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Savage Symbols

Film (Full Length) – 2002

Screened at the 2002 NZ International Film Festival, Savage Symbols looks at the art of traditional Samoan tattooing, or pe'a, which covers the lower back and upper legs. The film interviews nine men who have undergone the process, as well as locals and tefuga in Samoa, to discover the history of tatau. The men talk about the cultural significance of the tattooing, what it means to them, and although incredibly painful  with a long recovery period  the pride that the pe'a brings to their aiga and ancestors. Samoa-born producer and director Makerita Urale has helped put Pasifika titles on Aotearoa screens since 1995. 

We are going on third generation now, and the reality really is that although we have a homeland to return, I think we’ve pretty much made ourselves here in New Zealand a home.
– Church Minister Rodney Leleisi’uao

Key Cast & Crew

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Arthur Rasmussen


Generic Profile image for Tamara Finau-Moir

Tamara Finau-Moir


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Makerita Urale

Producer, Director

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Melanie Graham

Sound Mix

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Pusi Urale

Language Advisor

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Christopher Brown

Additional Camera

See all 7 credits

Produced by

Makerita Urale


Makerita Urale


Made with assistance from Creative NZ and the NZ Film Commission's Screen Innovation Production Fund