Samoan tattoos are not new. They have been around for 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 tattoos were known as Tatau. They were 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. Keep in mind that tattoos were extremely painful in those days because they took days to finish and were done with sharp pieces of bone dipped in ink. And 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 was lifted. Samoan women can enjoy the pride of getting Samoan tattoos. 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. It 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 gets a tattoo. Now that we live in a different world, this is no longer a requirement but something many Samoans do. Asking permission is a sign of respect for the family and the family name.
- 1 Traditional Samoan Tattoo Designs for Men and Women
- 2 Designing a Samoan Tattoo
- 3 Colors and Placement of Samoan Tattoos
- 4 Samoan Tattoo Designs and Ideas
- 5 The Rock Says Go Samoan!
Traditional Samoan Tattoo Designs for Men and Women
Traditionally speaking, a young Samoan man was considered ready to get his first Samoan tattoo when puberty came. They chose puberty because they thought the skin stretched enough to support the ink throughout their lives. In ancient days getting the first Samoan tattoo was more of a ritual than anything else. The first tattoo was known as the Pe’a and went from the waist 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 sticks with the traditional look (less the genital art!)
When it comes to traditional Samoan tattoo designs for women, they are much more delicate and simple. Even when women were allowed to have tattoos, they did not show off their tattoos the way men did. 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 all can see. While the men’s tattoos were known as Pe’a, the women’s were known as Malu. Theirs go 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. Standard Samoan tattoo designs for women include starfish, small dots, and wiggly lines in specific patterns.
Designing a Samoan Tattoo
Though some still follow the Samoan tradition to the core (bones and all), many get tattoos just like everyone else in the modern world. Even those who have no Samoan history are getting Samoan body art. These tattoo designs rank among the most popular tattoo designs across the globe. You can find things such as waves, Polynesian flowers, birds, fish, and shells in modern-day Samoan tattoo designs. There 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 it in their body art to have 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 Tattoos
Although the traditional Samoan tattoos were done in black ink (There was no other choice in the beginning!), you can use as many colors as you wish today. Many people stick with black ink to hold onto the traditional look, and 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 flower design and flower.
As seen above, the placement of Samoan tattoo designs was fairly strict back in the day. Today it is 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 the back, neck, or shoulder. Some even get inked on the top of their feet.
Samoan Tattoo Designs and Ideas
Samoan Sleeve Tattoos
These Samoan sleeve tattoos are trendy among men. They can go up to the wrist from the shoulder. Traditional Samoan patterns are the common theme for these sleeve tattoos.
Samoan Shoulder Tattoos
These tattoo designs will remind you of a pauldron (sometimes spelled pouldron or powldron) of the plate armors of ancient warriors.
Samoan Leg Tattoos
The most common placement for Samoan leg tattoos is around the calf. It could be a small band or a very detailed large piece.
Samoan Forearm Tattoos
A small band around the forearm or wrist is as popular as covering the entire forearm with Samoan patterns and symbols.
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 fantastic sleeve tattoo on his upper left arm, which stretches down to the 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 catches the eye!