Samoan tattoos are more than just designs for the body. They are highly influenced by the rich Samoan culture, and they have been around for over 2000 years now. These tattoos were called tataus ever since the beginning of tattooing in the world. They are symbols of respect and pride for the traditions, customs, and culture of Samoan folk. The person who gets inked with one of these tattoos is said to have worn a mark of pride for his family.
It is believed that the trend of tattooing in Samoa was introduced by two women from the island of Fiji. The ladies had a lot of trouble convincing anyone to get inked initially. Ultimately, one of the tribal chieftains decided to give them one opportunity, and he surrendered himself to get a Samoan tattoo. Getting inked was definitely a painful experience because traditional designs would take anywhere from weeks to months to complete. The process of getting a Samoan tattoo used to be, and still is, extremely painful. Traditional Samoan artwork or tataus are etched using primitive tools like bones and combs. Usually a bone or a tortoiseshell comb is immersed in ink and then it is dragged across the skin to slice it open.
The ink used in Samoan tattoos is made out of the ashes of cremated candle nut shells. This process is repeated until the tatau is complete. Sometimes, the person who is getting etched takes a long time to recover, which may delay his sessions of getting the traditional ink tataus. Traditional laws of Samoan culture had banned women from getting inked, only men would get the tataus. But, in later years, even the women began to get elaborately inked. It is said that there is nothing more disrespectful than getting a Samoan tattoo without the permission of your parents and family, because getting this inked is strictly not a personal choice, it is a matter of family pride, and thus prior permission is required from the entire family for the person who is getting inked.
The traditional Samoan tatau looked like a pair of high-waist britches (breeches), that stretched right from the mid-torso down to the bottom of their knees. Every inch of the person's skin is covered with Samoan artwork made from a series of geometric designs like lines and angles. The canvas for these tattoos included the genital and the anal regions of a man.
Pe'a - The Traditional Tattoo for Men
In Samoa, it is believed that a man is ready for his first tattoo at the onset of puberty. That is the time when the skin stretches to a certain extent and the growth comes to a subsequent end. This inking is more of a ritual than a process. This ritual is also accompanied by songs. The pe'a design is inked from the waist area to the knee line, including the man's genitals and anal areas. The designs used for men include a series of geometrical shapes, lines, and curves. Thin cross beams are inked on the back while a net-like design is inked on the groin area. The leaves of pandanus trees are also one of the designs commonly used.
The traditional Samoan tattoo artist is called tafuga, and he takes five sessions with a gap of one day between each session to finish the entire inking process. These sessions are proceeded in a step-by-step manner that consider one session for a particular area. In that way, the tafuga takes around 10 days to complete a pe'a. The recovery and healing time post inking might take up to a year.
Malu - The Traditional Tattoo for Women
Samoan body art for women is simpler and more delicate compared to those of the men. These tattoos are carried out as a ritual. The malu design stretches from the upper thighs to the area below the knees. Women can also get inked on their arms; these are very small designs. Common designs for women include dots, starfish, worm-like shapes, and leg-like shapes that resemble the leg of a golden plover.
These days Samoan tattoos are not seen as a part of a Samoan ritual, but the designs are gaining a wide popularity across the globe. Many new designs like waves, kawa bowl, fish, birds, shells, and other symbols like the ones in tribal tattoos are used. You can either get a Samoan tattoo from an authentic tafuga, or you can create your own Samoan design and get it inked in a modern style from a certified tattoo artist.