The following is an excerpt from the Tattoo History Source Book:
Europeans first saw the Samoan Islands in
1722. The first Europeans who set foot on Samoan soil were members of a 1787
French expedition who had a close look at natives and reported that "the men
have their thighs painted or tattooed in such a way that one would think them
clothes, although they were almost naked."
||When missionaries arrived, tattooing was one of the customs that they tried
to suppress. One missionary wrote: "Tattooing is among the works of darkness and
is abandoned wherever Christianity is received."
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The Samoans saw Christianity as something they could add to their culture, not as something to replace it. For young Samoan men, tattooing was a rite of passage from boyhood to maturity. A
young man who was not tattooed was considered still to be a boy. He could not
marry; he could not speak in the presence of grown men; and he was obliged to
perform menial tasks. The fact that he sometimes attended Sunday services held
by missionaries was no reason to give up tattooing!
Tattooing in Samoa was never abandoned as it had been in many other
Polynesian lands. The act of tattooing is highly respected in Samoa.
The instruments of the tufuga, the so-called au, resemble hoes but are of
varying width. The comb-like serrated part of it, which comes into contact with
the human skin, is always made of bone. The preferred materials for this purpose
are human bones but if there are none available, horse or ox bones are used.
The toothed part of the implement which pierces the human skin is connected
to the actual handle by a toe which usually consists of tortoise-shell and
sometimes of bone. The handle is made of cane or wood. The parts of the
implement are tied together with cocoanut fiber. The bone and tortoise-shell
parts in drilled in various places. A complete set of tattooing instruments
consists of eight to twelve implements, depending on the artist.
A short wooden mallet is used for the insertion of the instruments into the
The Samoans tattooed the nose as a punishment for a serious crime and it was
equal to having an ear cut off.
Tattoo Museum Bibliography, Resources and Links
See all Oceanic Tattoo Culture Articles here
- Tattoos -- Some basic information about the tattooing procedure in Samoa. Drawings of tattoos from Samoa, a photograph of the implements used in Samoa for tattooing and the traditional song sung in Samoa
while men are receiving the pe'a
Meanings of Polynesian Tribal Tattoo Designs - Online Dictionary