Monday, April 18, 2016

Tattoo Appropriation

All this talk of cultural appropriation makes me slightly uneasy because I have a character who is a bit of a cultural appropriator, and he’s right in the middle of the cover.

His name is Kai, and he is covered with tattoos, including his face, which is decorated with black stripes. Meanwhile, on his hands, he’s got old timey European/American sailor tatts – pigs and chickens and “Hold Fast” across his knuckles. He became interested in getting tattooed during a period of his life when he was deprived of the company of the ocean.
The correct term for what Kai’s got is “kirituhi” – not moko. Moko is specific to the Maori people and contains coded individual meaning, and it is considered a grave insult for a pakeha to appropriate it. Kirituhi, meanwhile is Maori-inspired tattooing that can be worn by anyone, for any reason. I don’t mention either term in the story, but I figured that mentioning the blend of Polynesian and Western styles provided a clue. I have used the word “moko” in the past, but I’m correcting myself.

Why does the character have a tattooed face?  Because his introduction scene involves a flame being lit to suddenly reveal his formidable scary tattooed appearance. That’s an important adventure story element right there. As is his presence on an old-fashioned sailing ship (I pitched Ahab over the side and promoted Queequeg to captain in a Moby Dick callout).

DISCLAIMER: This blog is in no way suggesting YA readers should get tattoos. If you're under 18, do not get a tattoo. 

Instead, read about tattoos (and people who have them):
Succinct explanation of kirituhi:

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