I still have to pinch myself that I now have a 21 yr old daughter, it feels like just yesterday that I crossed over that threshold myself, however I always questioned those milestone markers which represent our maturity as we grow up.
One day we are not considered mature enough to have sex, the next day we are. One day we are not mature enough to drink alcohol, the next day we are! In the U.K. we are deemed mature enough to legally drink alcohol at 18, however in the U.S.A. they deem their young adults mature enough to fight and die for their country at 18 but not to drink alcohol until they are 21. A young couple can marry at 18 but can’t pop open the bubbly to celebrate their union for another 3 years!!
The reality is that coming of age is not something which just happens overnight and as we all know teenagers in particular mature both physically and mentally at very different paces. I was quite astounded when not long ago a psychotherapist told me that within psychology they don’t view the adult brain as being full developed until the age of 27 – anything prior to that is still seen as adolescence.
Law within the U.K. states that we are considered as fully fledged adults at 18 and can pretty much doing anything ‘legally’ at that age. 21 is now just another excuse for an extra special birthday present or big party!
The truth is though that throughout our adult lives we continue to grow, mature and change the whole time and other than then next big birthdays which have a nought on the end we tend not to celebrate, commemorate or even acknowledged these transitions as they take place in our lives.
I’m 48 now but this past year travelling for me has truly been my ‘coming of age’ – a period which has seen a very definitive leaving of the old and transitioning into a new phase of my life. I might not have changed that much on the outside, but on the inside I feel like an entirely different person and I know that life as I knew it is never going to be the same again.
It felt important to me to mark this transition in my life though and hence why about 4-5 weeks ago I made the decision that I was going to get a tattoo before the trip was over.
I don’t mind admitting that I have never been a fan of tattoos but as we travelled through the South Pacific and I saw some of the beautiful Polynesian Tattoos and starting learning about the history, art and meaning behind their originality that I started to view them differently. (I don’t want to take any unlicensed images off google, but if you are unfamiliar with the art form then just google polynesian tattoos and you will see images that a very different to the tattoos which we are generally used to seeing here in the U.K.)
Tattooing in polynesian culture is often sacred and it is an art steeped in history & meaning with many symbols representing status, power, tribes and life stories.
Before the missionaries arrived on the polynesian islands there was no written language, hence why a persons story and heritage was often portrayed via their body art. Tattooing was also very much a rite of passage with most men received their first tattoos during adolescence. Of course there was no electric needles as there are now, instead the pigment was tapped into the skin during a painful ritual which would often span over several days and via a small comb with anything from 3-20 needles made from bone, shell or sharks tooth which was tapped into the skin using another stick. The tap tap sound of the stick is that which created the original word ‘tautau’ and which has evolved to what we now know as tattoo.
As we travelled through Polynesia and learnt more about their culture, rituals, friendship & hospitality, the thought of leaving a little part of yourself in the islands as well as taking a little piece away with you made me warm more and more to the appeal of getting a tattoo. I knew if I was going to have it done then I HAD to have it done whilst in Polynesia so that it would be 100% authentic.
One of the lecturers onboard our ship recommended a lady by the name of Tricia Allen, I loved the work of hers which I saw but unfortunately she lived and worked on a different Hawaiian island to the one we were going to be staying on. I therefore decided to go ahead and make an appointment with one of the many tattoo companies I found on Maui and went about looking for a suitable design to inspire me.
I must have looked at 1000’s of tattoos, some I liked, some I hated – but only one lept and really spoke to me. When I looked further I realised that this one design I loved was done by Tricia Allen, the lady who had been recommended to me a few weeks earlier.
I have always been very heart led, and this just affirmed that it was Tricia who should be doing my tattoo for me. So, having then made contact with her and discussed what I wanted, 48 hrs later Cameron and I found ourselves back on another plane flying from Maui to Ohau for my appointment with Tricia to ‘do the deed’ the day before we were due to leave Hawaii.
I had asked Tricia to adapt the first design I had seen and also scale down the size to make it smaller, however when we met she recommended I keep to the full size. I am not petite and as she pointed out the artwork should suitable fit the canvas!!
So here it is – the finished masterpiece in all of its glory across the top of my back. Strategically placed to be able to cover it up when I want to, but large enough to show off on holiday and in swimwear etc…and yes 16 weeks in the sunshine has brought out my freckles on mass!!!!!!
Every aspect of this design is symbolic for me; the turtle is my own symbol and in polynesian culture it is connected to many meanings – long life, wellness, fertility, family and harmony. It also symbolises the navigator. The turtle plays a central role in polynesian culture because polynesian people also believed that the sea was the ‘underworld’ to where a persons spirit was carried after death. Because the turtle can freely move between the sea and the land, polynesian people believed that the turtle would lead them to their final destination, their resting place. This has a significant meaning for me as a funeral celebrant often being that link between the living and the dead in the ceremonies which I create and the final farewell as we say goodbye to a persons physical presence.
The 3 swirls on turtles shell show the unbreakable bonds which I carry for my children, representative of knowing that although times may sometimes be turbulent in our humanness, the solid bonds of love between the 3 of us are tied together forever.
Each of the dolphins are for my children as individuals, the one on the right for Georgia and the one on the left for Cameron (identified that way because the right hand one was tattooed first and therefore now represents my first born child). They are each free to swim wherever they want but with the knowledge that they can always come back to be beside me whenever and wherever they want to.
The heart at the top is for those family members, friends and ancestors who have gone before us but whose love & protection will always shine down and guide us from above. And finally the hibiscus at the bottom has appeared frequently in our travels and has become significant to this part of my journey. We also had them as pot plants at home when I was growing up so it serves as a link to my childhood and my parents. The flower of new life also symbolising future generations of my family which are still to come – all elements together in a circular shape representing the ever evolving circle of life.
Tattoo designed and completed by Tricia Allen www.thepolynesiantattoo.com