Wrapping in images: tattooing in Polynesia
In traditional Polynesian societies, tattooing played a key role in the social construction of the person. This study is the first to provide a comparative analysis of tattooing in its original setting, based on a comprehensive survey of the documentary sources, both written and visual. Drawing on modern social theory, psychoanalysis, and contemporary anthropological studies of Polynesia, Alfred Gell demonstrates that tattooing formed part of a complex array of symbolic techniques for controlling sacredness and protecting the self. This framework is used to elucidate the iconographic meaning of tattoo motifs, as well as the rich corpus of mythology surrounding tattooing in certain Polynesian societies, and the complex rituals associated with the tattooing operation. However, not all ancient Polynesian societies placed an equal emphasis on tattooing, and not all exploited the basic metaphors of tattooing in the same way. Dr Gell provides a wide-ranging comparative political analysis of the main Polynesian societies in order to show consistent correlations between forms of political structure and different tattooing institutions. In this way, Wrapping in Images can be read as a general introduction to Polynesian comparative sociology, viewed from the perspective of body symbolism.
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Western Polynesia and Fiji
The Society Islands
Outer Eastern Polynesia