Vā/Djalan: on Indigenous Diplomacy through Sāmoan Tatau and Paiwan Vecik

Event details

PhD Seminar

Date & time

Wednesday 08 September 2021


Online - Zoom


Suliljaw Lusausatj


Suliljaw Lusausatj

Additional links

This seminar focuses on Oceanian Indigenous diplomacy through an examination of contemporary tattooing practices in Sāmoan and Indigenous Paiwan communities in Taiwan. Inspired by Hau’ofa’s essay ’Our Sea of Islands’, and the scope for a dialogue between Sāmoan tatau and Paiwan vecik, the thesis seeks to answer how tattooing might assume a role in the navigation of new relationships across Oceania.

In order to address this question, Suliljaw spent over 14 months amongst hosts in Aai-O-Niue, Sāmoa, and in numerous Paiwan villages in southern Taiwan. His method of enquiry centres on the navigational metaphor of positioning, experiencing, negotiating and anchoring to explore the relationality between Sāmoan tatau and Paiwan vecik in a trans-Indigenous context. Using a reflexive autobiographical approach, he focuses on embodied encounters as the grounds for an Oceanian alliance.

Suliljaw suggests that Sāmoan relationality, or vā, is profoundly expressed through the extended tattooing family and through sa Li’aifaiva’s embeddedness in customary values (fa’a sāmoa). This concept finds a parallel in a Paiwan epistemology of pathing (djalan) and in customary protocols (kakudan), articulated in the process of navigation across contemporary Oceania, led by Paiwan tattooist Cudjuy Patjidres. While preserving their distinct cultural protocols, the relational pathing of vā/djalan provides protocols for an Indigenous diplomacy, and the wayfinding knowledge that will allow us to traverse Oceania.

This presentation documents Li’afaiva’s critical position in Sāmoan tatau and contemporary Sāmoan society. It sets out a theoretical framework for understanding relationships among contemporary Indigenous Oceanian communities. Building on Hau’ofa’s vision of Our Sea of Islands, it positions Paiwan within the Oceanian realm, and establishes a sense of Indigenous diplomacy that will ground the development of future relationships.

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