Tattooing: An Aesthetic Appreciation Custom from West Papua


Meta Description: Nowadays, people have tattoos for various reasons, such as decoration. However, tattoos have belonged to the Melanesian of West Papua culture since a long time ago. 

Slug: Aesthetic-Custom-West-Papua-Tattooing

People have tattoos to modify their bodies. It is inserted into the body using ink or pigment. It is a form of modification of decoration to the body. The tattoo can be long-lasting or temporary, depending on the ink. There is ink that is long-lasting and temporary. It involves the insertion of ink into the deep layer of skin. 

The word tattoo comes from Polynesian society, tattaow or tattow. Before the introduction of this word, the Western culture knows it as a form of scarring to the body. The original word tattaow means to strike. 

People have tattoos for different reasons. Some do it for aesthetic reasons. In other words, it is a form of decoration to the body. They also use it as a form of attraction because a tattoo can be a sign to show one’s status. Some people do it as a symbol, meaning the tattoo serves a certain meaning to the person. Some do it for identification. The tattoo comes in various designs. There is a lot of design variation. 

People can request what kind of tattoo design they will have. Usually, the design gives a certain special meaning to the user. Or, the artists can suggest several designs if one does not have any idea or inspiration. There is an industrial design called flash tattoo, a form of tattoo design for the mass. 

 A lot of regions in this world know tattoos, and there are several ways to do tattoos. One can prick it into the skin which Pacific islands use this method. Another way is by chiseling it. And the last one is by scarification. Tattoos can also be used for other purposes, such as rituals

People associate tattoos with social status or religious symbols. They also use it as a sign of courage and therefore can attract people. It can be a mark of significant meaning such as protection, love, etc. Tattoos exist in almost every culture, and every culture has its meaning about tattoos. Nowadays, people have tattoos for reasons such as aesthetics, religion, and belonging to certain groups. 

Tattoos are part of Melanesian culture

Melanesians of West Papua love tattoos. According to Rivers (2017), in certain parts, tattoos are more apparent in the male sex. Women also have a tattoo, but it is not as many and detailed as men. However, women have more tattoos compared to men in the Melanesian community. 

Tattoo plays a significant role in the Melanesian community of West Papua. It has a strong relationship with Areoi societies because it is part of them. Tattooing is also a product of kava-people culture. It has become part of their ritual and culture. However, some members do not use tattoos which shows that tattoo is not mandatory because it can cause bleeding. 

The presence of tattoo culture existed a long time ago (Rivers, 2017). It is a popular culture before the arrival of the immigrants. In the past, kava-people adopts the culture, and it plays a significant role in the community. The practice of tattoos is related to aesthetic appeal. Many people nowadays in the city do tattoos for aesthetic reasons. But this feature was already present a long time ago by the early inhabitants. 

The immigrant would adopt the culture later. In the past, the male has tattoos for aesthetic appeal in certain parts outside of Melanesia, such as Polynesia. However, tattoo is more popular among Melanesian women. And thus, it does not appeal aesthetically to men. There is a lot of assumption about how the practice of tattoos continues. 

The practice can come as a result of a group’s influence on the Melanesian community, including those who live in West Papua. Some community brings the culture from one island to another during their visit. 


 Tattooing is a method of inserting ink into the deep layer of skin. It comes with various designs, depending on the one who requests it. Some request a design that has a certain meaning. People have tattoos for different reasons. Some do it to show they belong to a certain community. 

Some also do it for religious reasons. Historically, tattoos have existed for a long time ago. This practice came from Polynesian, and they introduced the word “tattaow” which means “to strike.” Before the introduction of the word, the west called this practice skin-scarring. 

Tattoo in the Melanesian community, especially in West Papua, plays a significant role. It is part of their culture. They also use it in their rite of passage. Unlike Polynesians, this practice is common among women in Melanesia. It is believed that kava-people is the one who brought tattoo practice to the early inhabitants. 

This practice would later influence the Melanesian culture. The tattoo has already become the societies’ culture and practice. They also use it in rituals. This practice is also related to the Aeoroi societies of Melanesians, known as their rites which involve the spirit or ghost. 


Rivers, W., H. (2017). The History of Melanesian Society. CUP Archive.