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 pushed 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.

The initiative has seen the group travel to parts of the Pacific, including Fiji, 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 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 practiced, 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 an event 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 a key thing they were pushing was 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 on 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 currently working on the soundtrack for Disney's new movie, Moana.

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


* When: Tomorrow, 10am-5pm. Sunday: 10am-4pm.

* Where: Western Springs Park, Auckland.

* Villages: Tahiti, Fiji, Niue, Cook Islands, Samoa, Tonga, Hawaii, Aotearoa, Tuvalu, Tokelau, Kiribati.

* Highlights: 200 food and craft stalls. Fire dancing, hula, Ladi6, Kas Tha Feelstyle, Te Vaka, ukulele lessons, weaving, coconut husking, live traditional tattooing in Samoan and Fijian villages.

* How to get there: Special bus services will run from Britomart to the festival. $10 parking is available at nearby schools and Motat, but limited. Visit and search for Pasifika Festival for more info.

* Don't forget: Hat, sunscreen, water bottle and comfortable shoes. Gold coin donations will be taken at the Fijian village, for the Cyclone Winston relief effort.


* 24th year

* 2 days

* 11 villages

* Up to 90,000 spectators

* 300 performers/ groups

* 200 stallholders

* approx 300 marquees

* approx 200 toilets

* 21 volunteers