Public History Talk: Stories behind the book — ‘Tatau: A History of Samoan Tattooing’ by Sean Mallon (Wednesday 5 June 2019, Wellington)

3000 years of Samoan tatau

The Samoan Islands are virtually unique in that tattooing has been continuously practiced with indigenous techniques: the full male tattoo, the pe’a has evolved in subtle ways in its design since the nineteenth century, but remains as elaborate, meaningful, and powerful as it ever was. This cultural history is the first publication to examine 3000 years of Samoan tatau.

Through a chronology rich with people, encounters and events it describes how Samoan tattooing has been shaped by local and external forces of change over many centuries. It argues that Samoan tatau has a long history of relevance both within and beyond Samoa, and a more complicated history than is currently presented in the literature.

In this talk, Sean discusses the book’s development and its key themes with reference to specific and some possibly surprising stories.

Tatau won the Illustrated Non-Fiction Award at the 2019 Ockham Awards.

About the speaker

Sean Mallon, who is of Sāmoan (Mulivai, Safata) and Irish descent, is Senior Curator Pacific Cultures at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa.

He is a co-author of both ‘Tangata o le Moana: The story of New Zealand and the people of the Pacific’ (Te Papa Press, 2012) and ‘Art in Oceania: A new history’ (2012), which was awarded the Authors’ Club’s Art Book Prize.

Sean has been a council member of The Polynesian Society since 2008.


Date: Wednesday, 5 June, 2019
Time: 12:10 p.m. to 1:00 p.m.
Location: Te Ahumairangi (ground floor), National Library, corner Molesworth and Aitken Streets, Thorndon

For those who cannot make it to the Library, the talk will be recorded and made available on the NZHistory PodBean page within a day or two of the talk.