In Samoan culture, traditional tattoo patterns are assigned to men and women. Men wear a pe'a, covering the male body from waist to knees, and women wear the malu, designs etched into the upper thighs down to below the knees. Presenter Riria Hotere talks to Te Papa curator (and author) Sean Mallon about the process. Mallon displays tools made out of turtle shell, sticks and boar tusks. The ceremony is carried out by a tufuga ta tatau (master tattooist), and is an exercise in endurance for the recipient. Mallon also discusses photos of tatau ceremonies in Aotearoa, which Mark Adams began taking in the 1970s.
If you go for the full customary Samoan tattoo forms, you're really making a commitment to the art form and the culture.– Te Papa senior curator Sean Mallon talks about the significance of tatau
Te Papa curator Sean Mallon on his book about Samoan tattooing, Radio New Zealand, August 2018
More Tales from Te Papa from its Pacific Cultures collection