Our culture kind of falls flat on celebrations of personal success and accomplishment. The Marquesans however—and in fact Polynesians in general—have a long standing tradition of recording rights of passage and personal achievement in the skin. These tattoos become a living visual history of each inked individual.
Victoria and I had long known that we would participate in this tradition upon the completion of our first major ocean passage. It seemed congruous in so many ways. The adoption of this beautiful tradition, the telling of our story, and the celebration of this voyage which follows (in some small way) the spirit of Marquesan exploration.
Meeting Felix “Fati” Fii was not unlike meeting a shaman, he held his space with a kind but somehow simultaneously fierce power. The “Imagining” (as Fati put it) was executed in mixed French, English, and drawing. My feeble stick figure was warmly rejected. Fati drew an oval (outlining the area on my shoulder that he would fill with ink) and instructed me to use my imagination. I felt proud when he looked at my drawing and smiled, “Yeah, Je pense, I will recreate this in Marquesan Motifs. Come back tomorrow.”
When I returned at 7am, belly empty and mind clear, Fati presented his drawing. It was exquisite. I couldn’t wait to have it become a part of me. Hours later when he washed the left over ink off my shoulder and held the mirror up I felt different. In investing my skin with this story it seemed that Fati had invested something else. He called it Mana, and I am disinclined to define it differently.
We have tens of thousands of sea miles ahead of us and countless achievements to celebrate. I can’t say for sure that I will continue to write this history on my body in the Polynesian way, but I can’t say that I wont either. Regardless I will have a powerful permanent reminder that these accomplishments deserve, perhaps even demand to be celebrated.