The Commodification of Polynesian Tattooing: Perrsistence, Change and Reinvention of a Cultural Tradition.
Robinson, Rachel Lowe
University of Kansas
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ABSTRACT Micro-Polynesia is the cultural center of the art form of tattooing. Although there was a period of almost complete absence of this art (colonialism until the mid-1900s), this is being revived in the contemporary era. An exception to this decline is found in New Zealand where the practice of tattooing womens' chins maintained itself after the decline of the famous spiral, male moko facial tattoo. New features of tattooing, particularly in French Polynesia, incorporate designs and fresh placement upon the body not visible in this geographic area during the years of early contact. Today, one finds a melange of design and the new occurrence of facial tattooing in a region where this was absent in prehistory. Similarly, the revitalization of this dormant art form is linked to other forms of cultural renaissance, reflecting the way Polynesians are fighting to maintain their culture in the face of globalization. French Polynesia has had a tumultuous political experience beginning in the 18th century when explorers first discovered the shores of Tahiti. While many former colonies of the world have experienced independence in the 20th century, French Polynesia remains an autonomous province of France. The native population resents this close association with France and new political movements have developed to counter French dependency and sovereignty in the region. Tourism has become the most important economic asset in the South Seas and the way to overcome economic dependence from France. Increased tourism has augmented indigenous markets and commodities sold as "authentic" souvenirs to visiting tourists. Tattooing has not only revived itself to reflect a desire for cultural autonomy and political independence, but also as a way to increase revenue in the island: it has become commodified.
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