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Feature film 'Marks of Mana' looks at history of Pacific women's tatau

24 October 2018

Posted in: Pacific Radio News,

By Lisa Williams-Lahari -

The first feature film on female tattooing in the Pacific, led by Fresh TV founder Lisa Taouma, is already making waves ahead of its Auckland premiere next month. 

Marks of Mana follows the origins and modern day journeys of female tatau in Fiji, Samoa and Papua New Guinea.

Marks of Mana is making waves internationally ahead of its release next month. Photo/ Supplied.

It begins with the origin story of how the practice came to the 'cradle' from Fiji, where the tradition was virtually wiped out after the coming of Christianity and has next to no cultural memory. 

Ironically, the London Missionary Society could not wipe out what Fiji had brought to Samoa, where the tradition of tatau is still thriving.

Oral history research by Taouma unveiled her 'surprise' moments of this work - the legends had two female warriors so dizzied by their open ocean swim from Fiji, where tattooing was done only on women, by women. Later, they flipped the script and made men the focus for this rite of passage.

"I didn't realize how strong Christianity, colonization and all the really misogynist agendas that came with that, had turned it towards being a male thing, so that was surprising and it was interesting untangling some of that," says Taouma.

The social media buzz as well as a major international film festival award are growing interest in its public debut to Pasifika audiences, who've welcomed a work that's meeting a continued thirst for content and relevance from the Oceania diaspora.

The work earned Taouma the best long format documentary award at ImagineNATIVE Festival in Canada, the world's largest indigenous film festival.

Produced for online viewing via Taouma's online Pacific hub platform The Coconet TV, Marks of Mana was also a learning curve for its producer, who says there's a "joy" about the reach and engagement with a global audience. 

Conceding the big screen for the mobile screen means the whole world will get to see it, says Taouma.

"The purpose of making it was to share it, unlike films made for the cinema where you get to the screenings or TV broadcasts, or you miss it. The joy of the internet is that it's prime time all the time so it will be fully available online for us to see. That's the joy for me of doing it really, that you imagine something that will be really widely viewed and shared and get a response to that online."

Lisa Taouma (centre). Photo/ Supplied.

The pressure to honour the audiences, not just the story, has been just as strong for her latest work. And in the tradition of the story-telling process on film, a long labour 'birthing' and claiming its right to be told.

Like many Pacific producers, the challenges of retelling stories from small island communities are complex. 

Dealing with real people in real communities makes a producer "answerable, fully answerable to the people in those communities," says Taouma of that process where so often the story being shared is a personal one.

"It's really important to tell stories with authenticity, represent people's truth well...and make stuff truthfully for the heart of the community you're representing."

"It's a documentary made of wonderful stories of a whole conglomeration of women across the Pacific. That to me is the amazing thing about it. The pressure and the anxiety for me around it was being able to bring it into the world in the best way possible."

Marks of Mana will be available for viewing in November at The Coconet TV.

Tags: Samoa,