles and it heals faster because the skin is less damaged.’’
Gray and members of Tep Tok Tatu are tattooing women - and the occasional man - who want to reconnect with the marks their grandmothers once wore.
Colonisation and the arrival of missionaries nearly wiped out traditional female tatu [tattoo] in the villages of Papua New Guinea, she said.
‘‘They told the women it was ugly and they shouldn’t wear it anymore.’’
Once strictly the realm of women Gray would tattoo men as a nod to the changing times of modern society.
‘‘We’re reclaiming it then gifting it to men. They don’t get to just take it anymore like they do so many other things.’’
Melanesian women wore the marks as a way to communicate status, family and village ties with the face being the last part of their body to be tattooed.
‘‘Traditionally the marks on their bodies showed their strength which was important when the men of their villages were away.
‘‘Women were - and should be - the strongest. Without them everything fell apart.’’
It was important to place the marks on the body so the person who wore them would feel ‘‘balanced in the world.’’
The women of Tep Tok Tatu travelled to parts of the Pacific, including Fiji, to research the ancient practice of female tattooing.
‘‘You could see the old women still wearing the marks...the missionaries took everything else.’’
On Wednesday, Gem Wilder was being tattooed in Porirua to connect with her Fijian heritage.
‘‘It’s actually not at all painful compared to the other ones I have.’’
Gem Wilder says the traditional ‘‘hand poke’’ method is gentler than the electric gun usually used for tattooing.