Tattoos have long been an important aspect of Samoan culture. In fact, we even derive the word â€œtattooâ€ from the Samoan word â€œtatau.â€ It is one of the few Polynesian terms that has crept its way into everyday English language. Samoan tattoos have been an important part of the Samoan culture for thousands of years and, surprisingly, their tattooing process hasnâ€™t evolved that much. Today, you can still find many Samoan people covered in traditional, tribal tattoo designs.
History of Samoan Tattoos
Samoan tattoos have a long and fascinating history, beginning over 2,000 years ago. Traditionally, Samoan tattoo designs are applied by hand rather than machines. Before the arrival of Western missionaries, Samoa was once full of people with large, tribal tattoos. European reports from the 18th century mention the â€œfriendlyâ€ natives of Samoan origin who wore decorative â€œbreeches,â€ or pants. These were not pants, of course, but large Samoan tattoo designs.
Due to Western Christian influence, tattoos declined a bit in Samoa during the 19th century. However, some artists worked hard to preserve the tradition. Over the years, an emergence of Samoan tattooing has made the body art very popular again. A Samoan man or woman can express much about their heritage and station in life with a Samoan tattoo design.
Both men and women can receive traditional Samoan tattoos. However, it is the men who boast larger tattoos. A traditional Samoan tattoo design is known as â€œpe'aâ€ and is a very detailed pattern that covers a manâ€™s lower torso and upper legs. Women are more likely to have Samoan tattoos on their legs or hands, which are often much smaller. All tattoos hold significance within the Samoan culture.
Samoan Tattoo Designs
Like in many cultures, Samoan tattoo designs are as versatile as the people within the community. However, one can distinguish a Samoan tattoo design by its geometrical and tribal appearance. They often appear as complex and abstract patterns, weaving in and out in various lines and circles. A large Samoan tattoo is usually comprised of a series of small symbols. All Samoan tattoo designs hold great significance, even if they do appear simply decorative.
The application of a traditional Samoan tattoo, particularly the traditional â€œpe'aâ€ design on a male, is a long and painful process. Samoan tattoos are traditionally hand poked, using various sharp combs and a small hammer. The combs are made from natural materials, such as boarsâ€™ teeth and the dye is made from burnt and ground nuts.
Samoan tattoo designs usually appear on a manâ€™s lower torso, thighs and upper legs. This can even include sensitive areas around the groin and rectum. The application can take hours for each session, sometimes lasting weeks until the tattoo is complete. Using a hammer and sharp combs to puncture the skin, the artist must subject the tattooed person to tremendous pain. To endure the entire tattoo is a show of strength in the Samoan culture and those who quit before the tattoo has ended are branded a coward.
Both men and women receive Samoan tattoo designs, although it is the larger male tattoos that are regarded as the most painful. Traditionally, a man will not begin a tattoo until it is determined that he has stopped growing, usually between 14-18 years of age. This is so the tattoo will not be stretched out by a growth spurt. The process of hand-poking the Samoan tattoo design is dangerous, as it can result in infection. In earlier years, this was an even greater concern and it wasnâ€™t unusual for people to die of infection related to the Samoan tattoo process.
Samoan Tattoo Tools
While there are some Samoan men and women who choose a modern tattoo application, the traditional Samoan tattoo tools are still being used today. These tools are fashioned from flora and fauna found in the area. Animals, coconuts leaves, nuts and other natural materials have served their purpose for many years in the making of tattoo tools.
The following tools are traditionally used in Samoa:
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