Samoan tattoo designs are nothing new. They have been around from more than 2,000 years and were (and still are) influenced by the rich culture of the Samoan people living in Polynesia. Since tattooing began, the Samoan tattoo designs were known as tataus. They were strong symbols of Samoan pride, traditions and culture. A Samoan person who gets one of these tattoos is looked upon as having been marked with family pride. Samoan tattoos were a trend delivered by two women from Fiji. They were tattoo artists and though the Samoan people were guarded, the tribal chief gave them a chance and that was all she wrote! Keep in mind that tattoos in these days were extremely painful because they took days to finish and were done with sharp pieces of bone dipped in ink. And where do you suppose the ink for the original Samoan tattoo designs came from if they had to use bones for needles? The answer is that the “ink” was actually ashes made from candle shells. Thankfully we do not have to endure such torture to get inked today, but it just goes to show how serious the Samoan people were about their tattoos and family pride!
In the beginning, only the men of the Samoan tribes were allowed to get tattooed. According to their culture, women were banned from such displays of artwork. However, as the years went by, the ban on inking the ladies of Samoa was lifted and they too enjoyed the pride of the Samoan tattoo designs. But, no matter if you were a man or a woman you had to go to your parents and the rest of your family before getting a tattoo. This is because getting one is not considered just a personal choice. It is a decision dealing with family pride and getting permission from the family is required before a person was inked. Now that we lived in a different type of world now, this is no longer a requirement but something many Samoans do nonetheless. Asking permission is a sign of respect for the family and the family name.
Traditional Samoan Tattoo Designs for Men and Women
Traditionally speaking, a young Samoan man was considered ready to get his first samoan tattoo design when puberty came. The reason behind the choice of puberty was that they thought the skin stretched enough for the ink to be supported for the rest of their lives. In ancient days getting the first Samoan tattoo design was more of a ritual than anything else. The first design was known as the Pe’a and went from the waist all the way down to the knee. Unfortunately for these young men, this also included inking the genitals and the posterior. (Are the guys shivering yet?) The designs used were geometric, curves, lines and leaves from the pandanus tree. Nowadays men from a Samoan background can go with any theme they choose, though many stick with the traditional look (less the genital art!)
When it comes to traditional Samoan tattoo designs for women, they are a much more delicate and simple thing. Even when women were allowed to have tattoos they were not shown off in the way that men’s were. I think this carried over just a bit into today’s world, though many women (no matter what their family history) choose areas of their body to tattoo that can be seen by all. While the men’s tattoos were known as Pe’a, the women’s were known as Malu. Theirs goes from the upper part of the thigh to just below the knee. They were also allowed to get tattoos on their arms as long as they were small and tasteful. As stated before, times have changed and many women get larger and more colorful tattoos. Common Samoan tattoo designs for women include starfish, small dots, and wiggly lines in specific patterns.
Though some still follow the Samoan tradition to the core (bones and all), many simply get tattoos just like everyone else in the modern world. Even those who have no Samoan history are getting Samoan body art. In fact, these tattoo designs rank among the top for popular tattoo designs the whole world over. You can find things such as waves, Polynesian flowers, birds, fish, and shells in modern day Samoan tattoo designs. There really is no limit to the possibilities! If someone can trace their Samoan roots back far enough they can find out their family symbolism and use that in their body art so it has even more special meaning. If you are looking for a big tattoo, and traditional Samoan body art typically is, then a sleeve tattoo is perfect for you and looks fantastic with the Samoan touch!
Colors and Placement of Samoan Body Art
Although the traditional Samoan tattoo was done in black ink (There was no other choice in the beginning!), today you can use as many colors as you wish. Although many people stick with black ink to hold onto the traditional look, others go with bright and vibrant colors; especially women. The most popular colors to use for Samoan tattoo designs are orange, red, and blue. Women who get flower designs may choose colors such as pink, purple, and green depending on the design and the flower.
As seen above, the placement of Samoan tattoo designs was fairly strict back in the day. Today it acceptable to put them anywhere you choose! Men mostly choose a sleeve tattoo, a tattoo on the calf or a tattoo somewhere on the back. Some women go with sleeves, but the majority goes with something small on the calf or on the back, neck or shoulder. Some even get inked on the top of their feet.
More Samoan Tattoo Designs
The Rock Says Go Samoan!
When I think of Samoan body art, the first face that comes to mind is Dewayne Johnson, better known to wrestling fans as The Rock. He has roots in the Samoan culture and expresses this with his amazing sleeve tattoo on his upper left arm which stretches down to right above his elbow. The kicker here is that he has mixed Samoa with Ireland with the Celtic design in the shoulder area. It is a beautifully fearsome combination that really catches the eye!
[Video describing traditional Samoan Tattooing (Hint: it hurts!)]