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The tattooers, in order to learn from one another, to have art chats, to discuss prices and perhaps slow payers, had societies or unions in which were degrees and offices, the most favored in ability and by patronage being given the highest rank, though now and again a white man, by his superior magic and force, though no tuhuka at all, held the supreme position.
A shark upon the forehead was in Hiva-Oa the card of membership in the tattooers' lodge, to which were admitted occasionally enthusiastic and discerning patrons of art.
At festival times, when tapus were to some degree suspended, and the intertribal enmities forgotten for the nonce, thousands of men, women, and children gathered to eat, drink, and be merry, and to be tattooed, as one at country fairs buys new dresses and trinkets. It was to these fêtes that the pot-boilers, fakers, and beginners among the tuhukas flocked, fellows half-baked in the furnace of real art, men without much talent, who would make a sitter a scrawl to obtain a heap of pipi, shells, and gewgaws, a few squealing pigs, a roll of tapa, or, most precious of all, a whale's tooth. Like our second and third-class painters, our wretched daubers, who turn out canvases by the foot, though handpainted, these tramps, who, by a dispensation of the priests and a mocking providence, were tapu, not to be attacked in any valley, strolled from tribe to tribe, promising much and giving little. Some worked largely on repair jobs, doing over spots where the skin had been abraded by injuries in battle, or by rocks or by fire. The man who was well dressed in a suit of tattoo, or the lady who was clothed from toes to waist in a washable skin, kept these garments in as good condition as possible; but when accident or the fortune of war injured the ensemble, they hastened to have it touched up.
An artist of the first rank, one who in a Marquesan salon would have a medal of honor, disdained such commissions, but dauber and South Sea Vinci alike often had their work hung upon the line, when they were taken by the enemy and suspended at the High Place before being dropped into the pit for the banquets of the cannibal victors.
It was always of interest to me to wonder how men learned tattooing. Painters, carvers, etchers, and sculptors have material ever available for their lessons. They can waste a vast amount of canvas, wood, copper, or marble if they have the money to spend, but how about the apprentice or student who must have live mediums even for practice?
Well, just as there are Chinese who for a consideration take the place of persons condemned to death, and others who, though it exhausts and finally kills them, enter deadly trades or hire out for war, there were Marquesans who offered themselves as models for these students, and sold their surface at so much an inch for any vile design or miserable execution. I can see these fellows, well covered with tapa, hiding whenever possible the caricatures and travesties that made them a laughing show. These Hessians had no pride in complexion. Their skins they wanted full of food, nor cared at all for their outside, if the inside man were replete.
To analyze thoroughly the meanings of the different designs upon the bodies of the Maoris or upon the canoes, paddles, and bowls, is impossible now. It might be compared to the study of heraldry. Tattooing in the South Seas was a combination of art and heraldry, racial and individual pride's sole written or graven record.
In the Marquesas the art reached its zenith. It was the Marquesans' national expression, their art, their proof of Spartan courage, the badge of the warrior and the glory of sex. In the man it marked ambition to meet the enemy and to win the most beautiful women. In the weaker vessel it was a coquetry, highly developed among daughters of chiefs and women of personal force, and it afforded those who had submitted to the efforts of the best craftsmen opportunities to display their charms in public to the most striking advantage.
It is said that when the law against tattooing was enforced here a few years ago, a number went to prison rather than obey it, but that when it was announced it had been abrogated, the art was already dead. It is kept alive now, except in a few cases, only by the placing of
names upon the arms of the girls. Many tuhukas are still living, but there is little call for their work.
"They were our highest class, next to the chiefs," said a tuhuka. "We looked up to them as you do to your great. They were fêted and made much of, and their schools were our art centers, teaching, besides tattooing, the carving of wood, bowls, canoes, clubs, and paddles. Now we buy tin cans and china plates. Von den Steinen, the German philologist connected with the Berlin museum, who was here ten years ago, copied every tattoo pattern he saw, and in many he found a relation to Indian or Asiatic and perhaps other hieroglyphics and figures of thousands of years ago."
With the ridiculing of it by the missionaries, and the making of it a crime by the missionary-directed chiefs of Tahiti, tattooing vanished there almost a hundred years ago; but here the law against it is dated 1898, though others of 1877 and 1885 prescribed penalties.
The law written by the English Protestant missionaries in Tahiti in 1822 was as follows:
No person shall mark with tatau, it shall be entirely discontinued. It belongs to ancient evil customs. The man or woman that shall mark with tatau, if it be clearly proved, shall be tried and punished. The punishment of the man shall be this-he shall make a piece of road ten fathoms long for the first marking, twenty for the second; or stone work four fathoms long and two wide; if not this, he shall do some other work for the king. This shall be the woman's punishment-she shall make two large mats, one for the king, and one for the governor; or four small mats, for the king two, and for the governor two. If not this, native cloth twenty fathoms long and two wide; ten fathoms for the king and ten for the governor. The man and woman that persist in tatauing themselves successively four or five times, the figures marked shall be destroyed by blacking them over, and the individuals shall be punished as above written.
Of course, the missionary-made king vigorously supported this law. Ellis, a missionary of great ability, who had
much to do with the enforcement of this law, which was in a code with many others, among them one which began, "For a man to work on the Sabbath is a great crime before God," said: "Tatauing was connected with their former idolatry. From the figures we have seen on the persons of the natives, and the conversations we have had, we should be inclined to think it was designed as a kind of historical record of the principal actions of their lives."
With the decline of tattooing here passed very soon the carving of wood and stone and every wrought aspect of racial life and thought. The little wooden and stucco churches, copies of the village chapels of France, replaced the mighty temples of the open air, the High Places; the sawed-lumber cabins ousted the beautiful and healthful houses of polished wood, bamboo, and plaited barks and fibers and glorious leaves. As the final unhealthful and ugliest capstone of the arch of unsightliness reared by the untutored white in Polynesia, the corrugated iron roof glimmers like the scales of leprosy where the rich color of the cocoanut thatch was a sacrifice of appearance and comfort to the trader's style.
Few whites who were cast among the Marquesans in the early days escaped tattooing, and all of us of mature years will remember having seen in circuses and museums tattooed Caucasians, who, having returned to civilization, found their strange visages and bodies a source of amusement to the mob and of revenue to themselves. Now and again our own fair women covet even these exotic and fantastic ornamentations of the savage and the atavistic and aberrant white. I have heard the story of the woman of Honolulu, all white and rich and educated, who had pricked upon her delicate skin a butterfly of exquisite beauty, an exact but artistically executed copy of one of the most gorgeous and rarest of that species. Though the wearer was all white, yet being born in Hawaii, she had a touch of the Polynesian atavism which enriches or afflicts all born and dwelling with aboriginal peoples.
The Lost Path
By ELINOR WYLIE
The garden 's full of scented wallflowers,
Cried out just now of far-forgotten time,
By the knocker's blow that knock I do not dare.
Are simple creatures lying there in cool,
Sweet linen sheets, in slumber like the pool
Will they come down laughing, and unlock the door?
But listen! listen! Surely something stirred
A murdered man who sleeps as sleeps the dead?
Or will my clamorous knocking shake the trees
On the house deep in silence, and no one come