Tattoo Traditions of Polynesia
Home Schedule Gallery Newsletter Events FAQ

Tattoo Newsletter Archive
Sign Up to Receive Newsletter Via eMail

Tattoo News - September 2012

Typically my newsletters just consist of a number of links with brief comments. It's rare that I truly write anything. This issue is the exception; if you prefer to just go direct to the links please feel free to do so. My next newsletter will be back to the norm, that is numerous links with very brief comments, including a couple excellent links on upcoming documentary films on Pacific tattoo and culture.

Often as I attempt to find good links for this monthly newsletter, I wind up discouraged by the amount of misinformation on Polynesian tattoo that is on the web. I believe the biggest problem is that many sites blur the distinctions between the various Polynesian cultures. With contemporary designs that is fine, as much of what is being done today is pan-Polynesian and reflects the many influences of modern-day culture. After all, culture is not static, but ever evolving. Islanders today have every right to modify their designs, incorporate new elements and borrow from other cultures as most people today are under a myriad of external influences. In the case of the historic material, however, blurring the distinctions is problematic and perhaps even a disservice as it perpetuates misinformation. Websites often will be discussing some Tahitian tattoo practices, yet showing illustrations of Marquesan design, and discussing Hawaiian practices in the same context as if they were one in the same. Very little that I see on the web is historically accurate, unfortunately.

All the islands share the same ancestral source - that is they have a shared origin ultimately, if one traces back to the earliest migrations. As each of the island groups were settled, they developed their own distinct dialects, arts and cultural practices, often influenced my their environment- for example, Aotearoa (New Zealand) is a colder climate with different plants and settlers had to adapt house building techniques, clothing and such to the new environment. Similarly atolls have little land mass and no hard woods so a whole different set of adaptations was necessary on atolls.  Later, by the time of first western contact, each island did have it's own distinct cultural practices and tattoos.  This isn't to say that people today should restrict themselves to their own culture-of course not!  We all use mobile phones and wear Levis and have ipods, yes?  Cultures adapt and evolve continuously, but it is good to maintain and perpetuate knowledge of the old traditions and cultural practices, as they are (unfortunately were, in some cases) beautiful, unique and worthy of recognition.

As you may know I recently returned from a trip to Melbourne, Australia where I participated in a tattoo exhibition called TATAU at the National Gallery of Victoria. It was quite an honor to be able to tattoo in such a prestigious museum, but the real benefit is the numerous new friends that I made while there and secondly a brilliant news piece that was just released by the Australia Network News.  The interview started off as usual-the basic questions about Polynesian tattoo and my involvement, then it took a very different turn. In response to one question I mentioned the scarcity of original source material. One problem faced by Islanders and others alike is the accessibility of rare original materials in various museums and library collections. The best early material is always the original documentation. We have to take into account, of course, that oftentimes observers imposed their own standards, despite this, quite often these drawings are accurate because the goal of many of the early artists on these explorations was to accurately record their observations of flora and fauna, and in some cases, tattoo and other cultural phenomena. In many cases reading the journals one finds passages like “the native of Atooi happily sat for several hours on the foredeck allowing both myself and the Surgeon William Ellis to sketch him” paraphrased from John Webber. Thus we know the drawing was done on the spot, not afterward from memory. This news piece has real educational value and is worthy of watching. Hopefully it will inspire people to visit the better libraries and museums in your area and to investigate the Mitchell Library digital collection and other library and museum collections both in person and online. Thank you Liam Cochrane for a job very well done!  See

When I visited Australia in Feb/Mar I spent several days at the Mitchell Library which has one of the best collections of original manuscripts and drawings from the Pacific. I was very pleased and surprised to find an album of over 61 pages of the original drawings by the artist Jacques Arago who was in Hawaii in August of 1819. Forty one original Arago drawings are held by the Honolulu Museum of Art and some are currently on display, but it was fantastic to see his other original sketches!  The news piece addresses the issue of the digitization and accessibility of rare drawings and includes a number of the Arago drawings on screen. Many libraries are now digitizing their collections, and the Arago material can be seen at Numbers 14, and 20 through 25 are from Hawai'i. There are images here from Guam as well, including some great sketches of dance.

While on the topic of digitized online collections, Sam Ohu Gon shared this: The Bishop Museum has made a collection of documents from Hawai'i's monarchy period available online. The Government and Governance online digital initiative features full-text searchable documents amassed from both Hawaiian and English language sources and is available here:

Collections Search

Hana Hou, the in-flight magazine of Hawaiian Airlines often features excellent articles on topics of interest to lovers of things Hawaiian.  Their current issue as well as back issues as early as 2002 are posted online at

The Office of Hawaiian Affairs monthly publication, Ka Wai Ola is also online at You'll see the recent issue covering the current tattoo exhibit at the Honolulu Museum of Arts. The exhibition is excellent with beautiful lifesize photos by Shuzo and runs through January 13th, so make sure to see it if you haven't already. See

Good news for O'ahu residents! In the spring semester I'll be teaching a class in the Spring (Jan. through early May) at Windward Community College on the early practice of tattooing in Polynesia. It will focus on the ethnohistory and original records of Polynesian tattoo, covering both primary and secondary sources, with an emphasis on the original documentation of the art. Contemporary issues and the revival of tattoo will be covered as well. Scheduling will be Tuesday and Thursday mornings, although the times are not finalized yet. Community college classes are open to anyone who wants to register. It's easy to register online and fees are affordable. NOTE: there will be no actual tattooing in the class, rather we will be studying the early cultural context of tattoo and the modern practices in each of the primary Polynesian island groups, as well as the modern revival and contemporary issues. Watch my upcoming newsletters for details, or if you're seriously interested please send me an email with the phrase "Windward Class" in the subject category, and I will email you details as soon as they are finalized. My email is CA clients, don't worry, I'm not giving up on my working trips but just reducing them so I can spend a bit more time at home to finish the books. I'll be back in CA to tattoo again in May, but teaching here during the Spring semesters only.

I'll also be giving a free public presentation titled A Tattoo Tour of Polynesia at Windward community college in early November, again, watch future newsletters for details and check the events listing on my website-- We'll post the time, date and room number as soon as it is confirmed.


Sept 22-23- San Diego Pacific Islander Festival
Sept  24-30- Momilani's Island Traditions in Oceanside
Oct 4-14th: Pacific Island Ethnic Arts Museum in Long Beach
Oct 20- 25- Felton (Santa Cruz area)
Oct  27-Nov 1- Pleasanton/Livermore
Nov 7- 11- Home on O'ahu
Nov 12- Dec 5--Aotearoa for Indigenous Ink  (tentative)
Dec 7–May- largely home on O'ahu
May --> back on the CA tattoo circuit

My deadline for deposits for guaranteed appointments has just passed, but it appears that I still have openings in all cites.  But please, CALL SOON!  (808) 734-8677. You can also e-mail me at but I far prefer the phone for initial contact, as I talk far faster than I type.

There is also a lot of good information on the process in the FAQ on my website, see

Copyright © 1999 - 2010 Tricia Allen