Everyone has a tattoo in the Marquesas. On their faces, hands, limbs, and I am sure all over their body. They are beautiful, unique
“Without tattoos you were worth less than a pig,” a Swiss anthropologist doing research in Hiva Oa told me.
Tattoos mark life events and define who you are, what you can do, and what you have been through. When girls became old enough to help their mothers in the kitchen, for instance, they got a tattoo on a finger of their right hand. Without that tattoo the girl isn’t allowed to handle food.
A tattoo on the face usually marks momentous events, protection from an accident, the death of a family member, the birth of a child, or the like. Even in the West people may get a tattoo to commemorate a major life event.
Today, the tattoo culture is not as strict as it once was. People don’t need tattoos to handle food. Not every girl gets a tattoo marking her first period. Not everyone we saw had a tattoo, but the culture remains and tattoos are respected and honored.
Every island has its own specific tattoos, even islands only a mile apart has its own distinct tattoos. Thus, if you know what you are looking for, you can identify exactly where a person is from.
I know several cruisers who have gotten tattooed in the Marquesas to celebrate their long crossing. As beautiful as Polynesian tattoos are, I decided not to get one. Especially after talking with my fellow crew members.
In Japan, Toshi San told me, tattoos are the mark of someone in the Yakuza, the Japanese Mob. Even if you are a foreigner, having a tattoo can get you banned from entering certain establishments. In most onsens, the popular hot springs of Japan, you are not allowed to enter if you have a tattoo. Even a little star on the ankle will get you kicked out of an onsen. It is incredible how what gives a person status in one country will strip you of respect in another.
Food however, is something that brings people and cultures together. Different cultures have their takes on food, but seeing different approaches and sampling new things is half the fun of travel.
I adore fish. Some people are squeamish about raw fish, but I can’t get enough of sashimi, which is what most people think of when they think of raw fish, but Japan is far from the only culture with a raw fish dish integral to their cuisine. There is ceviche in South America, carpaccio in Italy, or the Scandinavian gravlax, just to name a few.
French Polynesia’s version is called Poisson Cru au Lait Coco, literally translated raw fish with coconut milk. This delicious dish is pretty close to ceviche with coconut milk. There are variations of this dish throughout the South Pacific. This recipe is loosely based on one Sandra, our contact in the Marquesas, gave me.
Poseidon’s Poisson Cru au Lait Coco
Juice from 10 limes (about 1 ½ cups juice)
2 lbs. fresh fish (tuna is best but mahi mahi will do)
1 onion, thinly sliced
1 cucumber, julienned
1 t salt
½ t pepper
1 T Maggi Seasoning
1 c coconut milk
Cut fish into bite-sized cubes about ½”—1”
Pour lime juice over the fish, the juice should just cover the fish
Cover and refrigerate 1 hour
Mix in onions and season with salt, pepper, and Maggi
Refrigerate 24 hours giving the citric acid time to cook the fish
10 minutes before serving stir in cucumber and mix in coconut milk
Serve in cabbage leaves