‘I don’t want that to be forgotten’
THE vines on Rani Togo-Parter's body illustrate her family tree. The tattoos are ever-growing, and date back to when her proud South Sea Islander heritage began.
Other stories are told through Ms Togo-Parter's tattoos - from the ancestral family names inscribed on her skin to the cane knives and sugar cane images that serve as a reminder of how the South Sea Islander community began in Australia.
Her stories have been shared through an exhibition, launched by photographer Jim Cullen in partnership with MADASSIA at Artspace Mackay, focusing on the ink that reveals the personal stories behind each body-art design.
Ms Togo-Parter said the Sacred Ink: Connecting to Culture exhibition presented the opportunity to share stories not only with the wider community but also with young South Sea Islanders who may not be as aware of their heritage.
"I have a strong tie to who I am and where I've come from - it's where my family has come from. I don't want that to be forgotten," she said.
"I can only speak for myself and my own family; we're really big on our heritage and passing that down. We make our kids aware of where they come from.
"Everyone has their own story on there, and it brings up that conversation.
"Someone might ask what it means when they see the tattoos on them; a lot will have family names on them, and their island name, what it was before it was changed when they came here to Australia."
One message that comes out powerfully in the exhibition is the reclamation of the term 'Kanaka'.
In the past the term had been considered derogatory; however, there are now many in the Mackay community determined to own the word as a point of pride.
Farren Bobongie, who has the word 'Kanaka' across his back, is among the contingent of young South Sea Islanders beginning to take ownership of the term.
"In high school I read about blackbirding and saw the word Kanaka for the first time and realised they were slaves brought to Mackay to cut cane," he said.
"Having it tattooed was my way of personally confronting the past and reclaiming it."
The exhibition has been on show since November 8, but will officially launch tonight. It will run until February 16 and admission is free.