Ellen Carter
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Mis-reading moko
Cross-cultural tattooing in Caryl Férey’s New Zealand crime fiction
in Tattoos in crime and detective narratives
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This chapter considers the work of bestselling French author Caryl Férey, who uses tattoos both to drive the intrigue and to set the cultural scene in two New Zealand-based thrillers: Haka (1998) and Utu (2004). In the crime narrative, Férey simplifies contemporary Maori tattooing for his detectives – and his French readers – by having all members of a cannibalistic Maori sect sport the same moko (facial tattoo). In reality, each Maori’s moko is unique. In inking criminality on faces, Férey mines a crime fiction trope that harks back to Cesare Lombroso’s nineteenth-century theories of criminology which linked crime to inherited, often visible, characteristics. Although the presence of moko is not genetically determined, a biological link pertains through Maori ancestry. Using the moko as an indication of criminal culpability is read in this chapter as a powerful, yet simplistic, undercoded signifier, accessible for cultural outsider readers, but which forms a problematic cultural appropriation. As such, Férey offers cultural outsider readers a (false) sense that they possess privileged access to a code system otherwise restricted to initiated insiders. In doing so, his writing exemplifies a cultural re-writing of tattoos typical of neocolonial attitudes to indigenous peoples.

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