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Tatau: A History of Samoan Tattooing

Tatau: A History of Samoan Tattooing

Sorry this event has been and gone


  • Wed 5 Jun ’19, 12:10pm – 1:00pm


Te Ahumairangi Ground Floor, National Library, cnr Molesworth & Aitken Streets, Thorndon, Wellington


All Ages

Ticket Information:

  • Free Admission

Hear Ockham winning author Sean Mallon talk about his book.

In this talk, Sean discusses the book’s development and its key themes with reference to specific and some possibly surprising stories.

Tatau won the Illustrated Non-Fiction Award at the 2019 Ockham Awards.

3000 years of Samoan tatau:
The Samoan Islands are virtually unique in that tattooing has been continuously practiced with indigenous techniques: the full male tattoo, the pe’a has evolved in subtle ways in its design since the nineteenth century, but remains as elaborate, meaningful, and powerful as it ever was. This cultural history is the first publication to examine 3000 years of Samoan tatau.

Through a chronology rich with people, encounters and events it describes how Samoan tattooing has been shaped by local and external forces of change over many centuries. It argues that Samoan tatau has a long history of relevance both within and beyond Samoa, and a more complicated history than is currently presented in the literature.

The book is richly illustrated with historical images of nineteenth and twentieth century Samoan tattooing, contemporary tattooing, diagrams of tattoo designs and motifs, and with supplementary photographs such as posters, ephemera, film stills and artefacts.

About the speaker:
Sean Mallon, who is of Sāmoan (Mulivai, Safata) and Irish descent, is Senior Curator Pacific Cultures at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa.

He is a co-author of both 'Tangata o le Moana: The story of New Zealand and the people of the Pacific' (Te Papa Press, 2012) and 'Art in Oceania: A new history' (2012), which was awarded the Authors’ Club’s Art Book Prize.

Sean has been a council member of The Polynesian Society since 2008.

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