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Mage'au : Melanesian Marks
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My Mother’s Skin

Updated: May 6, 2019

Our Bubu’s (Grandmother’s) wore the marks of their families, clans, villages and regions. Their marks afforded them respect, an immediate visual acknowledgment of their strength and position in society. The designs were a visual language that spoke of their lineage and also reflected the transitions in life, from girl to woman. The art of ‘tattooing’ in Central Province, Papua New Guinea was primarily a woman’s practice.

As a child my mother wore a fibre skirt made by her mother. Her mother, my Bubu wore a fibre skirt over skin marked with designs that spoke of her strength and enhanced her beauty. My mother’s skin was bare.

As a school aged girl my mother wore a skirt. Her Uncle secretly sent her away to boarding school in Kubuna. My mother’s skin was empty.


She wore a mini skirt. As a young woman finishing her high school scholarship in Sydney, she met my father. My mother’s skin was bare.


Many years later I would ask her mother, My Bubu if she could share with me a design. I wore shorts, I had a nose ring, I thought she was beautiful and I did not want my skin to be empty.


‘Colonisation’ and ‘the Gospel’ coupled with ‘Capitalism’ and ‘Globalisation’ has had disastrous effects on the continuance of what has remained of our cultural practice of marking skin. The eradication of our marks took more away from our women than could be understood at the time of stopping the practice.


In the photo that I have of my Mother’s Mother, My Bubu is wearing a dark blue skirt over soft aged skin marked with designs that spoke of her strength and enhanced her beauty. She also wore her rosary. My mother’s skin was bare.


Our beliefs and values have changed with the influence of outside cultures. The contexts in which we live have changed and yet I firmly believe that we can wear our Bubu’s marks again and still find the balance that respects our introduced beliefs and pays homage to the women that came before us.


The day I marked my Mother’s skin with her Mother's designs was a small step in reconnecting our visual lineage from her mother to her daughters. Our skin is no longer empty.


Today, our children look at our skin and see the lineage they will one day have the choice to wear.





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