Samoan Tattoos in Bangkok
There are many reasons why Samoa has pride of place in any debate or in research into the history of tattooing, not least because the Samoan word “TATAU”, is the origin of the western word “TATTOO” – a word known across the world and included in the lexicons of hundreds of languages.
Samoan tattoos also contain some of the most intricate and beautiful designs to be found anywhere and have been adopted by thousands of tattoo adherents throughout the western world.
Legend has it that two female Samoan conjoined twins, Taema and Tilafaiga, who were joined at the spine, decided to go on an expedition away from their own island. During their travels, their spinal joint became separated and they eventually arrived at Fiji where they met tattooists Tufou and Fillelei, who taught them the art of tattooing.
On their return to Samoa, Tilafaiga became a war goddess and, Taema became Samoa’s first tattooist and tattoo teacher.
The unique Samoan designs that are used in tattoos can be traced back to around 1500 BC where similar patterns have been found on both pottery and cloth decoration. Samoan tattoos are deeply embedded in Samoan culture and during the past half-century since independence, there has huge been a resurgence in this ancient art.
The Samoans are the only group of Polynesians that still practice the traditional art of tattooing as an essential feature of their daily live. It remains an integral part of their rite of passage, symbolizing the transition to adulthood for both men and women.
For young men, in particular, it means they are accepted as members of the association of young men, known as the ‘aumaga’. They also gain much respect for their inner strength and fortitude – enduring the high level of pain that is inflicted during the traditional method of tattooing.
Samoan tattoos contain some of the most intricate body art you will ever see and the only color used is black.
The male tattoo is known as “pe’a” (flying fox) and generally covers the area from knee to waist, with the small of the back tattooed first, and the navel design (“pute”) last. Without the “pute”, the tattoo is incomplete.
The female tattoo is known as “malu”, (protected) and does not generally follow a specific pattern and is mainly ornamental, although a diamond shape on the back of the knee, known as “malu”, is always present.
A few females known as ‘taupau’ have ceremonial roles and are always tattooed from their knees to the top of their legs and also on their hands.
Samoan tattoos contain designs handed down through the ages, with every tattoo being a unique work of art, and each containing its own special meaning. The designs have a tribal appearance and are often referred to as tribal tattoos in the USA.
Popular Samoan Tattoo Symbols and meanings
The symbols used in Samoan Tattoos have many different meanings. Here are some of the more well-known ones:
- The Turtle symbol is very important and a widely used symbol in Samoan culture. It can mean long life, health, fertility, union, family, and harmony. It also is a symbol of a navigator.
- The Ocean symbol is also very common and is often used to fill in blank spaces in specific patterns, and generally represents the final destination for people who die. The ocean can also represent death, the after-life, and a source of food, life, perseverance and even fertility.
- The Sun Symbol is another popular design which can stand for wealth, intelligence, grandeur and leadership. Sunrise can indicate eternity or rebirth and sunsets can mean passage to the next life. Sunrays mixed with different symbols can have a wide variety of meanings.
- Shell symbols (seashells or turtle shells) are also common symbols – especially the turtle shell which is a very important creature in Samoan culture. Depending on how they interact with other symbols, the turtle shell can have a host of different meanings including long life, health, fertility, and peace.
Seashells are not so common and when used, they usually symbolize protection and intimacy.
- “Tiki” symbols are human-like figures which represent Samoan demi-gods and mainly symbolizes protection, and the presence of danger. When mixed with other symbols the “tiki” can have a variety of different meanings.
- The Marquesan cross is very popular and is widely used in countless Samoan tattoo designs. Its main use is to represent a balance between the elements and harmony. Although its origin is unknown, the cross is thought to be connected to the turtle.
- The Lizard, (or Gecko), symbol denotes the presence of Polynesian gods which are regarded as ancestors. The lizards are thought to be capable of talking to the gods to bring good fortune to the wearer, protection against the netherworld and death to enemies.
- Spear Head symbols are in almost every Samoan tattoo design and represent warriors, sharp objects, animal stings, courage and fighting spirit. When used in combination with other symbols it can have a wide variety of different meanings.
Examples of popular and highly stylized body placements of Samoan Tattoos.
- Neckline – in appearance it looks like a shield across one side of the upper chest running into an intricately decorated full arm sleeve – very much giving the sense of an ancient warrior.
- Diagonal Body – from the top corner of one shoulder right down to the opposite corner of the waist. – very stylish.
- Floral design on arm – very beautiful and effective if done in the Samoan style.
- Samoan design on back – this design runs across the back of both shoulders and down to the center of the back – suitable for men and women.
- Feminine feathers – Two Samoan style feathers that sweep upwards across the back. Some men may also like them.
- Samoan Spinal – An intricate narrow strip-type design that runs from the back of the neck, and follows the spine vertically downwards to the small of the back – popular for women.
- Full Body – If you want to cover your back or waist, arms, and maybe all the way down your buttocks, thighs and lower legs you could hardly do better than go for Samoan designs and symbols which can be endlessly repeated in the most beautiful and artistic manner.
Samoan Tattoo techniques
Do you want to go the whole hog and have a Samoan tattoo inked in the traditional way?
Traditional Samoan Tattoos are performed in Samoa using what is known as a “tattoo comb”. The comb is attached to the end of a stick, dipped in ink, and then placed on the skin. The stick is then hit with a mallet to force the ink into the skin. The stick is tapped repeatedly as the tattoo inking progresses.
As most Samoan tattoos are very intricate, this is a very long and extremely painful process.
Compare this with the relatively low-pain experience of being inked with a modern tattoo machine. So think hard about whether you are really up to tolerating the level of pain involved using traditional Samoan methods.
Where can I get a Samoan Tattoo?
If you decide that you are up for the pain and want the absolute genuine article, you can hop on a plane to Samoa and try your luck.
However, there is a huge stumbling block. Before they will agree to tattoo you, you will have to undergo a very long process of acceptance into the tribe. This could take many years and is obviously not a viable option for most people.
If you still wish to have the Samoan tattoo inked in the traditional way with a tattoo comb, you can find artists in Hawaii and Florida who have been trained in the ancient Samoan ways.
But be warned – it will be a very long and very painful journey and there will be a much greater risk of infection.
By far and away the best way to have a Samoan Tattoo is in a modern tattoo studio with modern and hygienic equipment such as we have at ALL DAY Tattoo in Bangkok.
If you come to ALL DAY Tattoo we can show you a wide variety of Samoan designs and help you to choose your tattoo. Although some Samoan tattoos may look similar, every single one is a unique work of art.
But as well as liking they aesthetic look of your tattoo, you should always ensure that your Samoan tattoo has a real meaning.
If you really want a Samoan Tattoo, respect the culture and the ancient symbols. Research the designs and meaning(s) you wish to convey, and we at ALL DAY Tattoo in Bangkok, will be only too pleased to help and advise you.
There is nothing worse than having a beautifully intricate Samoan tattoo on your body but be unable to explain the meaning of it when somebody asks you.
So why not click the button below and arrange your obligation free appointment with one of our artists to discuss what Samoan tattoos will work for you – both from their aesthetic qualities as well as their inner meanings.