Do I have to be Samoan to get a Samoan tattoo?

I’m still working on the the final of my 3-part series about the Samoan Tattoo (Tatau) – everything I learned from personal research and from my teacher of Samoan culture, the late Afioga Tofaeono Tanuvasa Tavale.

The previous two parts are here:

Thank you so much to everyone who read, shared and commented on those posts. Before I complete part III, I just wanted to briefly(?) address one of the most common questions we’ve received about the Samoan Tattoo:

Do I have to be Samoan to get a Samoan tattoo?

Please note that in this case, I can only answer with an (educated, thoroughly-pondered) opinion.

The quick answer:

It’s not difficult to find a tattooist who will take your money for a bit of Samoan looking skin art. It’s your body. Do what you want.

Just be prepared for some side glances or head-to-toe scanning, accompanied by sighs and solemn head shakes, from real Samoans who hold our culture – and the art we produce to express our identity – dear to our hearts.

Photo of a photo: The Auckland War Memorial Museum

The not so quick answer:

Only two tatau forms are considered truly traditional. These are the malofie (known commonly as the pe’a) for men and the malu for women.

peaBoth these tatau cover a person’s thighs, with the pe’a reaching up over a man’s hips to his waistline. They are administered by skilled tradesmen (tufuga) in the art of tatau, using handmade tools called ‘au ta, in a painful procedure that lasts hours for the malu and up to several months for the malofie.

Both these tatau have deep cultural significance. What does that mean?

It means the patterns and symbols used tell a story about Samoan people, our traditions and our family histories.

It means that a man with a malofie (a soga’imiti) has certain responsibilities in his family or village that un-tattooed men don’t. It means that a soga’imiti has a higher social status in his community than others, and is given more opportunities to learn correct protocol, history, oratory skills and other intricacies of the Fa’asamoa.

In the traditional Samoan village, every young man is expected and encouraged to receive a pe’a as part of his natural progression from boy to village laborer to student of the matai (chiefs) to family leader.

The context for the women’s tatau is not the same, but it still carries a lot of cultural weight. In the old days, only daughters of very high ranking chiefs – especially those who were bestowed a taupou title and danced regularly for village and family events – received a malu.

malu

Today, the malu is a symbol of beauty, grace, strength and commitment to the values of a ‘good’ Samoan woman. The malu is sexy! But in that regal and virtuous way where sex is sacred, reserved for the sheets (not displayed on the streets).

If you are NOT Samoan, knowing now what I’ve just told you about these traditional tatau, why would you even want to get a malu or malofie?

Without the ties to our culture and family protocol, they would mean nothing to you but a long ordeal of pain for a little bit of body art. Unless you fully adopt our way of life, you’d be like the singer Madonna with the crucifix – making a mockery of a symbol that Catholics consider sacred.

A Compromise

Another branch of Samoan body art has become a lot more prominent in the last few decades. Based on old photos, I can only guess that these forms of tatau have been around for a while, but most likely only as decoration because they are never mentioned in any of our traditions about culturally significant tattoos.

Samoa_women_tatoo_1940

I mean that you’d never hear a matai or an expert on Samoan culture refer to a Samoan style armband or sleeve or ankle tattoo as having any connection to the social structures in our families or villages.

In fact, my teacher Tanuvasa, didn’t think much of them at all. He believed the only [Samoans] who get those are too cowardly to endure the pain of the the malu or the pe’a. (I have the recording of him saying that, in case you want to hear it from the source.)

Tanuvasa reminded me that when our people dance in big groups for lively celebrations, we often wrap our wrists, upper arms and ankles in the long leaves of our ti trees. Our armband (taulima), anklet, sleeve, etc. tattoos are suggestive of those wrappings, so this tatau practice is similar to the recent trend of tattooing your ring finger instead of wearing a wedding band.

The good news is that while these tatau are only decorative, they’re often very beautiful. Modern tattooists are able to capture the essence of Samoa in these skillful creations, using the patterns found in our malu and malofie, as well as in our siapo and elei (fabric art) and our carvings.

Image from Tatau Awards, 2013

To me, this is the kind of tattoo you get when you want to express your love for Samoa and admiration for our culture, but don’t necessarily have the means or the family ties to fully commit to the Samoan identity.

This is the kind of Samoan tattoo you get when you’re not Samoan… or when you’re proud of your Samoan heritage but have no intention of serving in a village, being responsible for your extended family or studying our traditions under the tutelage of a high matai.

The Story-time Conclusion

I read a short story / essay ages ago for school. I tried to find it again, but I can’t remember a lot of its details, or who wrote it. Maybe you’ll recognize it and let me know.

Anyway, it’s written from the perspective of a Caucasian lady who was traveling through a poor, third world country either in Africa or Asia. She fell in love with this place, especially with its people, and she wanted to take home a souvenir.

As was usual in this part of the world, she came across a table set up by the side of the road that displayed little home made trinkets for sale. This lady looked through them for the perfect reminder of her time in this country. Then she noticed that the young girl behind the table was wearing a gorgeous, traditional jade (I think) bracelet. Set against her dark skin, it caught the sunlight and shimmered magically, and this lady knew she had to have it.

After only a little persuasion and some money, the girl happily gave this lady the bracelet… and the lady continued on her way, excited about her beautiful new purchase. She slipped it onto her own wrist, and then something happened.

She couldn’t understand it at first, but somehow, the bracelet didn’t look the same anymore. It didn’t sparkle the way it did before. It looked lifeless and bland now.

It took a little while before she realized that much of the beauty in this piece of jewelry came from its setting against the skin of its previous owner. As an expression of that girl’s culture, it was a part of her style and identity… and was never going to look quite the same on anyone else.

The Moral of the Story is…

Do you have to be Samoan to get a Samoan tattoo?

No.

Should you be?

You tell me.

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Known off-line as Lillian 'Lei'a' Arp, HGG is just a geek girl learning how to be Samoan. You can also find her at Cup Tea talking about her other most favorite topic in the world: food!
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Known off-line as Lillian 'Lei'a' Arp, HGG is just a geek girl learning how to be Samoan. You can also find her at Cup Tea talking about her other most favorite topic in the world: food!

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24 comments on “Do I have to be Samoan to get a Samoan tattoo?
  1. avatar Leen says:

    I still think girls should be very dilligent when they’ve gotten the malu! Whether the times have changed or not..

  2. avatar Amy says:

    Really great, measured and informative article.

    Quite helpful for those of us who are half caste and who sort of struggle with walking the line between expressing both sides of our culture.

    I wholeheartedly agree with Faatuatua. That from my perspective as someone who has grown up (as per my fathers wishes ) to live the Palagi life. I would never consider following the malu route because it would not be appropriate.

    I do not live the faasamoa way. This is purely just my own opinion as many have eloquently stated that it is impossible to judge a persons character by the colour of their skin. So the pea or malu might be right for them.

    I am Samoan and Palagi and proud of both parts so the contemporary form of tatau, I see as a potential compromise based on my background.

    Great to see this discussion taking place.

  3. avatar Valentine talamoni says:

    Do I have to me a Samoan to get a Samoan tattoo? Considering today’s modern society, “No.” The fact that the design patterns are visually pleasing and unique, there’s a lot do demand for it from “outsiders,” it’s beneficial for the client and also for the artist. It’s a win win situation. BUT, when that person wears that contemporary sleeve with sinuous patterns of waves and imitation of soaring birds, can that person explicitly describe the journey of how those patterns came to be. Where do they originate from? What specific bird is imitated as a pattern? What fish? Where is the direction of the True North, to which direction the pattern shows the wind blows from to its intended destination? Yes, anyone can wear the Samoan tattoo, but do u know the story, ur ancestory line is engraved in those patterns. And that, I feel is a pride only Samoans are inheritedly privileged to wear. Personally, my answer is “yes”, you have to be Samoan to wear a Samoan tattoo, especially a contemporary one. Today we don’t have pride in preserving the essence of our culture, even ADIDAS(or was it Nike) tried to imitate the tatau pattern. Wear it with pride, knowing your ancestors story which becomes inheritedly yours by birthright. :). Thank you for the article. Soifua

    • avatar tom kasipale says:

      in all honesty you don’t have to be, you can be african and still get it. the samoan tatoo is somewhat a small thriving business now -- as it’s been shown all around the world more peeps are wanting it………..so the actual answer is no you don’t have to be i should know my family does this for a living and are pretty much renowned for doing it -- hell the is a girl in america not of samoan decent that has my family matai name………doing freaking just that tats wtf

    • cheap-ass tricks! selling a family honor for money to foreigners! probably a no-name matai anyhoo-hoo! Would u give up the muli for the right price though? everything else is for sale! cheap-ass tricks!

  4. avatar Tuiga says:

    I took some time to sit down and read this article and everyone’s comments. It’s pretty sad that we soldiers who grew up in Samoa are called cowards for having tatau sleeves. I speak Samoan, I grew up in Saolufata, Upolu to be exact! I chose to leave the island to better my family and a future for our people! But having a little bit of home with us is a disgrace? I didn’t get a malofie cause I know I’m not physically there to serve but I support my family from abroad. Does this consider us in the US military cowards for leaving Samoa to find a better life for our families and our people? No I think he’s a coward, he should have thought this through when he said that! And it goes for you as well. It’s funny cause most of the people that served in the military came back to Samoa and brought wealth to the island, and yet were still not entitle to a bit of Samoan culture. With us being in the military brought more opportunities and open up many doors to all the Samaons down there! That is something you as a writer sometimes need to think about. There’s people out there that follow up on everything that’s going on down in the island.
    Besides all that, I love the article, it tells the truth about our culture, our people and the origin of our sacred tatau! Sorry if I disrespected you, I felt a little offended when reading about us in the military in relations with our tattoos!
    Ia aua nei avea ia tala ma mea e tetena ai I lou finagalo, ua na o se pola lava e motu i tua e le amanaia ina. Ia alofa le Atua ma ia foai le mafaufau matala aua lou feagai ai ma ou tiute fai. Ma lo’u fa’aaloalo lava faafetai.

    God bless America!
    Fa’avae i le Atua Samoa.

  5. I believe that you should be Samoan (born and raised) and be a Chief’s daughter to have the privilege of getting a malu. As for the men, a pe’a is always a rewarding thing for a young man who is wanting to have a Chief title. I believe that today, the malu and pe’a have defeated their purpose because many people define it a sexy work of art but as you have mentioned it is also very sacred. Some people are giving the opportunity to people who are not Samoan to get the tattoo because of money. I do believe that the malu and pe’a are two distinctive part of the Samoan culture that makes our culture unique. The neatness and standout of the tattoos when done are magnificent. Although I do believe that research and visitations to Samoan villages, countries, families, etc. are not accounted for actually understanding the culture of Samoa. The article is great. The knowledge is shared. The ideas and opinions we well supported. The passion though is not written in your article determining a Samoan person at heart. (No offense) Thank you for sharing such a well written and thoughtful piece of writing.

    • avatar Samoa685 says:

      I agree nowadays people get it for all sorts of reasons but miss out on the main purpose it was set out for.

  6. avatar tama mai faleata says:

    When people say “ka muamua le gutu, ae le’i ka iga le pea”..is it fair to say people who don’t have one say this, purely out of jealousy that they don’t have the nuts to go through the process?
    When I hear samoans say this I think back to when I was going through faapefu and that is pain that is hard to describe, but my point is how can people say the above quote when it is a painfull process fai uma ile loko!..I knew once I took the journey that my life would change, so I’m doing most of the taulealea work in church, folafola tonai/sua/faaloaloaga, tautu ava, tufa ava etc..so I would like to think that when you decide to take the journey of tatau, that there is still time as long as you put the time in to learn tu ma aga ole tatou aganu’u.
    But don’t let peoples comments like the above quote stop people from getting the laei, cause you find people who don’t have one like to use this, but it should be the person wearing the tatau there responsibility to find out how to improve yourself in samoan culture.
    For myself I think every samoan boy should go through this prob think twice bout trying to be the tough on the street cause your humbled by the journey you took..went to hell and back, but I stand before God and my family as a humble servant.

  7. avatar hamogeekgirl says:

    Thank you so much everyone for your comments. I really appreciate you taking the time to read this post and share your thoughts. I’ll come back with more specific replies.. But just a note…

    Please remember that a sogaimiti is not a tattoo. The tattoo for men is called a pe’a or malofie.

    Sogaimiti is a MAN who has a pe’a. If we keep getting this word wrong, we’re going to confuse people who are learning our culture.

    Ma le fa’aaloalo lava.

  8. avatar Vai Fruean says:

    money is more important in our days than the culture, this is getting ridiculous, if its not yours then don’t do it, i’m samoan that knows the culture very well and in order for you to get a pe’a or malu, you have to earn that, you gotta tattoo your mouth first before you get one meaning learning a fa’asamoa in the village especially in the matai system, starting from your family, you got to serve(tautua) all these are tight in the culture(aganu’u) or the fa’asamoa, the samoan ways. well my point is, if you don’t know anything about the samoan culture not even samoan protocols, the language of chiefs it will be better for you to NOT get one, the artists are getting ridiculous as well, money is more important to them than what’s matter, some of the people that wears the pe’a or malu in our days are those who are dancers, just to show off and telling the world they’re of samoan heritage but they dont’t know nothing about the culture,you gotta live and grow up in the village in samoa to be able to learn about this not in town area like apia, i’m talking specifically about villages where there is a matai system. anyway the aganu’u is very dear to my heart and i’m proud of it. PROUD SAMOAN.

  9. Faafetai mo le article! Nicely done. Your late teacher used to be mine in Samoa College. May he rest in peace. That is a good question and the jade story is the right answer! Nothing against others with it, but to me, as long as it is received free of charge. I consider that then a cultural gift for one who has the utmost respect for the faa-Samoa, rather than being hustled for that respect! It is a form of acceptance in honor of this specific individual. That then speaks both for the individual and the culture, placing much more value of both. If it’s paid for, then our cultural symbols are valued in equivalent to a prison tatoo, those ugly military ones, or any others scratched onto skin with nails and ink.

    As to Ola Penn, the “coward” reference by my late teacher is a valid point. One of the unwritten purpose of the tatau, is to test the taulealea’s nuts (fuamiki). Because the faa-Samoa is literally based on humility and respect (unfortunately nobody notices), violence is discouraged for men culturally in the village. The tatau then slowly became a form of expression and symbolized bravery. You have to have fuamiki to lay there for three months while the teeth of this thing goes into your skin at least a quarter inch not just once but over and over! The worst part of it is that in some parts, it has to be done the same way on the next day!!!! Imagine that!! And the worser worst worst part of it, that goes for the area around the fuamikis! I believe the original tatau called for tatooing the fuamikis which is not practiced today! And then after all that everyday for three months, you have to go and soak those still bleeding cuts in sea water. Often wonder why nobody lost his fuamikis from that alone!!!

    But the evidence is with my late teacher. In his support is the amount of tauleleas’ walking around with pe’as’ half done, commonly known as p’ea muku! It is difficult to measure one’s bravery from getting a pe’a probably because the average person uses violence as the measuring stick, but for a culture who value respect and humility over violence, this was our way of measuring how big one’s fuamikis are!

    Hope I contribute some insight onto this subject and the late Mr. Tanuvasa taught the Faa-Samoa Aganu’u in Samoa College!

    Fa’apale Alosese Tuvalu Taumua

  10. avatar Faatuatua says:

    I like the article and the purpose behind it. I do agree that some elders would say something like what Tanuvasa stated; that those who dont get the traditional tatau’s are cowards. I believe he didnt mean to offend anyone by it. Growing up around samoan elders they really like to joke around and challenge you. Telling you, you can’t do it because your afraid when they know you can. I believe Tanuvasa was challenging our youth to think; why have a sleeve when u can have a malu/soga’imiti that has meaning n responsibility to it.

    Well Tanuvasa, I understand your point but let me share you mine. I dont have a malu but I have a taulima. The reason why I dont have a malu is because of the old samoan say; ka muamua le guku, ae le’i ka iga le pe’a. My grandmother told me that. Why have a traditional tatau if you’re not ready to uphold the duties and responsibilities that comes with it. I speak for myself and I believe that the reason why some of us dont want a traditional tatau is out of respect. Why get a tatau when you dont know how to do faalavelave faasamoa or tautala le gagana faaaloalo. It is respect that some of us choose talima ma tauvae to represent our samoan side. o le sog’i miti ma le malu o mamanu ga a Samoa, they are secret to our culture and thats why we leave them to those who have the will and mouth to represent our culture respectfully. So its not that we are cowards, it’s out of respect we leave the traditional tataus for our brothers and sisters who are smart at the faasamoa and they can uphold the duties & responsibilities. At least thats what I’ve been told, but everyone has their own opinion. If you want to do more research there is a book called “O si manu o Alii by Aumua” she has her point on the tatau as well. Its a great book, not only about the tatau but about the cculture and the language itself. Faafetai lava.

    • avatar hamogeekgirl says:

      I think that’s an honorable point of view, Faatuatua. Thank you for comment. (And I love your name, by the way).

      :)

    • avatar lila says:

      Thats true.. I agree with u faatuatua.. my dad want me to get da malu, I told my dad let my baby sister get that cause my dad is his side of da family is chief. Idk how to talk respectful in from of others like u do lauga. I can dance taupou n do feau, comes to.da.faaaloalo ia misi akoa.. my baby sister knows everything.. thats why I choose taulima n tauvae.. I luv my culture.. ty faatuatua for dat good n tru point..

    • avatar lila says:

      One more. Once u get that malu or sogaimiti u take care those two things n da rulea. Like my uncles tell us if we ready to get a.malu or sogaimiti.. tausi lelei tulafono o le tatau.. yes walk, talk, know ur respect to others..

  11. avatar lindsey dahl says:

    Do you have more links book names or resources i could look into I am only half Samoan but i hang on to that half as it is the only thing i have left of my mother and i would love to honor my mother and our culture by getting my malu but i feel i would be doing no honor if i did not edjucate myself first.

    Thank you,
    Lindsey Dahl

  12. avatar Lagi says:

    Thank you so much for a very well written article! I agree with pretty much everything you write regarding the tatau. But I still feel compelled to write some of my own thoughts as I find this topic to be very interesting. While I see no sense in discussing the historical meaning of the tatau, as Tanuvasa is a very reliable source, I think it’s worth noting that cultures (and cultural practices) change and/or evolve over time. And that includes the tatau, which is now worn by many Samoans overseas who will most likely never serve in a village or study the traditions “under the tutelage of a high matai.” What was once primarily connected to traditional village life and one’s proof of commitment and service to others, is now often a sign of national and cultural pride and identity.
    Many Samoan men and women who get a traditional tatau today gets it because it connects them to their Samoan roots in a way that a sleeve tattoo may not, at least not to some. The process of getting, and the practice of displaying, a malofie or a malu, during a siva or parade, can be an entirely different experience than getting a sleeve, for instance.

    And then there’s the case of who is Samoan enough to get a tatau. Is it more “appropriate” for a full-blooded Samoan who have never set foot in Samoa and doesn’t speak a word of the language, to get a tatau than for a palagi Pisikoa who speak almost fluent Samoan but who isn’t Samoan by blood? I guess to each their own, right?

    I think you put it beautifully when you wrote: “Unless you fully adopt our way of life, you’d be like the singer Madonna with the crucifix – making a mockery of a symbol that Catholics consider sacred.” The tatau is sacred, and if you’re a palagi and claim to love the Samoan culture, you should be humble and treat it with respect. That is not to say that everyone who isn’t Samoan by blood are disrespectful if they get a tatau, because we can’t possibly know their life story and the reason they got a tatau just by looking at the color of their skin. But I think it’s essential to be true to yourself and not get carried away because the malofie and the malu are so beautiful when you see them on someone else (probably Samoans). You should ask yourself if this is truly who you are. Does your “Samoanness” defines you more than anything else? Does anyone else think of you like this, or is it all up in your head? If you have a few thousand tala to spend on a tatau for yourself, why don’t you use them to help your aiga and community? These are burning questions that I think every palagi should be asking him/herself before deciding to get a traditional Samoan tatau.

    Some time ago I came across a blog article that summed it up nicely. It was written by an American girl who was in the Peace Corps and lived in Samoa for about two-three years. She wrote about her tattoo and if she had ever considered getting a malu and why she decided not to (she had a small part of the malu tattooed on her thigh). She said that it wasn’t because any of her Samoan friends thought that it would be inappropriate, but because she didn’t see herself as fully Samoan. She didn’t embrace and love everything about Samoa. Yes, Samoa was a big part of her and she loved some of it, but she didn’t think it fully identified her. Still, quite a few American girls who have been in the Peace Corps in Samoa have got a malu, and I guess that’s fine too.

    My point is, it’s futile to discuss whether or not you should be Samoan to get a tatau because it’s hard to define who is Samoan. For instance, if a palagi can become a Samoan citizen, marry a Samoan and start a family with him/her, why would it be inappropriate for that person to get a traditional tatau? Even if he/she doesn’t live in a village and live strictly according to the fa’asamoa. A malofie or malu doesn’t make you more Samoan. Neither does it make you any less Samoan if you don’t have one.

    And what about the pride of being practically the only country in the Pacific to keep the tradition of tattooing alive during the period of the missionaries? If a person is so committed that (s)he wants to spend a small fortune and endure endless hours of intense physical pain just to get a tattoo that is only visible when you wear a short skirt/shorts, or a hitched up lavalava, or if you don’t wear anything above the waist, isn’t that a sign that this person loves the Samoan tatau? Then again, that doesn’t always make it appropriate…

    • avatar hamogeekgirl says:

      Thank you Lagi. Very nicely said. My research (and questions) about the tatau did focus more on its origins and traditions, but you are absolutely right that culture evolves. Especially with Samoans spread out across the world like we are, it’s not always possible to follow some of the protocols associated with receiving a traditional tattoo. I just hope that knowing the history behind our tatau, understanding what it still means to many of our elders, will encourage a little more reverence in the decision process about whether or not to get one.

      I love that you addressed the definition of ‘a Samoan’ because that’s something I intentionally left out of my post. Just as I would hate for my own ‘Samoan-ness’ to be dictated by someone else’s set of criteria, I prefer to allow others to question and define their own identity. I simply shared my opinion about whether or not a person who doesn’t identify as Samoan should receive a tatau.

      No, a malu or malofie doesn’t make you more Samoan -- of course not. It IS an expression, though, of identity and love for your culture. As I always say, culture is about people, and identifying as part of ‘A People’ means respecting existing traditions and widely shared viewpoints about the things we claim (communal) ownership of. This post was really just a plea to those considering a Samoan tatau to do a little soul searching first.

      Thank you again, though, for your comments. You’ve given me a lot to think about…

    • avatar ryaniuli says:

      I really appreciated your perspective. I agree with you can’t tell who is Samoan and what they have adopted culturally. My kids are half palagi and I’d hate for them to be judged on their appearance if the choose to represent our (their) culture.

  13. avatar Ola Penn says:

    Well, I am pretty sure that there are a lot of people out there are being labled by your teacher Tanuvasa cowardly and are offended by his remarks for having armbands, anklebands and all other types of Samoan tattoo. I hope he is still alive to read this. Just to re-educate Mr. Tanuvasa on his remarks, Samoan people get other types of samoan symbolized tattoos is because they are not qualified to get the soga’imiti due to samoan traditions. Its not because they are cowards. It’s just for identity reasons, they want other people to know that Samoa exists and proud to talk about Samoa. I could recall that it wasn’t too long ago that so many American people has never heard of Samoa. All they know was Samolia. Thats why this generation and society are so much in hatered because of uneducated remarks like that. There is a saying “THINK BEFORE YOU TALK” so please, use it and teach it to others. Thank You
    Fa’amolemole ia muamua mafaufau toto’a lelei i ‘upu ole a lafo ma ona fa’aiuga ae le’i lafoina leaga e le matagofie i le fa’afofoga fo’i a le to’atele o nisi tagata o le atunu’u. Ia alofa le Atua ma foa’i ia Tanuvavsa le mafaufau lelei male poto ina ia iloa ai tautala e pei o saunoaga a tu’a ua mavae e le vevesi ai tagata. Fa’afetai.

    • avatar hamogeekgirl says:

      Thank you for your thoughts, Ola. Tanuvasa passed away early last year, but he -- just as you and I are -- was entitled to his opinion. In his case, though, his opinion was based on decades of research, study, teaching and book-writing, so I judged it to be of a different kind of value than others’. It might help, though, to understand the context in which he expressed this thought. I was interviewing him. It was an in-depth conversation where I was asking him how he felt about certain matters, and he was answering honestly. I truly appreciate that from someone of his learning and status. If you missed it in my article, Tanuvasa was very educated (thank you) about the origins of the armband, anklet, etc. tattoos.

      Although I mention his opinion, I followed it with my own -- that non-traditional Samoan tattoos can be beautiful. They are often given by very skillful tattooists, and I recommend them for people of any culture who want to express their love for Samoa. I read somewhere that the sleeve tattoo was made popular by American soldiers who wanted to take a souvenir of Samoa back home with them. That’s great. For the purpose of expressing your connection to Samoa, these kinds of tattoo should be worn with pride.

      But since you are in ‘re-education’ mode, maybe you will allow a couple of corrections from me. You don’t GET a soga’imiti. This is not a tattoo. Soga’imiti is a man who has a pe’a / malofie. And in the Samoan culture, every young man who wants a pe’a can get one. He just has to have his parents or an elder in his family arrange it with the tufuga. He doesn’t have to be a matai or live in the village, he just has to love his culture and want to learn more. For the malu, these days any woman can get it done. It’s a symbol and a reminder of the values of a tama’ita’i Samoa… so I don’t understand your reference to not being qualified for the pe’a due to Samoan traditions. The only barriers I can see to getting a full pe’a or malu is access to a tufuga (and they work all over the world now) or lack of knowledge about how to get one (which I hope my articles here are helping to clear up).

      I probably could have made it clearer in my post, but Tanuvasa’s point was that if you’re Samoan and want to get a tattoo to express your love for our culture, why not go all the way and get the traditional tattoos? If you ask around, I know he’s not the only elder or matai who feels the same way.

  14. avatar Judy Toa says:

    Thoroughly enjoyed this article and learned about our tatau, its cultural meaning and significance. Thanks for educating those of us who are illiterate in our Fa’asamoa.

What are you thoughts?