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Samoan Tribal Tattoos

Updated on June 4, 2010

The Tattoos Of The Samoan's

You wont easily find a tattoo artist giving tats of a true traditional Samoan style tattoo as these tribal designs are regarded as sacred symbols and are respected very much by their culture. Tattoos were not just a form of body-art for the Samoans, it is a family custom that is highly guarded with traditions of the Samoan ways. Learn more about about their style of tattooing that has been around for thousands of years and is still carried on today.

Two Thousand Years Of History - The Beginning of Samoa Tattoos

tatau Samoa
tatau Samoa

The origin of Samoan Tatau was believed to have been introduce to Samoa by two Fiji women, who came ashore with tools and knowledge of tattooing. The tale proclaimed that the two sisters sang a song which chanted that women are only to be tattooed, but as they neared the beach shores the song mistakenly got reversed, only the men will be tattooed. At first no one was interested in their art and skills. It was difficulty convincing anyone to give them a chance. But finally one of the Samoan chiefs decided to give these women the opportunity by offering himself to the whole ordeal of getting tatau. Soon the art of tatau became a family tradition that spread throughout it's culture.

The Meanings of Samoan Tattoos

The artwork and designs goes beyond being skin deep, it has history and deep meanings behind them. The tattoo and designs of Samoa represents community, power, status, respect, honor, and is a mark of pride that are only to be worn by Samoans. For those who have no cultural influence or heritage background it is an act of disrespect to display their symbols and designs. It was said that whomever got tattooed without the approval and blessings from the Matai & family members, they would be cursed with bad karma.

The word "tattoo" as we all know it, came from the Polynesian language "tatau" which originated from the tapping sounds of the tool made during tattooing. This primitive tattoo tool was made of bones or boar husk sharpen into a comb style shape with serrated teeth like needles, this was then attached to a small piece of sea turtle shell that was connected to a wooden handle. Several of these tools are made with different comb sizes for use on small or thick lines.

Traditional Tattooing Tools    curated content from Tribal Tats

The handmade tattoo instruments was called an "au ta".

The ink or pigment used in the tatau rituals was made from the candlenut or kukui nut. These nuts was placed on a hot fire to smolder and a coconut shell was placed on top collecting the soot that came from the nuts. Once there was enough, the soot was mixed with sugar water.

The Samoan "tattoo artist" is known as the "Tafuga". He is responsible for the execution of the design and the tattooing sessions. Traditionally only descendants of a Tafuga can continue on with the practice of tattooing. The father would pass his skills and knowledge on ensuring that the tatau ritual continues.

Tattooing Videos

Samaon Pe'a Tattoo
Samaon Pe'a Tattoo

Traditional Tattoo Style

Pe'a & Malu

Pe'a is the "traditional tattoo design" for men that spans from the waist to the knee. The design was very intricate with a series of lines, curves, geometric shapes and patterns. Each section denoted a special meaning to the persons character, his family and culture.

Getting a "Pe'a" is more intense and a painful experience to endure compared to tattoos made by modern tools, the tattoo machine. Not only are these tattoos very large. The designs can linger upon very sensual and sensitive parts of the body. The men in Samoa got their fist tattoo during the beginning of puberty. It would take weeks or even months to complete a Pe'a tattoo for there are many stages of tattooing . A section at a time would be tattooed during these sessions. Tattoo apprentice's and helpers would assist the Tafuga by stretching and wiping away the blood. The Samoan women would sit and sing songs to occupied and deter the pain for the one getting tattooed.

Tatau became more than just a process of body art it became a Samoan tradition.

The women of Samoa also got tattoos. The "Malu" was a more simpler and delicate design then that of the Pe'a. These tattoos are rarely seen for the design spans from the upper thighs to below the knees. But during Samoan ceremony dances the women would display their "Malu" performing the traditional siva dance.

Pictures of Traditional Tattoos

Traditional Samoan Tattoo Designs
Traditional Samoan Tattoo Designs

Contemporary Samoan Designs - A New Trending Style

Samoan Mat Pattern Design
Samoan Mat Pattern Design

Samoan tattoos have evolved into new style of contemporary designs blended with old traditional designs. They have implemented designs from their culture like fala mat pattern, flowers, turtles, birds, fish and other symbols which are incorporated into many intricate patterns.

The Kava Bowl Tattoo

Kava Bowl Tattoo
Kava Bowl Tattoo

One of the popular contemporary Samoan designs is the kava bowl with fue and talking stick. The fue is a symbol that represents power,the talking stick is a symbol for wisdom and the kava bowl is a symbol of the authentic hospitality that the Samoan culture has.

If you have any information about "Samoan Tattoos" or useful tips I can add to my lens please leave a comment and checkout my other lens "How Tattoos Are Done".THANKS!

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    • profile image

      Hello 2 years ago

      Just so you know this information is very valid but it was also copied and pasted directly off of the national park site , nps.ors so please cite where you took info from because it is not yous

    • Hawaiian Scribe profile image

      Stephanie Launiu 2 years ago from Hawai'i

      I really appreciate this hub. I'm sorry to see you aren't writing anymore. I pinned it to my pinterest page "Polynesians in Oceania". Mahalo nui, Stephanie