Embodied Fonua: Reconstructing a Tongan (Customary) Tātatau Practice in Aotearoa

Koloamatangi, Terje
Lopesi, Lana
Lythberg, Billie
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Master of Philosophy
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Auckland University of Technology

In many ways, my journey with tātatau is a story of rediscovery and becoming, both in my creative and professional identity as an Indigenous artist and tattooist and my personal identity as a Tongan.

This exegesis offers an insight into aspects of my arts practice as I navigate the process of reconstructing a uniquely Tongan tātatau from within the diaspora. The research is guided by one question: How do I rebuild a Tongan (customary) tātatau practice when the specialised knowledge once held by the practitioners of the artform has long been forgotten?

To begin to answer the question of how, I survey historical material relating to tātatau within Tongan oral traditions and during the early period of encounter between Europeans and Tongans. I identify the key people and events that have been instrumental in the re-emergence of Tongan tātatau in the modern era, and I go on to discuss why tātatau has become a valuable mechanism for diasporic Tongans to reconnect and reconcile their relationship to their ancestral homelands. Lastly, I focus on my own tātatau practice and the mode of tattooing that has helped shape a uniquely Tongan tātatau from within the diaspora.

As an artist, I am driven by a need to create. It is how I make sense of the world within the various contexts of my experience. Within a Tongan context, it is the utility of my art, arrived at through a process of knowledge-seeking and intuitive making, that defines its true value.

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