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The following is an excerpt from the Tattoo History Source Book:

Samoan Tattoos

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."

Samoan male tattoos
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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.

Samoan Tattoo Instruments

Samoan tattooing instruments
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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 skin.

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

Oceania Tattoo Map See all Oceanic Tattoo Culture Articles here

Additional Resources

Samoa - 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

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