Bodies, Art, and Exchange in the Pacific and the West



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Book Pages: 256 Illustrations: 135 illus (incl. 40 in color) Published: March 2005

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Art and Visual Culture, Cultural Studies

The history of tattooing is shrouded in controversy. Citing the Polynesian derivation of the word “tattoo,” many scholars and tattoo enthusiasts have believed that the modern practice of tattooing originated in the Pacific, and specifically in the contacts between Captain Cook’s seamen and the Tahitians. Tattoo demonstrates that while the history of tattooing is far more complex than this, Pacific body arts have provided powerful stimuli to the West intermittently from the eighteenth century to the present day. The essays collected here document the extraordinary, intertwined histories of processes of cultural exchange and Pacific tattoo practices. Art historians, anthropologists, and scholars of Oceania provide a transcultural history of tattooing in and beyond the Pacific.

The contributors examine the contexts in which Pacific tattoos were “discovered” by Europeans, track the history of the tattooing of Europeans visiting the region, and look at how Pacific tattooing was absorbed, revalued, and often suppressed by agents of European colonization. They consider how European art has incorporated tattooing, and they explore contemporary manifestations of Pacific tattoo art, paying particular attention to the different trajectories of Samoan, Tahitian, and Maori tattooing and to the meaning of present-day appropriations of tribal tattoos. New research has uncovered a fascinating visual archive of centuries-old tattoo images, and this richly illustrated volume includes a number of those—many published here for the first time—alongside images of contemporary tattooing in Polynesia and Europe. Tattoo offers a tantalizing glimpse into the plethora of stories and cross-cultural encounters that lie between the blood on a sailor’s backside in the eighteenth century and the hammering of a Samoan tattoo tool in the twenty-first.

Contributors. Peter Brunt, Anna Cole, Anne D’Alleva, Bronwen Douglas, Elena Govor, Makiko Kuwahara, Sean Mallon, Linda Waimarie Nikora, Mohi Rua, Cyril Siorat, Ngahuia Te Awekotuku, Nicholas Thomas, Joanna White


“[T]his useful and beautifully illustrated volume explores, as best it can, some of those meaningful moments of meeting and exchange inking the skin of Pacific history.” — April K. Henderson, Contemporary Pacific

“Thomas’ edited collection is lavishly illustrated and beautifully produced. . . .” — Niko Besnier, Museum Anthropology

"[Tattoo] unites archival and ethnographic research and is very well illustrated, with drawings, photographs and other representations of tattooing and tattoos. . . . Vibrant images of tattooed bodies, depicted in a variety of media and representational genres, float throughout the volume, telling stories of their own, and highlighting the powerful efficacy of tattooing as an embodied practice." — Haidy Geismar, Pacific Affairs

"General audiences as well as scholars in cultural studies, history, and the social sciences will find these excellent resources. Highly recommend." — S. Ferzacca, Choice

“Marking the body is a unique act of social and aesthetic primacy. The authors of Tattoo bring these extraordinary body-marking traditions to life, elucidating in a range of sites and perspectives both the historic and contemporary importance of these forms. Through the lens of this engaging, insightful, and multidisciplinary volume, body practice and theory, history and sociology, art and ritual, East and West not only not only rub up against each other, but also inform and transform each other.” — Suzanne Preston Blier, Allen Whitehill Clowes Professor of Fine Arts and Professor of African and African American Studies, Harvard University

“This historically rigorous and theoretically nuanced collection of essays takes the reader on a global journey marked by successive phases of incomprehension, clash, desire, appropriation, and indigenous renewal. Through their meticulous chartings of the permutations of local differences, changing constructs of art, and shifting power relations the book produces critical new understandings of the process of cross-cultural translation—and its impossibility—indispensable to students of world systems of art and culture.” — Ruth Phillips, Canada Research Chair in Modern Culture and Professor of Art History, Carleton University


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Nicholas Thomas is Professor of Anthropology at Goldsmiths College, University of London. His books include Cook: The Extraordinary Voyages of Captain James Cook and In Oceania: Visions, Artifacts, Histories, published by Duke University Press. In 2002, he co-curated “Skin Deep: The History of Tattooing” at the National Maritime Museum in London.

Anna Cole is the Research Coordinator of the “Tatau/Tattoo: Embodied Art and Cultural Exchange” project based at Goldsmiths College.

Bronwen Douglas is a Senior Fellow in the Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies at the Australian National University. She is the author of Across the Great Divide: Journeys in History and Anthropology.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Introduction / Nicholas Thomas 7

Part One: Histories and Encounters

1. "Cureous Figures": European Voyagers and Tatau/Tattoo in Polynesia, 1595–1800 / Bronwen Douglas 33

2. "Speckled Bodies": Russian Voyagers and Nuku Hivans, 1804 / Elena Govor 53

3. Marks of Transgression: The Tattooing of Europeans in the Pacific Islands / Joanna White 72

4. Christian Skins: Tatau and the Evangelization of the Society Islands and Samoa / Anne D'Alleva 90

5. Governing Tattoo: Reflections on a Colonial Trial / Anna Cole 109

Part Two: Contemporary Exchanges

6. The Temptation of Brother Anthony: Decolonization and the Tattooing of Tony Fomison / Peter Brunt 123

7. Samoan Tatau as Global Practice / Sean Mallon 145

8. Multiple Skins: Space, Time and Tattooing in Tahiti / Makiko Kuwahara 171

9. Wearing Moko: Maori Facial Marking in Today's World / Linda Waimarie Nikora, Mohi Rua and Ngahuia Te Awekotuku 191

10. Beyond Modern Primitivism / Cyril Siorat 205

Epilogue: Embodied Exchanges and their Limits / Nicholas Thomas 223

References 227

Select Bibliography 241

Notes on the Editors and Contributors 243

Acknowledgments 245

Photographic Acknowledgments 246

Index 247

Sales/Territorial Rights: North America

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3562-7 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3550-4
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