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Tatau: A History of Sāmoan Tattooing

Te Papa Press Tatau cover art

Courtesy of Te Papa Press.

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Tatau: A History of Sāmoan Tattooing


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The Sāmoan Islands are virtually unique in that tattooing has been continuously practised with indigenous techniques: the full male tattoo, the peʻa 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 Sāmoan tatau. Through a chronology rich with people, encounters and events it describes how Sāmoan tattooing has been shaped by local and external forces of change over many centuries. It argues that Sāmoan tatau has a long history of relevance both within and beyond Sāmoa, and a more complicated history than is currently presented in the literature. It is richly illustrated with historical images of nineteenth and twentieth century Sāmoan tattooing, contemporary tattooing, diagrams of tattoo designs and motifs, and with supplementary photographs such as posters, ephemera, film stills and artefacts.

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