Patterns of the Past - Tattoo Revival in the Cook Islands

Patterns of the Past: Media

Therese Mangos and John Utanga have previously been published in Fashion Theory: The Journal of Dress, Body & Culture. Their 17 page article entitled ‘The Lost Connections: Tattoo Revival in the Cook Islands’ was based on material previously written for the book.  The article highlighted the renaissance of the art of tattooing and who was responsible for reigniting it.

Latest Reviews

Pacific Arts Vol13

Anne E. Guernsey Allen


Journal of Pacific Arts Association, Vol 13 No. 1 2013

Cook Islands News


cover of the Journal of the Polynesian Society

Journal of the Polynesian Society, volume 121 No.1

Sean Mallon


Tattooing was once a strong practice in the Cook Islands but by the early 20th century it was disappearing from the cultural and social life of the region. By the 1990s and in the first decade of the 21st century a revival began partially inspired by the Festival of Pacific Arts held on Rarotonga in 1992. Patterns of the Past documents what is recorded about Cook Islands tattooing,the history of the current revival, and the stories of tattooists and tattooed people who have been involved in this process. Patterns of the Past has been a long time in the making and it is published when the interest and production of tattooing in Cook Islands communities is growing. I recall meeting one of the authors,Therese Mangos, in the mid 1990s when she visited Te Papa to view an old vaka ‘canoe’ called A‘ua‘u from Mangaia in the colections. She was researching Cook Islands tattooing and the vaka made around 1906 was said to be decorated with motifs based on tattoos worn by Taniera Tangitoru, who was one of the carvers. Over the years, I heard little bits of news about this project and to finally see it in print is a welcome surprise. Mangos and co-author John Utanga have produced the only book on Cook Islands tattooing after two decades of research, commitment and passion for the subject.   click on pdf link to read more

Cook Islands Times


Launching of the Patterns of the Past book by Cook Islands Times

Western Leader.


Therese's research pays off Western Leader.

Tagata Pasifika


A 3 min clip on Patterns of the Past Cook Islands Tattoo book on TVNZ's Tagata Pasifika.

Breakfast TV


Breakfast show on TVNZ TVOne.  A 5 min interview with authors Therese Mangos and John Utanga on the art of tattooing in the Cook Islands.

Cook Islands News

June Hosking of Mauke


IT is not every day that you get to meet a keen environmentalist or a professional photographer who worked on ‘The Whale Rider’ movie. And so visitors Therese Mangos and Kirsty Griffin made for an interesting few days on Mauke as we spent time chat- ting about our sustainable living endeavours, their special project.

Together we enjoyed a first visit to the giant Banyan trees with vines aplenty for swinging on and Motuanga, an under-ground adventure that is part of the cave with one hundred rooms. We saw three of those rooms and enjoyed swimming in crystal clear cold waters that played with torch and candle light on the cave walls. No one knows now if there really were 100 rooms and I’m guessing that most have long since overgrown with new lime deposits. But while the 100 rooms exist only in legends now, Therese is on a quest to record another part of Cook Islands history before it falls into extinction.

Therese works for an Environmental Trust in Auckland and has blood connections to the Cook Islands through her mum Tuaine Utanga who is of Mauke descent through her mother’s side, a connection not lost on the locals in Mauke. She has a passion for Cook Islands tattoos, in particular in finding out their origins. This personal pursuit over a period of about 16 years, is now leading to the creation of a book. Therese says that this won’t be the definitive work on Cook Islands tattoos, rather a catalyst to spark interest and hopefully further discoveries. It hasn’t been easy to find information, as so much has been lost with past generations. In fact, she quips, if she had realised what the cost would amount to in time and money, she may never have begun this journey. Therese is thankful to have the talented help of her friend Kirsty, a professional photographer of Ngati Porou descent. Kirsty calls this her ‘labour of love’ as she gives her time to photographing the links between patterns in nature, local crafts and the art of tattooing. Once the women complete their final Cook Islands visit, to Mangaia, they will have covered all of the southern group. Compilation of current Cook Islands research along with that done through the museums in New Zealand should make for very interesting reading in the future.

Radio Interview

Presenter: Isabelle Genoux

In a new illustrated book to be launched this month in New Zealand, co-authors Therese Mangos and John Utanga stake out the history and significance of the ancient art of tattooing in the Cook Islands. Patterns of the Past explores oral tradition and archival material as well as contemporary practice in the Cook Islands.  

President, Cook Islands Voyaging Society

Ian Karika

I read with interest ‘Patterns of the Past’ and admired the amount of historical information that had been researched and included by the authors Therese and John.
For me much of the book was enlightening for what I had previously understood of tātatau was that, in ancient days, it was only reserved for chiefs and priests and for warriors who were to extract revenge at a later time.
Also, the connection Cook Islands tātatau motifs have with carvings on ancient vaka held a special meaning for me, being a modern day ocean voyager.
I noticed that the early pioneers of the art mentioned in this book, the likes of  Ben, Mike, Ti, and Boye, who have all been involved in reviving this art in the Cook Islands, all have strong ties with vaka building and voyaging.
‘Patterns of the Past’ serves as a great contribution to the limited historical books written by our own Cook Islands people. Especially interesting for me is the description of the different motifs from the respective islands.  It should be easily understood by the general reader and will serve as a valuable resource for interested students, enthusiasts and the like.
Ian Karika
President, Cook Islands Voyaging Society
(an edited version of the Foreword of the book)