Marquesan Handicraft

Marquesan Islands flagThe Marquesan Archipelago (Henua Enana, in Marquesan language) is riche in culture and has strong traditions. Remote from the Society Islands, the Marquesans have been able to keep their know-how and develop it across the decades. Nowadays, the Marquesan art belongs to everyday life of the population, through sculpture, tapa, tattooing and jewels.

Sculpture: In the Marquesan Islands, the tupuna (or Tuhuna in Tahitian language), specialist of sculptures, they had a special and relatively prestigious place in their society. They mixed the sacred, the functional and were involve in all kind of activity in their society, such as architecture, magic, techniques, art and religion. The tupuna received this gift from the gods and kept a relationship with them. They created sacred object and served one or more deities.

Formerly, sculpted objects reunited those related to war (clubs - uu, spears), for games (stilts, drums), some were prestigious object (poles of command, flyswatters, fans, tiki-shaped human bones - ivi po'o), also sacred objects (animals sculptures, human representations – tiki) and everyday objects (pestles, plates- umete, mortars, stools).

Tapa: The tapa (kahu in marquesan) refers to fabric made of wood bark. Formerly, Tapa were made by women. The bark is removed from specific tree trunks: banyan tree (aoa), paper mulberry tree (ute) or bread fruit tree (tumu mei). The internal part of the bark is kept to be beaten by a special wood beater during hours until getting a relatively fine fabric. Then, this fabric is starched to get more rigidity. The tapa can also be soaked in natural coloured pigment bath to get a different tint, generally yellow. Nowadays, the tapa is decorated with black ink Marquesan patterns, often inspired from tattoos or traditional daily life.

Jewels: Marquesan jewels are essentially made of bone, shell, wood or seeds. We can find pendants, ornaments, hair accessories, as well as earrings and necklaces.

The main materials used to make the handicraft object include the following:

Wood: The different woods utilized are precious wood such as Oceania rosewood (Miro in Tah. ou Mi’o in Marq.), the oceania walnut (tou), the iron wood (aito), the coconut tree (tumu ha’ari or tumu’ehi) etc. The Marquesans prefer to carve the wood from their archipelago, which recognized for its qualities and used by their ancestors. The wood is firstly dried up for 10 years, if too young, until it is ready to be worked on. It is then treated against pests. Some handicraftsmen own wood on their garden, but many have either to go and pick it up in the remote valleys, or buy it.

Flowering pebble: Flowering pebble can only be found on the island of Ua Pou. The basaltic stone is more widely worked on several Marquesas Islands. The rocks are picked up in the heart of valleys in the mountains and broken into smaller pieces. The shape is drawn on the rock then the shaping and carving can start. Long hours are needed to make the object totally smooth and take off all imperfection.

Bone: The Marquesans reclaim the bones of beefs, horses or goat in order to create jewels. Bone is treated bleached by several washes. It is then dried to be usable. After a meticulous sanding, the handicraftsman can shape and engrave it.


Sculpture, arts et artisanats de Polynésie Française. V. Mu-Liepmann et L. Milledrogues. Ed. Au vent des Iles, Papeete, 2008.

Les Marquisiens et leur art. L’ornement primitif des mers du sud. Vol. 2 Plastique. Karl Von Den Steinen. French Ed. Musée de Tahiti et des Iles – Te Fare Iamanaha, Papeete, 2005