Ta Moko are traditional Maori tattoos, worn by both men and women. They have deep cultural and emotional importance, as they let you show your mana and whakapapa (roughly, your prestige and heritage), connect people to their history and identity, and are works of art and beauty. A really good bit of reporting on the revival and reclamation of ta moko:

The History of Aotearoa New Zealand podcast has an really in-depth four-part episode on Ta Moko, starting with “The Maori Quill” – how tattoos were originally chiselled before steel needles were introduced, the cultural significance, and Europeans’ reactions to ta moko. The colonial government forced Maori tattooing to stop, but it never truly died out, and has seen a huge revival in recent years.

Here’s also an excellent short video on the emotional journey and healing that comes from ta moko, focusing on moko kauae – women’s chin tattoos.

As part of the revitalization and reclamation of Maori culture, there are now a lot of high-profile people with ta moko. This includes politicians, like the current Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nanaia Mahuta, and the co-leaders of the Maori Party, Rawiri Waititi and Debbie Ngarewa-Packer. Just last month, Oriini Kaipara became the first newsanchor with ta moko to present primetime news:

An unfortunate quirk of history also means that many historical moko have been lost – when early photography first arrived in Aotearoa, the wet plate method of the 1850s rendered the tattoos invisible. A few years ago, a really fascinating exhibit came out where Maori leaders sat for portraits with both modern cameras and historical wet plate ones. The contrast runs deeper than just a tech problem, it makes an excellent metaphor for the erasure and revival of ta moko and Maori culture.

You can see more at the website for Puaki or at My Modern Met’s article “Portraits of People Whose Traditional Māori Tattoos Disappear in Wet Plate Photos“.


What is more emblematic of New Zealand than the haka?

The Maori Battalion in 1941 in Egypt performing the haka during WWII – Source

While the haka is best known for rugby (more on that below), it’s much deeper culturally. You tend to hear of it simplified as a “war dance” – it was definitely used as such by Maori, and generally as a way to show power and prestige, but it’s also a way convey honour, pride, and values. Here’s a great one, with subtitles, at a wedding:

Or at schools, like this one honouring a retiring teacher:

It’s also used in mourning, as with these students honouring the victims of the Christchurch mosque shooting:

Of note in all the above videos is that while hakas are created and led by Maori, non-Indigenous New Zealanders (Pakeha) also take part, and in a genuine, respectful, deeply-connected way. The All Blacks, who have made it famous globally, do not take it lightly – it’s a connection to the land, their team, and to their culture:

Rugby is, of course, where most of us non-Kiwis are introduced to the haka. Below is an overview of the history of the All Blacks’ haka in international competition – other Polynesian countries like Tonga, Fiji, and Samoa also have related dances before their matches. The vid also touches on how other countries’ teams respond to the haka:

On a lighter note, what the video misses is how Canada traditionally responds to facing the All Blacks on the rugby pitch: we lose 63-0. (Our women’s team is much better, they’ll get to the finals before losing to New Zealand.)

Importantly, you can also do the haka on ice:

SAN MARINO: Domagnano Treasure

The Domagnano Treasure hoard is both a stunning medieval treasure, and another example of how a nation can lose control of its historic artifacts into the museum and private collection system.

The Domagnano Treasure is an Ostrogothic treasure hoard from the 5th century, discovered in the region of Domagnano in San Marino in the 1890s. It’s likely that it came from the short-lived Ostrogothic Kingdom that arose after the fall of the Western Roman Empire, then was crushed less than a century later by the Byzantines. The hoard is about 22 pieces of solid gold, set with precious stones and enamel, and would have been a jewellery set of a noble woman – not surprising since the Kingdom’s capital was in nearby Ravenna. There’s pendants, earrings, a hairpin and knife sheathes – most stunning are the two eagle fibula (brooches that were used to pin cloaks closed).

Reproductions of the Treasure in San Marino’s State Museum – Source: European Nomad

Unfortunately, the hoard was dispersed shortly after discovery to museums and private collections – with the majority ending up in either the British Museum or the Germanisches Nationalmuseum in Nuremberg, leaving San Marino with only one single piece, a small mount.

The only original piece in San Marino’s hands – Source: European Nomad

With Expo 2020 now on in Dubai, San Marino is making the Domagnano Treasure a key piece of their pavilion. However, it seems the nation was unable to get the other original pieces loaned back to them, so on display are high-quality reproductions. I can’t seem to find any sign that all the real pieces of the hoard have ever been re-assembled even for temporary display, so to see every original piece, you’ve got to go to five museums on three continents!

SAN MARINO: Sammarinese Radio, Podcasts, and TV

Heritage Unbounded – San Marino: A Small Republic with a Big History – A podcast from Johns Hopkins University’s Museum and Heritage Studies department, interviewing Dr. Paolo Rondelli, who served as San Marino’s ambassador to the US and is now the country’s ambassador to UNESCO. Rondelli was part of the team that got San Marino’s historic centre and Mount Titano onto the UNESCO World Heritage list, and he talks about changing ideas of historical preservation – especially as many of the buildings in the centre have been continuously used by the same institutions for centuries. He also touches on how San Marino hopes to balance massive tourism with protection for historical and environmental sites.

Futureproof with Sergio Mottola – A podcast focusing on the tech industry, with a focus on big picture questions of ethics, industry, and technological trends. It’s hosted by Sergio Mottola, a tech venture capitalist who formerly served as CEO of the San Marino Innovation Institute, a state-owned private company that supports tech ventures in the country. I listened to the episode “Our future with tech: interfering or augmenting?“, which had some good nuanced debate on how paradigm shifts are more often forced than accepted and how to tackle the ethics of tech companies.

USMARADIO Pocasts – San Marino’s university has a major department, USMARADIO, dedicated to research and innovation into radio and radiophonic studies. They have a wealth of podcasts, with some in English, that really work on showcasing and developing new artistic expressions of sound and communication. They have a lot of experimental music and soundscapes – I put on Cave I – Halfcastle for a walk on a cold, snowy evening and it set the mood perfectly. USMARADIO showcases artists and collectives not just from San Marino and Italy, but around the world. An interesting one is female:pressure_ROJAVA. It’s a collaboration by artists and poets about the Rojava conflict and Kurdish attempts to create autonomy in Syria, as well as women’s attempts to create autonomy in the movement – past just the female fighters that are usually seen in Western media.

Mount Titano and its Three Towers – Source

USMARADIO live – The live radio feed from USMARADIO also has some really interesting stuff. It varies dramatically what you get – due to the time difference, I initially started listening to overnight radio, which is mainly the very very experimental music and soundscapes that they also have in their podcasts. Then I started tuning in at different times and picked up other playlists – one morning it was relaxing African folk music, followed directly by an European medieval choral ensemble. Later, I picked up from free jazz, then some slam poetry in English set to experimental sounds. It’s really fun to get a complete surprise every time I click play. Listen live here.

Radio San Marino 102.7 FM – The main radio channel from San Marino RTV, the country’s public broadcaster. There’s a really big variety here – I’ve heard English and Italian-language classic rock, dance, jazz, hip hop, Top 40 hits, and classical music, interspersed with talk programming and news in Italian. Listen live here.

Radio San Marino Classic 103.2 FM – San Marino RTV’s music-focused secondary channel. It’s also a mix of English and Italian-language music, mainly classic rock, 90s hits, and pop, with special shows focusing on 60s music, love songs, and soul throughout the week. Minimal talk, it’s almost entirely music. Listen live here.

And if you speak Italian, San Marino RTV also has two tv channels streaming online – RTV and RTV Sport. The former is general national broadcaster formatting- news, weather, Italian tv shows. RTV Sport is live games, interviews, and analysis – I’ve caught Italian soccer and kickboxing matches streamed on it.

UZBEKISTAN: Emirate of Bukhara in colour

The man in this picture is Sayyid Mir Muhammad Alim Khan, the last Emir of Bukhara, taken in the same year as his coronation … in 1911.

Yes, this picture is from 1911. And no, it hasn’t been digitally colourized after the fact, it’s a colour photograph taken in 1911. Russian chemist Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky developed a method that took three pictures at once with different coloured filters – red, blue, and green, and then could reconstitute the image by layering the the pictures. It was a tricky process with bulky equipment, and sadly never caught on, but Prokudin-Gorsky was given authority by the Tsar to travel around the Russian Empire between 1909-1915 and photograph people and places.

There are wonderful collections of his work on several sites, including on History Colored, Wikipedia, and the Library of Congress. He spent a lot of time photographing the Emirate of Bukhara, which then roughly covered most of modern day Uzbekistan. It was part of the larger Russian Empire, and in 1920, Bolshevik revolution deposed Emir Alim Khan, who fled into exile in Afghanistan. The Emirate became the Bukharan People’s Socialist Republic, and in 1924 the borders were redrawn into the Uzbek and Turkmen SSRs. (I really recommend Adeeb Khalid’s Central Asia if you’re interested in this history.)

These pictures astound me, both for the historical value and the scientific achievement, but also that the high quality and colour make them so real in a way that black and white pictures don’t. Here’s more from what is now Uzbekistan around the 1910s, all from this gallery on Wikipedia.

A civil servant on a winter’s day
The Bukharan Minister of the Interior
A jail in Bukhara
Jewish children studying in Samarkand
A nomadic Kyrgyz family on the Hungry Steppe
A dilapidated madrassa in Samarkand, with storks nesting in a tower.

UZBEKISTAN: Registan Square

Source: Odyssey Traveller

Registan Square in Samarkand is one of the most iconic locations in Uzbekistan – three huge madrassas, with exquisite ornamentation and tile work, form a large public square. The oldest one madrassa is from the 1400s, the two others from the 1600s, and were built at the time that Samarkand was the heart of the Timurid Empire, and the site of Islamic revival and learning in Central Asia – artisans and scholars came (or were brought) from all over the Empire.

Registan had fallen into disrepair by the start of the 20th century, but went under major restoration during the Soviet era. It’s now a huge tourist draw, and for good reason. Apart from being historically and culturally important, it is absolutely stunning – it’s considered a gems of medieval Islamic architecture and is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

There are many incredible pictures of Registan – I cam across a collection by photographer Jan Willem van Hofwegen that shows the incredible details inside. Here’s a sample of what the interiors look like – take a look at his full collection here.

There’s also great videos out there that give you a sense of the scale and detail of Registan:

Interestingly, the front of the Sher-Dor (“Lion-Bearing”) Madrasah is notable for showing living things, normally prohibited in Islamic art. Most notable are the lions (also called tigers) with a glowing sun-face inside them. The faces have been claimed to be the emir at the time of construction, but it’s likely that these were influenced by older Persian and Zoroastrian traditions.

There are also cool light shows held at Registan!

THAILAND: Papaya Salad by Elisa Macellari

I picked up at the library Papaya Salad, by Thai-Italian artist Elisa Macellari – a beautiful graphic novel about her great-uncle’s life during WWII – growing up in rural Thailand, joining the military diplomatic corps in order to see the world, ending up at the Thai embassy in Italy, then Berlin, and being taken as a POW by American forces (as Thailand had sided with Japan in WWII), meeting his wife and his eventual return to Thailand. It’s beautifully drawn, and shot through with love and longing and the confusion of an individual drawn along by larger forces.

ALBANIA: The painted buildings of Tirana

Tirana is notable for its architecture, and in recent decades that has involved the brilliant repainting of old communist-era buildings in bold pop art colours to revitalize the city. Much of this is due to Edi Rama, a former artist who was mayor of Tirana at the time, and is now Prime Minister of Albania. During his mayoral tenure in the early 2000s, he hit on repainting old buildings as a cheap and cheerful way to boost city life.

Of course, this story is not all rosy – Rama’s critics have called it window dressing, and there is an ongoing debate in Albania about the future of older buildings – particularly with communist-era buildings being torn down with little consultation these days. Rama is now more focused on nudging Albania towards the EU, but the painted buildings are an amazing sight still.

Photos sourced from TEDBlog, AtlasObscura, and Blocal Travel.

TOGO: Tété Azankpo

Tété Azankpo is a Lomé-based artist and “visual art surgeon“, originally trained as a welder, who creates absolutely stunning metal and enamel collage portraits that work in global commodities, African culture, and themes of masquerade and perception.

Mademoiselle Lina, 2019 – Source

“We need to let the artwork breathe. We cannot lock it into a given interpretation. I leave it to you, the viewer, to imagine why a specific medium was used, what the narrative is and what impact it achieves.” 

Camille Tété Azankpo, African Art Beats
Mascarade 4, 2008 – Source