The Beautiful Body Tradition of Moi Tribe in West Papua

The Beautiful Body Tradition of Moi Tribe in West Papua

In Indonesia, tattoo is considered as a modern culture, something that comes to the country as a result of globalization and modernization. Sometimes, tattoos are also frowned upon because many criminals tattoo their body to make them looks fiercer.

But the truth is, tattoo is neither a fruit of globalization and modernization nor something criminals can have. Tattoo is an art. Just like a scar, every single ink depicts a story and personal event of the tattoo owner. Furthermore, there are many ethnic groups in Indonesia that have their own body tattoo art since a long time ago, long before the modern technology touched the area. Beside Mentawai and Dayak, Moi tribe in West Papua is also known for its unique body tattoo art. The tattoo has become the identity of the tribe and their tattoo is different with the tattoos from other tribes in different parts of Indonesia.

Unique Characteristics of Moi Tribe’s Body Tattoo

Moi or Malamoi is a tribe that lives in Sorong, West Papua. The body tattoo art in this tribe came from the Austronesians that lived in Southeast Asia and migrated to Sorong area. It is predicted that the Austronesians arrived in Sorong during the Neolithic age 3000 years ago.

There are many differences between Moi body tattoo with modern tattoo art. Firstly, the pattern is very different. While modern tattoo can range from something ordinary to the most complicated pictures, Moi tattoo is much simpler. Moi tattoo consists of geometrical patterns, lines or dots. Furthermore, the design of the tattoo also will follow the shape of the body parts that are going to be tattooed.

Moreover, contrary to modern tattoos, Moi tribe’s tattoos only use natural ingredients from the ink down to the needles. The ink is made of soft charcoal (yak kibi) and the sap from loum tree. Meanwhile, the needles are made of the thorn of sago tree or fish bones. The needles will be dipped into the ink and then pricked into the skin that will be tattooed. The most common body parts in Moi tribe’s body tattoo art are cheeks, chest, calves, hip as well as the back. Due to the ingredients used, the color of the tattoos is also very simple and limited to black, white or red. But thanks to the tattoo skill of the people, they are capable to create such a neat and beautiful pattern even though they don’t use fancy ingredients or tools.

Even though the pattern is very simple, it holds a very deep meaning for the Malamoi. This is why the people don’t hesitate to cover their bodies with the tattoos. The more tattoos they have in their body, the bigger their pride will be. It is very common to see the elderly of the tribe stand proud with various tattoo patterns covering their body. It also becomes a special things to see for people who come to West Papua, especially since not many tribes in Indonesia has this beautiful culture.

Moi Tribe’s Body Tattoo Tradition in Modern Age

Moi tribe’s body tattoo is certainly a tradition that needs to be preserved. Unfortunately, most young generations don’t even do this anymore. Nowadays, it is only the elders that still tattoo their body and it is very rare to see a young Moi with the tribe’s traditional body tattoo.

There are many reasons on why this thing can happen. Modernization is certainly one of the biggest factors. Moi’s tattoo patterns are very simple and the younger generations might find it boring. Now that they have found the art of modern tattoo where they can draw basically anything on their body, traditional tattoo might not suit their taste anymore.

Even though modernization is always the biggest factors in the deterioration of traditional culture, in the case of Moi tribe’s body tattoo, modernization is not the only one to reason. Actually, there are many young Moi that truly loves their tradition and also want to tattoo their body. However, since most of the younger generations of Moi tribe are working in modern companies outside Sorong and even outside West Papua, they cannot get the tattoes. The culture of their working place might not allow the employees to get any kind of tattoos so they don’t have any choices but to abide to the regulations in their working place.

In this situation, of course this is not anyone’s fault. The only thing that can be done to prevent this beautiful tradition from going extinct is to properly document it and also conduct more researches regarding every aspect of the tradition. Even though the younger generation doesn’t really use it anymore, they still have to learn the body tattoo technique so it will stay alive and doesn’t go extinct in this generation. This body tattoo art has been around for more than 3,000 years. So, it will be a shame if it goes extinct just because the younger generations cannot do it anymore or due to poor documentation.