Screened as part of NZIFF 2002

Savage Symbols 2002

Directed by Makerita Urale

55 minutes Beta-SP

Director, Producer


Arthur Rasmussen

Additional footage

Riko Tupai


Mara Finau-Moir

Off-line editor

Rex Poitier


Michel Tuffery
Muaulu To’omaga
Ta’alili To’omalatai
Afi Ah Kuoi
Vic Tamati
Fa’amoana (John) Ioane
Robert Siataga
Oliver Seumanufegai

Having survived colonialism and Christianity, the ancient tradition of tatau’s biggest challenge in the 21st century may be the fashion factor. The Samoan master tattooists in Makerita Urale’s Savage Symbols make it very clear that the tatau can never be mere adornment of the individual. There are even those who question the validity of the tattooing carried by ethnic Samoans born outside Samoa. Urale responds with vivid testimony to the strengths and passion of urban males in New Zealand who have dared to face the excruciating pain of the tatau as a symbol of identity, artistic expression and cultural allegiance. We meet several Kiwi soga’imiti (tattooed men) including a King Cobra gangsta, a blues guitarist, a visual artist, a film crew worker and a young church minister defying ecclesiastical rule.

Savage Symbols is a directorial début for Makerita Urale, theatre producer/writer (Frangipani Perfume, Magic Seashell, Popo the Fairy) and producer of New Zealand Festival productions including A Frigate Bird Sings, Classical Polynesia, Ricordi!, Tu Fa’atasi, Beauty & the Beast

Filmed on a shoestring budget, the 55-minute documentary was funded by the Screen Innovation Fund, a partnership between Creative New Zealand and the NZ Film Commission to support emerging filmmakers. Urale boasts production credits for Smokefree Pacifica Beats for Rockquest, Mai Time & Smokefree, and Savage Symbols is cut to the rhythm of Polynesian sounds, from the Hawai’ian-slide guitar croons of The Five Stars to Kiwi hip-hop and trance, featuring tracks by King Kapisi, Jamoa Jam, DJ Raw, Confucius and Tha Feelstyle. Overflowing with music, humour and a glowing pride in Polynesian identity, the film celebrates the continuation through change of a vital tradition." — BG