Recent historical and sociological work has used the notion of the inscription device to account for European sciences' long-range powers. Such devices are supposed to generate traces of encounters and observations, which can then be mobilized and combined elsewhere along complex networks of travel and information transfer. Europeans' voyages in the South Seas have often been used to illuminate this process. This paper examines an episode of 1792 when a British astronomer was invited to tattoo a Marquesan chief by the chief himself. The episode suggests intriguingly symmetrical relations between acts of inscribing, writing, and tattooing and analyzes the ways inscriptions worked in such encounters. Assumptions about European authority and indigenous difference can thus be reexamined.
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