Ancient art makes comeback

By David Rowe

Traditional Fijian tattooing for women will be showcased for the first time at this year's Pasifika Festival, providing a rare insight into one of the region's most ancient practices.

The festival, in its 24th year, returns to Western Springs this weekend after the Queensland fruit fly emergency took it to Manukau last year.

Among the highlights at the 11 villages - Tahiti, Fiji, Niue, Cook Islands, Samoa, Tonga, Hawaii, Aotearoa, Tuvalu, Tokelau, Kiribati - is live tattooing at the Fijian village.

Melanesian tatu (tattoo) artist Julia Mage'au Gray will be marking two women there tomorrow. Ms Gray is one of several New Zealand-based artists connected with The Veiqia Project, an initiative which has taken the group to parts of the Pacific in a bid to research the ancient practice of female tattooing.

It led them to motifs and patterns dating back to the 1800s, when many Melanesian women carried full-bodied frontal and back markings hardly ever seen today.

"Tattooing is a part of our dancing, so we've never separated the two - we've always drawn the tattoos to our bodies," she said. "But when we realised that the tattooing was dying and not being practised, we decided we'd make a film about it."

The film turned into tattooing, as well as art works on canvas, which will be displayed in an exhibition at AUT on March 15.

Ms Gray carries out her work using the traditional hand-poking technique, which sees her painstakingly poke an ink-dipped needle into a person's skin to create a design.

Ms Gray, who is of Papua New Guinean descent, said the past few years had seen more women with Melanesian links step forward wanting to be marked.

The revival meant the vanishing practice was getting new life.

"It's completely new, even though it's really old. The tattoo is related to empowering our women all through Melanesia."

She said being able to showcase the traditional craft at a place like Pasifika meant more people would understand a part of Melanesian culture that had almost disappeared.

Now in its 24th year, Pasifika regularly attracts up to 90,000 people to Western Springs.

Orange Productions is again running the show and general manager Blair Jagusch said there was a push for the festival to become a completely zero-waste event.

"We have a rubbish sorting area on site and all food stalls must supply food in biodegradable containers."

A move towards authenticity was also being encouraged among food stall-holders.

"Stall holders are encouraged to showcase the best the Pacific has to offer while educating the wider public on what real whole foods of the Pacific provide."

Among the highlights this year are musical acts Ladi6, Kas Tha Feelstyle and band Te Vaka, who are working on the soundtrack for Disney's new movie Moana.

The return to the festival of Ladi6, after a break of several years, is expected to be a hit.

"Pasifika Festival was the first festival show I ever performed at with my old group, Sheelahroc. It remains my favourite Pasifika event of the year," she said.

There will also be hula and ukulele lessons, fire dancing, 300 performers/ groups and 200 food and craft stalls.

- NZ Herald

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