The idea of getting a tattoo was something that always intrigued me, but nothing ever seemed important enough to scar my body with for the rest of my life. I never thought it was smart to get some random picture etched into your skin just because you thought it looked cool. It shouldn’t come as an impetuous decision on a drunken night or a spur of the moment impulse to do something crazy and wild. To me the concept of a tattoo is not simply to put a piece of art on your body, but to symbolize something meaningful that you want to stick with you forever. Don't get me wrong, pictures of big breasted women and fierce dragons are pretty badass, but it’s just not my cup of tea. I don't hate tattoos of butterflies and skulls, but those types of purposeless images are only for show and do not signify any deeper message or carry any worth beyond their exterior artistry. A tattoo should ideally be something that you will never regret getting and be proud to wear for the remainder of your years.
It’s probably pretty obvious that I am spurting out this tattoo philosophy for a reason. I got a tattoo. I’ve been mulling over the idea since the beginning of my service here and been developing plans for exactly what I wanted. The phrase in the center of the tattoo took a lot of fine-tuning before I was happy with its syntax and the decorative island symbols all have personal meaning to me. I decided to put it in the form of an armband on my right arm. A bicep can be covered up in formal occasions and the right arm is the masculine orientation in Chuukese. Also for some random reason I have always liked armbands as an accessory. In every single official sports game since the beginning high school that I have participated in (hundreds and hundreds), I have worn a sweatband on my arm. Now I’ve got one for life.
For a long time I tried to get in done in Chuuk, but I couldn't find anybody who could do the procedure legitimately.
Battery acid and lime tree thorns are the standard tattoo tools on my island and I felt that it was worth looking around for something more sterile and permanent. So a couple weeks ago when I went to Guam, I cruised around and checked out a few tattoo shops before I found Harv at Low Tide Tattoo. Harv is a retired radio DJ who has been living in the Pacific for decades and exudes a likeable atmosphere in his cozy wood carved room. After talking to the man for a few minutes, I was convinced that he was going to be the guy to put his indelible mark on me.
The process of designing the particulars of my tattoo was a tedious series of trial and error with pictures, paper, pens and tracer ink. Harv was very patient and added his artistic touch to each of my ideas as we moved through the procedure. Eventually I settled on a series of designs and sat down to about 4 hours of needlepoint pricks. The stinging pain was bearable but had a unique hurtful sensation of combing a dentist drill and an eyebrow plucker. At the end of it all, I was left with a permanent armband of four island symbols encasing a Chuukese phrase on my right arm.
Each of the symbols has a particular meaning in the original Pacific culture that they originated, but since I personally picked a unique combination of designs I figured that I could also apply my own personal meaning to each image. The top line is a series of breaking waves and represents “flow”. I often find myself preaching to others about going with the flow and taking life at a relaxed pace. Crazy things happen to all of us, but handling those situations with a positive attitude and levelheaded approach will ensure that the best possible outcomes prevail. You cannot fight flow, you must take everything in stride and adapt to new circumstances. Understanding and embracing the flow of life is an important step in having an enjoyable and thriving existence.
The second line of images is a band of spearheads. My last name is Hunter and the spearhead is an obvious representation of my namesake. I thought it would be kind of lame to just write my name, whereas a symbolic portrayal is much cooler. An unplanned bonus of the image is that my reputation on my island is as a proficient spear fisherman, so it carries that extra meaning.
The third line is a Chuukese saying of my own creation, which reads “Suki Asamen Ekiekiomw”. The translation of this phrase is not a perfect one-to-one meaning in English, but it roughly means, “Open the doors of your mind”. I chose this phrase for a variety of reasons. Firstly, it sums up how my Peace Corps experience has altered my personality. I have not only gained a more worldly view by exploring the globe and living in poverty; but by integrating into a foreign culture I have truly come to perceive life and reality from an entirely different perspective. Seeing things through a wider lens has enhanced my understanding of the human condition and its potential, the natural world and its wonders, and the relationship between it all. It is important for me and everyone else on the planet to realize that there is more to the universe than what you see out your backdoor and you should always be willing to embrace the possibility of encountering new ideas and situations. I feel that being open minded about accepting alternative insights and welcoming different standpoints adds to my repertoire of knowledge and makes me a more well rounded person. The phrase is a reminder for me to never stop expanding my thinking and searching for new experiences.
Secondly, the saying is a source of inspiration for me in my continuous search for knowledge and education. I am passionate about learning and understanding anything and everything that comes my way. I want my mind to stay open to incorporate new ideas and thoughts, even if they don't make sense at first. That motivation about the expansion of knowledge leads into another reason for the phrase. I plan on pursuing a career in psychology and as a psychologist my job will basically be unlocking the secrets of the mind. In order to do that, I will need to delve deep into my mind and the minds of others to search for answers. In addition, the phrase serves as is a reminder for me to be non-judgmental. I aspire to refrain from biased judgments against people or things and feel that it is extremely important to stay open minded in that sense. First impressions, categories and covers of books often do not tell the whole story.
In its overall sense, the words are primarily directed introspectively at myself but can also be seen as a snippet of advice to others. The beauty of the phrase is that it is open to interpretation. An onlooker can take whatever message he feels from the words and I am sure that my relationship with it will change throughout the years. Its variability of meanings and explanations are what make it special to me.
The line below the writing is an image depicting a woven mat of palm fronds. Typically this represents the home and family. Although my family is the most important thing in the world to me, I have expanded upon the meaning of the symbol and allowed it to signify all my social relationships. The complex but elegant connections between me and other people have molded my personality to be what it is today. This intricate web of relationships of my friends, family and acquaintances has defined who I am and is an integral part of my existence. The interconnectedness of the palm fronds represents the network of people that are important to me. Since I greatly value the social relationships that I have forged over the years, I felt it was necessary to make them part of my body because of their role in shaping my soul.
The bottom of the tattoo is a string of swimming dolphins. This particular artistic representation of dolphins originated in Chuuk and was meant to protect from the dangers of the sea and provide good luck. I appreciate having the intelligent mammals watching over me and I also like that they are relevant to my home in Chuuk, but a wandering dolphin also has a deeper meaning to me. When I imagine a dolphin streaking between the waves in a vast ocean, I think of freedom. I don't necessarily mean political freedom because luckily I have never dealt with oppressiveness in my lifetime, but simply a freedom to live life to its fullest. Freedom to pursue dreams and thrive in all that you do.
I am confident that I will never regret this decision to stain my body with inky marks. The significance of its symbolic meaning and its link as a souvenir of Chuuk will never lose its luster. The islands of the pacific and my personal philosophy are now engrained on my body until the end of time. The words and images wrapped around my bicep will forever serve as a reminder for how I want to live my life.