Omai

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Omai-1.jpg

Omai (sometimes referenced Omiah) was a tattooed South Seas Islander (Tahiti) who returned to London aboard the HMS Adventure in July of 1774. The ship was part of an expedition led by Captain James Cook but captained by Tobias Furneaux. Many references inaccurately attribute Omai's trip to England as being with Cook himself.

Omai was not heavily tattooed (as sometimes advertised) — his most notable tattoos were transverse lines on the backs of his hands. However, he caused a minor fervor in England as a living example of a 'noble savage.' He was even received by the King and Queen and traveled the country extensively before returning home in 1776.

It is interesting to note that, while Omai himself was treated more like a guest than a specimen for examination, the interest he helped to create can be credited, in part, for fueling future exhibitions of tattooed people (both foreign and native) that were often much more exploitative.

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