As a destination for tourism, Papua island is home to a variety of beautiful landscapes and delicious cuisine. The island also offers many captivating traditional cultures for visitors to observe. One of them is the Papuan face tattoos.
Face and body tattoos for native women signify their beauty, strength, and character. They usually use tattoos to attract the attention of the opposite sex. Hence, only unmarried women paint their bodies with tattoos.
On the other hand, these tattoos have another value in a different tribe. For example, the women who live in Saireri customary territory paint tattoos to express their grief. If their loved one has passed away, they will tattoo a specific area on their body.
However, such a highly regarded cultural practice has received a risk of extinction. It is rare to find a member of the young generation to have face or body tattoos. This might be because of work requirements and globalization. The modern tools for making tattoos may also be a factor in this matter.
There are some native tribes where you can find this cultural practice being preserved by their older generation of women. Each practice has a distinct principle and method. What are they?
Papuan Face Tattoos in 3 Native Tribes
Moi Tribe or Malamoi Tribe takes residence in Sorong Regency, West Papua. The tribe has a long practice of making tattoos as body decorations. In the current time, face or body tattoos are only present in elderly people. The younger ones no longer continue this cultural practice.
Moi Tribe uses very fine charcoal called yak kibi as the tint. It is made of burning wood combined with Longkong or langsat tree sap. Next, they dip sharp fish bones or thorns from a sago tree into the mixture and insert it into the body part. There are several traditional motifs for Moi tribal body tattoos such as geometric or circular lines and dots forming a triangle. The design of Papuan face tattoos will follow the shape of women’s body parts.
Sentani tribal members who live in Jayapura Regency refer to tattoo arts as Enahu. However, only the older generation has knowledge of tattoo painting in the tribe.
Sentani people use natural materials for Enahu. First, they burn Wam wood and grind the charcoal. Then, they mix the Wam wood charcoal with breadfruit tree sap. They dip sago tree’s thorns or fish bones into the mix and insert it into someone’s body parts such as the chest, calves, hips, and facial area.
Sentani Tribe draws tattoos on the members’ bodies three months before a wedding ceremony. Women and men receive different motifs. Motifs from a Cendrawasih bird, eel, and nine fish are for women, while men have the motif of a Cassowary bird, crocodile saw, snake, and shark. This motif highlights the beauty of the bride and groom.
Tattoo drawings are specially done by and for Waropen’s women during or after puberty. They apply the shape of boats, letters, or simple writings on their body parts such as arms, legs, chest, and face. To start, they will dye black color on the skin.
Then, they will stab fish bones into the skin making small wounds. They will rub the wounds using the black color until the wounds are inflamed and the color permanently stays. Waropen women repeat this process until the completion which takes 2 or 3 days.
Papuan face tattoos are in danger because the younger generation no longer preserves this cultural practice. This tradition will be lost to the passage of time if there is no transfer of knowledge from the elders of the three native tribes to their juniors.