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Cat’s Ink Pays Homage to Her Experience on the Ocean

January 15th, 2009

Over the last few months, I have reconnected with old friends through Facebook, many of whom I haven’t seen in years. In so doing, many have discovered my burgeoning interest in tattoos, and the manifestation of that in Tattoosday. Many of these old friends are inked and I’ve posted their work here (i.e. this one form Michael).

Today’s post comes to us from Catherine, the only person with whom I went to high school and college.

After college, Cat returned to Hawai’i, where she re-connected with the ocean, paddling and, among other things, taking a voyage on the Hōkūle‘a, traversing the sea in the style of the ancient Polynesians who settled on the Hawaiian Islands. That’s an oversimplification but, rest assured, the journey is quite different from booking a ticket on a cruise ship.

So, it made perfect sense to me when Cat sent me an e-mail with the subject line “Cat’s Tat,” accompanied by the photo of her ink:

This amazing tribal piece on her lower back pays homage to her love of the ocean and Polynesian culture. I’ll let her explain the rest, in her own words:

I had this done for my birthday a few years ago by Tricia Allen, who is well recognized for her knowledge of Polynesian tattooing. She’s pretty much in demand for work, and is often on the BIG big island for jobs and conferences. I had known her a little bit while I was taking classes at UH, and met her again on Rapa Nui – we had a mutual friend there. Anyway, she did it in her living room in Palolo. I was sitting on a stool, bent over, with my face in a pillow. I was beginning to feel somewhat like Pavlov’s dog, because ever time the buzz started, I’d get tense. She also seemed to enjoy pointing out where nerve clusters were located (owww).

Here’s the story/reasoning/rationale: I had gotten a small one after our canoe club won the state championship in 1993 – my crew won the “blue ribbon” race for women, having been second all season. Anyway, once I really got into sailing, I wanted to design a new one that represented what I had seen and done in terms of canoes (both sailing and paddling). Canoes and canoe related activities have taken me all over the Pacific: The Society Islands (including Tahiti), The Marquesas, Mangareva, Rapa Nui, New Zealand, Australia, Fiji. It took 7 years of my trying out different designs before I found the concept I liked. I went for a consultation with Tricia, who gave me the idea; the Marquesans often use the idea of the human face, where each feature is a symbol in it’s own right. Tricia had given me a diamond-shaped example, and from that I immediately saw what I would do.

So – the Marquesan concept, the shape of the hihimanu – ray – represents the twin-peaked mountain of Mangareva. As we approached it from the sea, it looked like a ray emerging from the sea. The eyes are Hawaiian honu – sea turtle, the wings are New Zealand Māori-style naia – dolphins, on the sides of the eyes are Rapa Nui makohe – frigate birds (separate story here – not getting into it), the mouth and nose are a double-hulled canoe and sail, with waves on either side, and the tail is supposed to be moons (for navigation and tides) and fishhooks done in a Tahitian style. Kinda ran out of room at the tail end, though! The whole represents Tangaroa/Kanaloa, who is the Polynesia-wide god of the sea. Not that I’ve been out there a LOT, but I have been out there…you see the myriad incarnations of Kanaloa: the good, the bad and the truly frightening. I guess the design is in homage of what’s out there…

Now I’m contemplating the next one. I have some Cook Island Māori ideas, but I want to go there first. Have also had a few people ask me to design things for them. I have also met maybe three or four others with hihimanu on their lower backs…you see LOTS of tattoos at canoe regattas!

Mahaloa nui loa to Cat for sharing this awesome piece with us here on Tattoosday, and for providing such an in-depth explanation. Truly fascinating and inspiring! We’re loking forward to seeing the next one!


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