Book Review: Tatau: A History of Sāmoan Tattooing, by Sean Mallon and Sebastien Galliot

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_tatau‘The history of tatau has…been one of both continuity and disruption, with social, cultural and technological change coming from within Sāmoan society as much from the outside world.’ (p.298)

If you know nothing at all about tattoos or fa‘asamoa (Sāmoan culture, values and traditions) this excellent book will lead you into a whole new world. It focuses on Sāmoan tatau – the lines and motifs that form Sāmoan tattoo designs – and the ceremonies and rituals that accompany the process of receiving a tatau, often considered as a rite of passage for young people. Authors Sean Mallon and Sebastien Galliot are joined by other contributors, including poets, academics and historians, to describe the complex history and symbolism of tatau over the past 3000 years. Collectively they explore and explain the multiple influences on tatau practices, which include politics, geography, sexuality, genealogy, gender roles, art, literature, health and safety, religion, science and (latterly) social media.

Mallon, a writer and Te Papa curator, is of Sāmoan and Irish descent. His deep interest in the topic was sparked by an ‘early and vague’ memory of his grandfather’s tatau. Galliot is a French anthropologist who has carried out extensive research on traditional tatau and lived in Sāmoa while completing his PhD. Both authors have developed complementary and in-depth knowledge of tatau history and contemporary practices.

‘What [surprised] me, and continues to intrigue me, is … that a set of symbols from a seemingly remote group of islands in the South Pacific could circulate in many forms across a range of contexts and on the bodies of people from all walks of life and across the world.’  (p. 11)

Mallon and Galliot describe how symbols (including logos) from other cultures have been incorporated into tatau designs alongside indigenous symbols over time. The designs and the location of tatau on the body continue to change and evolve, although there is still a strong demand for traditional methods and patterns. Tatau designs are no longer limited to the body and are now evident in art (such as Michel Tuffery’s woodcuts and Fatu Feu’u’s paintings), and other objects as diverse as postage stamps, stationery and tee-shirts. The knowledge I’ve gained from this book has helped me to recognise – and encouraged me to search out – tatau patterns and references in unexpected places. The book includes Flanagan’s remarkable graphic depiction of Avia’s Wild Dogs Under My Skirt poem, centred on the poem’s intense and evocative descriptions of tatau.

The distinctive characteristics of tatau are the ‘location of the markings on the body, their extent and density, and the tools used in the tattooing process (p.14)’.  Although many tufuga (tatau artists) now use masini (machines) with steel needles and black ink, others continue to use traditional tools to make marks on the body by vigorously tapping the skin with sharp ‘teeth’ to perforate it so that pigment can be introduced. I found the chapter focusing on the iconography of tatau particularly informative, as it includes a selection of common patterns and explains what each represents. This chapter also has photos identifying the many different tatau zones (each with a group of motifs) on both male and female bodies. (These zones, and the names used to refer to the tattoo, differ for men, who wear tatau or pe’a, and for women, who wear malu.) Each zone has its own term. Fusi, for example, is the name given to a belt, strap or band of motifs located at the top of the thigh.

The book draws on many different sources, including journals, poetry, photographs, exhibition catalogues and oral histories.

I found the rich descriptions of the rituals, protocol and ceremonies associated with tatau practices of great interest. These customarily included preparing and sharing food, providing sports and other entertainment, and bestowing gifts such as fine mats, canoes, weapons and instruments. The photos and illustrations throughout the book are stunning, in particular the highly detailed drawings of tatau – many of these are hand-drawn and date back to the 1800s. Photos of the tools are stark – the sharp teeth of the combs clearly visible and reinforcing a theme echoed throughout the book: that pain is inevitable, and indeed ‘you cannot find yourself without pain and suffering’ (p.26).

The photos of people with tatau allowed me to look at length at the designs and appreciate the intricacy of the patterns, as well as to consider the time and skills needed to create the tatau. In real life such prolonged gazing would be disrespectful. I’m grateful to the men and women who gave permission for their images to be included in the book. Mallon and Galliot report that a full tatau is rarely seen, instead we may see only a glimpse with the rest concealed beneath clothing. They note that it is not uncommon for social media users to criticise how and where others reveal their tatau.

I see some parallels between Tatau and the earlier Mau Moko: The World of Māori Tattoo (Te Awekotuku and Nikora, 2007) such as the descriptions of the shared influence of the Lapita people who are believed to have practiced both face and body tattooing. The Lapita are considered to be the ancestors of multiple Pacific Island peoples; as seafarers they migrated far and wide across Oceania. Tatau briefly discusses the positive relationships established between certain tufuga and Māori tā moko practitioners, which has included gifting traditional tools to strengthen cultural connections. Both Tatau and Mau Moko refer to the extensive contributions of Sulu’ape Paulo II, a renowned and active tufuga who also supported and mentored Māori artists.

A glossary explains terms used throughout the book and there is a comprehensive bibliography, as well as brief biographies of all contributors.

The hard cover and spine are striking and embossed with symbols that spell ‘tatau’. The cover is partially enclosed by an eye-catching dust-jacket featuring the lower abdomen and thighs of a male body with tatau. The print varies in size throughout the book and some readers may find the smallest print a challenge. In several chapters the orange text on dark pages is also hard to read, especially in low light.

Although Mallon and Galliot have written a meticulous and comprehensive history, in the closing chapter they comment that ‘…this book is far from the last word on Sāmoan tatau. There are other histories to be written and other stories to be told…’ (p. 299). Their book will be a superb reference for future authors who are likewise privileged and trusted to bring these stories to life.

Reviewed by Anne Kerslake Hendricks

Tatau: A History of Sāmoan Tattooing
by Sean Mallon and Sebastien Galliot
Published by Te Papa Press
ISBN: 9780994136244

Book Review: Why is that Lake so Blue? by Simon Pollard

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_whay_is_that_lake_so_blue.jpgIt is fascinating to read that it is rock flour which gives some of the South Island lakes such as Pukaki and Tekapo their brilliant aquamarine colour in a new book by Simon Pollard. He explains, ‘as glaciers move down the mountains they grind the rocks beneath them. This grinding can turn the rock into a fine dust -rock or glacier flour….. Because it reflects light, the rock flour in the water makes the lake look extremely blue.’

The 130 page volume Why is That Lake So Blue?, published by Te Papa Press is divided into eight chapters all beginning with a question which the author sets out to answer, with a variety of methods such a text, photographs and maps, as well as small pop ups which will be sure to capture children’s interest.

Pollard has succeeded in producing an entertaining and informative children’s guide to New Zealand’s natural world and his passion for the topic shows through in his discussions which are written for 9 to 12-year-olds. However younger children would find lots to interest them as well, with an adult alongside them to assist with the text.

At the rear of the book the question is asked, ‘What can you do to help keep Aotearoa New Zealand magic? Children are directed to check out the Kiwi Conservation Club Hakuturi Toa and conservation activities on the Department of Conservation website, to see how they can ‘keep the magic alive.’

There is also a couple of pages of trickier words which the author has provided excellent explanations, titled ‘what does that word mean?’, to help the children  understand the meaning where it is included in the book. The map of New Zealand is an ideal reference for children to find where a particular topic is located in the country.

Simon Pollard has written a number of children’s books in New Zealand and the United States and he has twice won the Elsie Locke non –fiction book of the year, while it was within the LIANZA awards.

I love this book and have picked it up a number of times over the last month to browse the colourful pages. I wish I had had access to this publication when I was at school, and I am sure it will be a valuable asset to any school or home library.

Reviewed by Lesley McIntosh

Why is That Lake so Blue?
by Simon Pollard
Published by Te Papa Press
ISBN 9780994146014

Book Review: The New Zealand Art Activity Book, by Helen Lloyd

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_new_zealand_art_activity_bookIf you are trying to get your child off the screen and involved in something more creative, the New Zealand Art Activity book is packed with activities to encourage children to see, think and draw like artists.

Filled with over one hundred activities this new edition of the Art Activity Book will suit children of all ages and abilities, as it contains simple colouring, as well as more advanced painting or construction of items.

Written and developed by Helen Llyod Gallery Educator at the City Gallery, Wellington, in consultation with Sarah Farrar, Senior Curator at Te Papa. Helen compiled an earlier edition in 2013 aimed at 5 – 8-year-olds which was the winner in the Children’s Book category of the Multi-media and Publication Design Awards 2014.

The 2017 edition includes reproductions of 51 historical and contemporary works from Te Papa’s art collection, and new works commissioned from current New Zealand artists as well as art based activities.

Two pages at the beginning of the book set out very clearly the type of pens, paints and other materials which would be needed to complete the tasks, and the following two pages give some background to the fifteen modern artists who have supplied artworks.
At the rear of the book there is further explanation of art terms and the glossary includes English translation of Maori, Fijian, Hindu, Mandarin, Niuean, Samoan, Tongan and Cook Island words included in the text.

There is lots to interest children of all ages in the 160 pages and I found myself engrossed in a number of the pages, itching to start some of the projects, but I will wait until I have some grandchildren around to share in the creativity.

Reviewed by Lesley McIntosh

The New Zealand Art Activity Book
by Helen Lloyd
Published by Te Papa Press
ISBN 9780994136237

Book Review: The Genius of Bugs, by Simon Pollard

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_genius_of_booksImagine you are a bug living in a bug world, where a blade of grass is as tall as a tree! All around you are other bugs with secret weapons on search and destroy missions. Lurking behind every leaf are mini-masters of disguise waiting to catch you out.

Bugs have been on earth for almost 400 million years. They were here before the dinosaurs and are still here, 65 million years after dinosaurs became extinct. What these critters do is really clever. The genius of bugs is revealed through their use of weapons, feats of engineering, scams and deceptions, and incredible teamwork.

This is a great book to introduce children to the magic of bugs. The use of in-built weapons by the Bombardier beetle, the marvel of miniature engineering of the Dragonfly and how a Portia jumping spider uses its exceptional intelligence to hunt other spiders.

I read this book with 5 ½-year-old Abby. We pored over the pages with her exclaiming ‘ooh yuk’a lot, but fascinated all the same. Afterwards, we took her magnifying glass outside with her net and bug catcher to see what we could find. We found a fine collection of moths, flies, spiders and snails, examined them at length and finally released them back into the wild.

This is a great book with lots of information and facts about bugs. It was great to see a page dedicated to genius bugs from New Zealand, and overall this is a great book for the aspiring biologist.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

The Genius of Bugs
by Simon Pollard
Published by Te Papa Press
ISBN 9780994136213

Book Review: Real Modern – Everyday life in New Zealand in the 1950s and 1960s, by Bronwyn Labrum

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_real_modern.jpgWhat a wonderful piece of work this book is! For those of us who lived through these decades as kids and teenagers, every page has something which rings a bell. We did think we were the cat’s pyjamas in our ever-changing fashions, and so hip and cool with all the new music.

For Gen X and Y, and on, it’s a wonderful way to get an idea of what your parents and grandparents read, listened to, watched, ate, played and so much more. As a social commentary, it works very well indeed. The layout and the gazillion photographs really bring the years to life.

I found that so many of the entries and comments triggered great memories – the section on Manual Training which happened in Intermediate schools in the late 50s reminded me of my fearsome cooking and sewing teacher who, being of vitriolic temperament, would hurl kitchen implements at us when we did not get things right. Once, even more memorably, she chased a friend around the cooking room with a carving knife for some perceived act of insubordination.

I remember the revolting dental chair – as a preschooler I had terrible teeth and spent far too much time in that horrible chair, with the foot-driver grinding drill.

As a student, I visited Wellington, and delighted in the Monde Marie coffee bar which was the heart of the folk music scene.

I “managed” a group of school students from Christchurch to Auckland  on the Interisland overnight ferry and the overnight train and can vouch for the sections on those modes of transport. The clothes, the shoes, the picnics beside cars on the side of the road, all so true of NZ “way back when!”

It’s a book to return to, with delight, and recognition, and amusement if you are old enough to remember 40-50 years back. And if you’re not, it’s still a great delight. I recommend it hugely – will make a wonderful talking point for family occasions, too!

Reviewed by Sue Esterman

Real Modern: Everyday life in New Zealand in the 1950s and 1960s
by Bronwyn Labrum
Published by Te Papa Press
ISBN 9780994104175

Book Reviews: My New Zealand 123 Book, My New Zealand Colours Book, My New Zealand ABC Book, by Te Papa Press

Available now in bookstores nationwide.

These three board books from Te Papa Press are beautifully presented and published. cv_nz_colours_bookEach of them use objects from Te Papa Museum’s collection to illustrate the basic alphabet, numbers, and colour concepts.

The text is sparing, simple and playful. It encourages the reader to look more closely at the images shown, giving quips and quirky suggestions that accompany each image perfectly. Each of the key elements are indicated both in English and in Te Reo, an important addition for any kiwi version of these toddler staples – but one that is often overlooked. I, for one, never realised that the Maori word for ‘grey’ was kiwikiwi – what an appropriate word for the bubbling Rotorua mudpools that illustrate the colour grey. Pāua is a unique kiwi addition to the colours also, and a very important one – but it won’t stop kids arguing whether a pāua shell is mostly blue, mostly green, or mostly purple! cv_nz_123_book

The Te reo Māori pronunciation guide at the back of each of the books is important for parents as much as for children, to give the best start possible for learning Te reo at home.

I can’t think of any collection of basic-concept board books that do as well as these at providing children with real-life examples that they can relate to as kiwi children. Equally, they show the unique flavour of life here in New Zealand for those from abroad.

The breadth of art that the images cover is incredible. Modern and classical sculpture, cv_my_NZ_ABC_bookfashion, antique jewellery and artifacts, photography, model airplanes, modern jewellery, puppets, gold nuggets. This alone teaches children how broad and interesting our world is here in the deep south. The images are evocative and have the feel of something ‘found’ rather than something sought. Te Papa’s curators must have enjoyed contributing to these books, and I am certain authors James Brown and Frances Samuel enjoyed coming up with the accompanying words.

My favourite rhyme is from the illustration for ‘C’ – a car made of corrugated iron:
C is for car
all rusty and crinkly.
Too long in the bath
has made it go wrinkly.

I expect these to be available at every bookstore, giftstore and kiosk in New Zealand as fantastic gifts for children, grandchildren and friends. My copies are going straight to my kiwi friend, who lives in Canada, for her baby girl.

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

My New Zealand 123 Book
Text by James Brown and Frances Samuel
Published by Te Papa Press

My New Zealand Colours Book
Text by James Brown and Frances Samuel
Published by Te Papa Press

My New Zealand ABC Book
Text by James Brown and Frances Samuel
Published by Te Papa Press

Book Review: The Curioseum: Collected stories of the odd & marvellous

What a fantastic idea for a book.cv_the_curiousem Museums are hives of story, both real and imagined. Things in museums all have something different to communicate, and these 22 authors have created new stories surrounding some intriguing objects from Te Papa Museum.

I am envious of the carte blanche the authors were given in the museum archives. I still remember being able to explore the archives of Coaltown, where my mum worked in Westport. I used to love going exploring in the attic – of course nothing was clearly archived, so it was really dusty and grimy, but there was magic up there.

Realistic dialogue between children is one of the major strengths of several of the stories in this book, with Anatonio Te Maioha writing about a disaster in a lift, and John McCrystal writing about two kids bickering as they go through the museum with their mum, learning about a dog-skin cloak whose owner remains a mystery.

The authors chosen have put their own recognisable imprint on their story, with Kyle Mewburn writing about a fold-up boy who is a bit of a dunderhead, Phillip Mann invoking the supernatural Sa-Li, James Brown giving us an acrostic poem about Britten’s bike, Joy Cowley writing a caper story featuring an errant cat, and Raymond Huber writing one of the most memorable stories in the collection, of a unique breed of humans who mature into insects (a highly original allegory for puberty).

While my children are too young for most of these stories, I still attempted the launch at Te Marae at the beginning of the month. I enjoyed the wonderful Jo Randerson reading her story, and so did my 3-year-old, but the 18-month old is a bit over-active for that sort of immersion in words!

The cover and the interior illustrations are all by Sarah Laing, who is a fantastic artist, and has some really neat interpretations of the stories. I am enjoying this trend at the moment of using cartoonists for cover illustration – Sarah has done several cartoon covers recently, and Dylan Horrocks also: both have an eye-catching style of lettering and illustration. The weight and feel of this book are also well-considered.

This is a wonderful collection for children aged 8-12. Both world wars and the holocaust come up in the book a couple of different times, as well as several Maori myths, so be prepared for some chances to explain Maori mythology and European history if they aren’t yet aware of it. I look forward to the next children’s book from Te Papa Press, especially if they collaborate with Whitireia Publishing further.

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

The Curioseum: Collected Stories of the Odd & Marvellous
Edited by Adrienne Jansen
Published by Te Papa Press
ISBN 9787877385926