Marquesas. Nuku Hiva Matatiki Festival. May 2022

We arrived early May 2022 after 28 days of sailing to the Marquesas Islands from Panama. We enjoyed laying for anchor, relaxing, sleeping, internet, the stores and the breath-taking surroundings and the friendly people of Nuku Hiva. The first of the Marquesas we visited.

These green and beautiful Islands captured our hearts. The drums were heard almost daily from the mountains. As mentioned earlier, 2022 is the year of the Marquesas Art festival, a bi-yearly event where all the Islands present their culture and art to each other. So, there is a lot of practice going on.

Two weeks after we arrived in Nuku Hiva we were pleasantly surprised by two festivals. We were already impressed by the first smaller festival we visited. This one was a week later in honour of their culture ‘Matatiki’. We think the Marquesan’s love festivals and they know how to do it.


Matatiki is the Marquesas graphic art describes the art of sculpture on hard materials, like wood, stone, bone and tattooing (Patutiki) the human skin or Tapa (bark from the bread fruit tree).

Tiki, ‘the first of man’. The earliest expression of Polynesian culture. There are many Tiki images on the Marquesas, ancient in stone or bone and the drawing of Tiki is the basis for many of the lines used in forming the tattoo images. Wiki to Tiki link.

The tattoo art was forbidden around 1880 by the French authorities and the missionaries. This lasted till far in the 20th century. Because of all the sculpture and documentation on tree bark, Tapa, the tattoo art could be brought back to life again. Around 1980 the tattoo art started to flourish again. You can still feel the pride in celebrating the traditional art and the tattoos people are setting. Not only to show their heritage but also to express their individual choices and aspirations.

The first in the slide show are ancient. There is the biggest Tiki overseeing the harbour (modern), there is a marble one from the Island Ua Pou and a wood sculpture. And yes, Tiki can also be a woman

The restaurant, early in the morning
Getting the “Umu Aka’ Traditional wild boar roast out of the ground. Singing while it comes from the ground
Getting out after an overnight roasting of mostly wild boar on hot coals in a ground pit.
Just one more chant before lunch
Umu Aka served.

We were totally impressed by the traditional dance and song (haka’s) and their tattoo art (Patutiki). These are some of the impressions of haka’s we could witness, a 3-day Patutiki art festival in Nuku Hiva. There was also a populair music performance including Miss Marquesas 2022. The Miss pageants are valued in French Polynesia.


It was busy, more than 20 tattoo artists from all over the Marquesas Islands were tattooing from the morning till the evening. We have seen incredible tattoos. Tatoo art is so common that you almost start to feel naked without one. I think most people in Marquesas have tattoos and a lot have many. Pictures below do not show it but most of the three days all tables were full of people who wanted to add tattoos.

All tattoos were done with high respect for hygienic way of working and with very modern ink and equipment. You could really see there is a healthy tattoo industry and this is very alive in Marquesas.

It is fascinating how the tattoos tell the history, heritage and aspiration of the people. It is extraordinary how the tattoos are geometrical straight and divided in parts. In this art, the tattoo lines are all ‘parts of Tiki’s body.” so an arm of Tiki’s drawing becomes a specific line for example, a knee is a bend line etc. Every line represents something and combined tells a story of their ancestors, their status and their aspirations. The Marquesas tattoo art is very specific and even differs specifically from another Polynesian tattoo art. We were very much tempted to also get a tattoo but wanted to wait until we were sure what we wanted. We also thought of coming back the following year. Still no tattoo yet….

Some nice info on the tattoo art: LINK

Some of the spectacular examples LINK

Drawing the design
Traditional tattoo art with hamering in the ink. This was the exception; other tattoos were set in a very modern way with electrical needle.
Almost done with his long project. A month later we heard he became the most tattooed Marquesan, this moment.

Some drawings from different artists that had their artbooks with them, we took some pictures. Lines and ideas we liked or as inspiration for maybe a tattoo ourselves.

Original information from Nuku Hiva

The organizer of this festival has written an informative site about their culture. It is fascinating and beautiful. Children from young get drawing lessons with these figures and forms. It is truly embedded in their culture again.

As I do not want to copy from his site, this is the link. It is in French but when you use the translate function in your browser, it is easy to read, if you need it. This is a very pure site on the Marquesas culture, made by one of the great Patutiki artists of Nuku Hiva and owner of the tattoo training center

The song and dance, the haka’s

As mentioned, we had our eyes mainly on the tattoo art and haka dance. There was more going on, we remember but did not cover for the purpose of a blog. Specifically, the ‘Wild boar imitation in the dance is typical for the Marquesas. The wild boar is the biggest wild animal on the Islands. The bird dance is also verry specific. In the Mana Haka you see the bird dances and answers on it and Miss Marquesa’s 2022 dances it solo.

Drums, big deep drums making an incredible sound
MANA HAKA group on the first day. Doing the traditional ‘wild boar’ dance and there is a ‘bird dance’. Recorded 27 May 2022
Part of a popular song danced by locals and an entrance of Miss Marquesas 2022. Recorded 28 may 2022
Bird dance by Miss Marquessas 2022. Unfortunately, the sound quality is not great, but the dance is. Recorded 28 may 2022
Performance of the Tattoo artists on the Matatiki festival on Saturday night. A non-professional group but the energy and homage to the heritage is incredible. Also, some of the local girls are cheering them up. Recorded 28 may 2022

Left with the feeling…

We were at this festival three days and were drunk from the atmosphere (must be, no alcohol was served). The tattoos, the haka’s, the music and the people. We have not seen a traditional culture so alive before. Ancient and at the same time living in modern times. Their cultural expression is meaningful, just for themselves. The fact that there are tourists like us visiting is just unimportant, it would have made no difference. We are not tattoo fans on our own skin but we never considered this so seriously. Maybe we should learn something from this and do the expression just for ourselves. Maybe we still will, after all we are ocean people too.

It is strange that we find it so special that people are so themselves and proud of their cultural heritage. Not forgetting the general vibe of niceness in the Marquesas people. It maybe says something about what we have lost in western society. It could well be, we have seen ‘ the last of the normal people’. Hard not to go back…

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