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Stories not on paper

Cliff Cole said the patterns used in Samoan tattoos were thousands of years old. [MAHVASH ALI/STUFF]
Tattoo artist says the marks on his body are his identity.

Want to read indigenous literature? Don't pick up a book.

That's because native stories are not always written down on paper, award-winning novelist Witi Ihimaera says.

Indigenous tales were mostly expressed through art such as tattoos, tapa cloth paintings, kapa haka and waiata, he said.

For New Zealand-based Samoan tattoo artist Cliff Cole traditional symbols from his island represented "identity".

The 41-year-old said the indigenous motifs he used were thousands of years old. The patterns, inspired by wildlife and nature on the island, collectively told the story of Samoa. 

Two years ago Cole got a tattoo that covered most of his body.

And he did not do it the "contemporary way" using a needle, instead he went to Samoa and did it himself using traditional tools.

"It [my tattoo] shows who I am, where I am from and what I represent."

Cole said as soon as someone saw his tattoo they knew he was from Samoa.

But will New Zealand literature be complete without written stories from the islands?

Ihimaera said moving forward indigenous narratives needed to be jotted down in pen and paper.

And that was the concept behind the latest book he had co-edited with Tina Makereti.

Black Marks on the White Page was a collection of short stories from the Pacific – some of them being written down for the first time. 

The book was an attempt to include more indigenous voices New Zealand literature.

Read more at Stuff New Zealand