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Tatau i Moorea Festival- Moorea, Tahiti 2018

Tatau i Moorea came onto my radar in late 2017, I was asked if I would be able to bring one other Tattooist and we would tag on to the NZ delegation with the help of Julie Paama-Pengelly. Raniera Ellison and I would go to Moorea and represent the Cook Islands.


As our first international festival we had attended together we tried to prepare as best as we could. Which as it turned out isn’t an easy task when you are working full time in the studio as well. We are so lucky to be able to fly direct to Tahiti via Rarotonga, even if it is only once a week.


Upon arriving in Tahiti, I soon realized the importance of having an assistant to help us remember all the things outside of out Machines and supplies. In the future I hope to be able to have another come to assist with front of booth, bookings and communications when we are tattooing. This was an important lesson learnt. I had forgotten banners, Tattoo photo books, and basically anything that didn’t pertain to tattooing. I did remember a flag though so that was a win. Hahaha


We arrived first to our accommodation in Moorea; it was a lovely lagoon side bungalow about 2km down from where the festival was being held. I was lucky enough to have visited the site about 3 weeks prior while on a trip with Muay Thai Cook Islands. Gifted the workers with a box full of the best corned beef in the South Pacific, Palm Gold. Hopeful that the small gift I had my friend carry on his back all the way from Papeete. After a swim and a walk around the accommodation the delegation from Aotearoa arrived. We met old friends and made new ones.


The opening ceremony was the following day and was slightly overwhelming to say the least. But we were there, ready to once again be present and stand there for our elders before us and Te iti tangata i Kuki Airani. As we arrived to the hotel where the official ceremony started other artist started to arrive. Some previous friends who are local artists arrived and we began to see just how large this was going to be for the first of its kind in Moorea, and an indigenous Tatau Festival. My thoughts went to a conversation I had with Gillies, on of the organizers and how it had always been his dream to do something of this nature. How that must have felt for him as the proceedings began, mixed feelings of nerves and satisfaction.

Lots of cameras, media, public attendees and enthusiasts alike. I found Raniera and hunted down some Rauti (Ti Leaf) to make him a neckpiece as is tradition for our men to wear in the Cook Islands, Numa Mackenzie, had also attended with the New Zealand delegation, however he is also Cook Islands Maori and so I made him one too. As they started to ask all the artists to form on the side we all gathered and were all given Rauti neckpieces as well. The processions started and one by one each delegation was called up, which soon also made us realize they had forgotten us. Some may have seen this as an insult but it was just another stark remind as to why we are here, which gave both myself and Raniera the clarification we needed for the rest of the festival to say “Kia Orana, Yes its us, the 15 little islands between New Zealand and Tahiti that everyone forgets about” eventually Gillies, spotted us and we were called to join the group.


Day 1 was mostly about meeting and greeting the other artists, setting up our booth and getting ready for the week long festival. We were very pleased to find we had been placed in the main hut with allocated booths but open enough to be able to converse with the other artists. We had Henere and Warren Teng to our left, Patu, Manutea, Te Ata, and Aukara with Tangaloa Tatau across from our booth. So we were placed amongst the locals. Every morning was fun to see what pieces they would be working on; Raniera and I had made the decision in Rarotonga that we would be of more worth to our kaupapa if we made ourselves available to speak about where we are from and our differences and similarities with our brothers and sisters of Te Moananui o Kiva.

We weren’t there to make lots of money, we were there to share and experience and that’s exactly what we did. The main goal being to make our family and children proud to be from our Islands and hopefully have a place to stand amongst the big dogs of this crazy life we lead.

The week was filled with machine tattooing and traditional tattooing, Dancing, arts and crafts, Kava and food, sharing of cultures and gifting of friendships.

For myself it was a huge connection made to my Tahitian lineage and with such a large group of artists I of course walked away from the whole thing with some pretty amazing friendships.


I hope that one day we can return the gesture and host a Tatau festival of our own one-day. If we are lucky it will be under our new Maori name, until then we will proudly represent the Cook Islands and the islands it contains.

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