After mentioning the tattoos on the Typee, Tommo describes an artist at work.
The tattoo artist, Karky, attempts to convince Tommo to get a tattoo himself, but Tommo manages to avoid it. This makes him think about his captivity, that he could be permanently marked forever should he ever get home.
After this first encounter, Mehevi and other chiefs team up with Karky to try to get Tommo tattooed. He continues to resist, realizing that to do so would be a gesture of conversion to the Typee religion.
The tattoos, part of the order of taboos, seem to Tommo endlessly complicated.
An un-tattooed Tommo stops to watch several women making tappa, and he absent-mindedly picks up a piece of fiber to pick apart. The women begin to shriek, and he realizes that the fabric they were making was taboo, which men could not touch.
Sometimes taboos are marked with a loop of grass on a pipe, or a wreath of leaves on a tree, reserved for the gods.
When, shortly after Toby's disappearance, Mehevi ties grass around Tommo's wrist, he is also
pronounced taboo, and is treated with kindness ever after.
Exactly what the word "taboo" signifies, and how taboos are deployed, remains largely a mystery to Tommo.