Come to JANM this Saturday for a taste of Samoa! To celebrate our exhibition, Tatau: Marks of Polynesia, the latest JANM Free Family Day will feature a variety of crafts and cultural activities that celebrate Polynesian culture and the art of tattoos. Included will be performances and workshops spotlighting the traditional dances of Samoa. Guests will have a chance to learn the basic steps of fa’ataupati (slap dance), siva (traditional dance), and the fire knife dance with trained performers. (Note: actual fire and knives will NOT be used.)
To give you a sense of what these dances are like, we’ve assembled a collection of YouTube videos below. Enjoy and see you Saturday!
JANM’s newest exhibition,Tatau: Marks of Polynesia, opens to the public on Saturday, July 30. Tatau explores Samoan tattoo practice through photographs that showcase the work of traditional tatau masters alongside more contemporary manifestations of the art form, highlighting the beauty of the Samoan tattoo tradition as well as its key role in the preservation and propagation of Samoan culture.
Our opening day celebration will begin at noon with a traditional Samoan ‘ava ceremony. To help us understand the nature of this ceremony, our summer Getty Multicultural Undergraduate Intern in exhibitions, Alyssa Melville, researched and wrote the following essay.
The ‘ava ceremony is an ancient Samoan ritual that is performed at the beginning of all important services and gatherings. Typically led by the high chief of the hosting village, the ceremony begins with words of welcome as the participants sit cross-legged on the floor in a circle or semicircle. The proceedings include the preparation and consumption of an ‘ava drink, which is usually followed by a feast.
The drink is made by mixing the ‘ava plant, also known as Piper methysticum, with water. This is done in a tānoa (bowl that stands on multiple legs) using a fau (strainer made from the bark of the fau, or Hibiscus tiliaceus, tree) as the stirring tool. The fau strains excess ‘ava from the water; it is then tossed over the right shoulder to a soga‘imiti (a male with a tatau), who shakes out any remaining ‘ava pieces before tossing it back. This continues until no more plant pieces remain in the tānoa. The drink is then served in an ipu tau ‘ava (half of a polished coconut shell) in an order that reflects the social rank of the guests being served.
The power of this ritual comes from its great care and attention to detail. Every move made is very deliberate, from the direction in which the ‘ava is stirred to the shoulder the fau is tossed over. Both the seating and the order of consumption of the ‘ava are dictated by the hosting high chief and are representative of the social hierarchy of Samoan society.
Just as the practice of tatau has migrated and evolved over the years, so has the ‘ava ceremony. Since Samoans rely on oral traditions to preserve their history and culture, small details of the ceremony have changed over time simply due to the retelling of the stories by different generations. As Samoan emigrants have settled around the world, the various diasporic communities have developed their own ceremonies based on different stories and retellings. Some have added a prayer at the end; others have altered the dress code to better suit contemporary society.
The central purpose of the ‘ava ceremony, however, remains the same: promoting unity and respect among groups.
Alyssa Melville majors in sociology/anthropology and business management at University of Redlands.
The story of Polynesian tattoo art, or tatau, is one of fierce dedication to cultural tradition. Despite attempts by western missionaries to eliminate the practice, tatau has survived for over two thousand years, passed down through generations of skilled tattoo artists. The act of acquiring tatau is itself a grueling test of endurance and tolerance for pain. Thus, wearing these traditional marks is a bold statement of cultural pride.
Recognizing the importance of what tatau symbolizes, and its relevance to JANM’s work of promoting diversity, JANM will present Tatau: Marks of Polynesia, an exhibition on the artistry and legacy of Samoan tattoo.
Opening in Summer 2016, Tatau will build on JANM’s immensely popular 2014 exhibition Perseverance: Japanese Tattoo Tradition in a Modern World. Like Perseverence, Tatau is curated by acclaimed tattoo artist and author Takahiro Kitamura. We hope Tatau will inspire and enlighten our members and frequent visitors, while also introducing JANM and the Japanese American story to new audiences.
Because we expect Tatau will appeal to diverse communities, JANM was open to exploring new options for funding the exhibition. Earlier this month, the museum launched its first-ever crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo to raise funds for Tatau. Contributions to the campaign will support photographing tatau, installing the exhibition at the museum, and publishing a full-color catalog. Recently, Kitamura and exhibition photographer John Agcaoili traveled to Hawai‘i to consult with Sulu’ape Steve Looney and Danielle Steffany-Looney of Pacific Soul Tattoo as well as Edward Danielson, lecturer in the Department of Indo-Pacific Languages and Literatures, University of Hawai‘i, to ensure the cultural accuracy of the exhibition narrative.
So far, the campaign has attracted interest from around the world and raised several thousand dollars for the exhibition through donations of all sizes. Currently, we are about one-third of the way to our goal of raising $20,000.
Visit our Tatau Indiegogo page to learn more about the exhibition and help us reach our fundraising goal. Our campaign runs through December 3, 2015. And we hope to see you when Tatau comes to JANM next year.