Sunday, July 3, 2011

hiapo tatau

My long-awaited desire to have my hands inked has begun and with it, the sense that who I am is finally working her way to the surface. Years of uncertainty, coupled with the ongoing sense of being confined and hidden away as I do the work of raising my children; with age and experience, clarity comes forth.
Something hidden, something revealed.

There is much to be said about my love for hiapo, the traditional Niuean barkcloth covered in freehand painted symbols. Its fuelled my work and its silent presence can be felt in much of what I do as an artist.

Niue is where my husband's father came from. It is in his blood and therefore in my children. Tatau is the pacific (Tahitian, Samoan, Hawaiin, etc) tradition of tattooing at a coming of age, and for Maori, it is Ta Moko.

I chose my hands because they are my tools that I see everyday. I am over the moon so to speak, that everyday I live with hiapo, I look at it and I display it for others to know. Hiapo is rare and mostly found in private or museum collections.

The artist John Pule has done some significant artworks that are also influenced by hiapo. Along with my eldest son Nemaia, I was privileged to view his latest exhibition and immense collection of his works at Wellington City Gallery last year. I have a much used copy of "Hiapo" that Pule wrote with co-author Nicholas Thomas. It is one of my prized books in my collection. I think I wore out the one that our public library holds prior to getting one of my own.

I currently have his book "Huaga" in my possession on loan from equally hiapo-obsessed sister-in-law Naomi, who also produces beautiful works inspired by these cloths. I will post more later about hiapo. Part of me wants to hide it away for my own pleasure but part of me is compelled to share it's beauty. In his latest book, Pule turns new corners in his own work while his paintings still strongly reflect traditional hiapo wondrously. This artist continues to inspire me with his beautiful works both in content and scale. I'm attracted too to his use of colour in his latest works.

Much thanks to Tauranga-based Pacific artist Iata Peautolu of Fekai Studio for his beautiful and delicate work on my arm. For listening to my brief and coming back to me with a design that incorporated hiapo, visual space, lace (a nod to my grandmother and her love for crochet, as well as mine for all things handmade) and mehndi design for a more feminine approach to tatau rather than the commonly seen big broad heavy bands usually worn.

I wanted something delicate and light while being strong in content. Having tatau is a ceremony, that commences with karakia (prayer) and requires a strong sense of trust. I commend Iata, who along with his wife and children speaks fluent Maori, lives on tribal land, is committed to his art practice and has travelled the world in a performing arts team, spending time in Hawaii as well doing both ta moko and tatau, as well as here in Aotearoa.

I can't wait for my next ink which will reflect my own tribal roots of the far north along with more hiapo as well. There is no such thing as too much hiapo (I can feel Naomi smiling and nodding in agreement as she reads this).

Thanks also to Ana Coffey for capturing these photos on her bat phone despite us both being at music group with our children, while many other kids milled around, the vacuum cleaner was going and being at complete odds with what we were trying to achieve. You are a phenomenal woman Ana, being a great mum, a city councillor and friend. Thanks for this service you've done me. Ka pai sis.

If this is my 40's bring it on. Like all things, women get more beautiful with age. If you ask me, society has it wrong only glorifying youth. Beauty is what we choose it to be. Indeed all ages have their qualities and we do not become less as we age. Indeed, I'm feeling more powerful than ever. It reminds me of the Maya Angelou poem that I shall leave you below.

Phenomenal Woman

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I'm not cute or built to suit a fashion model's size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I'm telling lies.
I say,
It's in the reach of my arms
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I'm a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That's me.

I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
I say,
It's the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I'm a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That's me.

Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can't touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them
They say they still can't see.
I say,
It's in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I'm a woman

Phenomenal woman,
That's me.

Now you understand
Just why my head's not bowed.
I don't shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It's in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need of my care,
'Cause I'm a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That's me.

Maya Angelou

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roz said...

How really beautiful..the hiapo , the images of you , and your words
All so powerful.
Thankyou for sharing...

Arija said...

A wise and beautiful decision indeed. So glad you have grown into your tradition.

Dawn said...

You are so right about people being more beautiful with age. Each experience leaving it's own mark on our skin, in our eyes, the way we walk or talk. A painting being created with each stroke. Wisdom coming to fruition as we become closer to God, as he is the Source of it all. I love to read your posts, as an artist, as a fabric lover, as a mother and as a christian.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing your journey, your story. It lives in your tatau.

I'd love to feature you and your tatau in my blog Urban Viti (

My email is


zippiknits...sometimes said...

It's beautiful, just like you.

Walk with Beauty all around you.

Kaylovesvintage said...