Tatauing Cain: Reading the sign on Cain from the ground

Research output: Book chapter/Published conference paperChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


This essay proposes a Tā-tatau reading of Genesis 4. Tā-tatau (tattooing) is a form of Pasifika art that inscribes memories and customs on the bodies of native men and women. In Tonga, this rite suffers under two foreign forces: missionaries prohibit the marking of bodies (supposed to be temples), and superstars commodify body art in the recent past. In Samoa and Aotearoa, the ruling of missionaries did not discourage native tufuga (tattooists), but marketization has taken its toll. Ironically, this scripturalizing rite also rewrites (transforms) and lets go of the memories and customs (read: histories and traditions) that it “inks.” This essay will articulate how Tā-tatau is a scripturalizing rite that links to, changes (rewrites) and lets go of histories and traditions, using that 3-way affect to make sense of the mark on Cain.

The sign of Cain provided him protection in preparation for his wandering, as a banished man, dismissed from the ground. The tatauing of Cain in this reading resists Yhwh’s curse of the ground, as tatau (read: blood) of Abel and tatau (read: wringer) of Cain, with the reminder that humans are creatures of the ground.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Bible and art, perspectives from Oceania
EditorsCaroline Blyth, Nasili Vaka'uta
Place of PublicationLondon, UK
PublisherBloomsbury Academic
Number of pages16
ISBN (Electronic)9780567673305
ISBN (Print)9780567673299, 9780567683854
Publication statusPublished - 2017

Publication series

NameScriptural Traces: Critical Perspectives on the Reception and Influence of the Bible


Dive into the research topics of 'Tatauing Cain: Reading the sign on Cain from the ground'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this