- Croc Coulter, a heavily tattooed Englishman living in Rarotonga in the Cook Islands, is dedicated to the art
- Tātatau tattooing is the process where the skin is struck with handmade tools of bone or tusks, and ink
- This method creates tattoos of elaborate symmetrical patterns or designs that are steeped in tradition
- Mr Coulter has taken on an apprentice Moko Smith to help pass on the revered Cook Island custom
An English tattooist is the unlikely master of the traditional Polynesian art of Tātatau and he is dedicated to passing on the revered Cook Island tradition.
To ensure the method continues Croc Coulter, a heavily tattooed Englishman from Rarotonga in the Cook Islands, has taken on a new apprentice and is passing on his knowledge.
Tātatau tattooing is the process where the skin is struck with handmade tools of bone or tusks, and ink to create elaborate symmetrical patterns or designs steeped in tradition.
Coulter has never worked with a tattoo machine gun and was an apprentice to the New Zealand Maori tattoo artist Inia Taylor of Moko Ink, who is responsible for the Vivid moko designs in the New Zealand film Once Were Warriors
‘The tools belong to the Cook Islanders. The art of Tātatau was current in the islands. It’s just that colonialism had whacked it out. There’s not anyone else here doing this traditional form,’ Mr Coulter said.
‘I have a lung condition. It’s something I’m born with not something I’ve contracted. Cystic fibrosis is its name and for me it’s been a helping hand. I felt like it was something that helped me engage in life.’
Mr Coulter, 47, was born in Chatham, Kent, southeast England. He moved to Rarotonga in 2008 after getting married to his Cook Islander wife Ani O’Neill.
The method creates tattoos of elaborate symmetrical patterns or designs that are steeped in tradition
There has been a resurgence in the forgotten art form that has for many years been regarded as specifically Samoan
There has been a resurgence in the forgotten art form that has for many years been regarded as specifically Samoan and integral to its culture and that of the Cook Islands.
Like all Indigenous art forms, the relationship between the artist and the apprentice is important. In order for the traditional practice to continue, the knowledge must be passed down, said Mr Coulter.
Moko Smith is Mr Coulter’s new apprentice and a lot now rests on his shoulders to keep the tradition going.
‘What makes Moko a good student is that he carries the tools very well and he takes the responsibility very seriously,’ Mr Coulter said.
‘I think the importance of teaching and having the apprentice helps to pass on something that has been done for a very long time. Now sharing that with Moko confirms it.’
Mr Coulter said that for the traditional practice to continue, the knowledge must be passed down to others
The process includes a ceremonial start before he dips his tools into an ink pot before beginning the tapping of the tattoo on the person’s skin.
‘The responsibility with the tools is an important one, because the tools do not belong to me and have been handed down, so it’s my responsibility to ensure they are in safe hands,’ he said.
‘It’s like being a caretaker of everything and using it with love, compassion and respect.’
He dips his tools into an ink pot before beginning the tapping out the tattoo on the person’s skin
Mr Coulter gently puts together the ancient tools that are used in making the tattoos
via The Daily Mail