What is Tatau
TATTOOING, TA TATAU in the Cook Islands.
The process of tattooing was known as ta tatau. Ta is the verb, and tatau the effect of the process. Tattoo has probably been taken from tatau, and should not be transposed back as tatu. In Maori the process is ta moko, where the verb is the same, but the noun is totally different.
Implements. The tattooing implement was made from the bone of a bird, and in later years the bone of a cat. The bone was scraped down thin, angiangi, and worked into serrations or teeth. The bone part was tied on at right angles to a wooden handle of teka, au, or any appropriate wood. This instrument was simply called ivi, bone. A short piece of wood as thick as the little finger was used to tap the bone implement. It was called rakau papa orrakau patupatu.
Pigment. The pigment was procured by burning the kernels of the candle-nut under an inverted bowl or ipu of cocoanut shell. The soot was collected and mixed with water. The pigment took its name from the soot, and was called ngarau.
Swab, oroi toto. A piece of bark cloth, paoa, was wrapped round the fourth and fifth fingers of the left hand and used to swab up any blood from the operation. This gave the name of oroitoto, oroi to wipe away, and toto blood.
Procedure. The bone points were dipped in the pigment, applied to the skin, and tapped with the rakau papa. The expert tattooer or tahunga was feasted after the operation was over and paid with presents of food. It was said that anyone could become tattooed, his sub-tribe helping by contributing to the feast. On asking about anyone too poor to provide a feast, the answer was, “There was no man who did not have relatives.”
This article was courtesy of : The Material Culture of the Cook Islands (Aitutaki) by Te Rangi Hiroa