Samoan Tribal Tattoo Designs

Samoan tribal tattoos attract attention without a doubt for some reasons like the complexity of the drawing and the painful process of having a tattoo done. What is as well remarkable is the visual impact of these tattoos, especially when they cover half of a person’s body. Samoan tattoo artists used special combs to apply the design. They would dip the comb in ink and then tap the pointed teeth of the comb along the skin, puncturing the surface and inserting the ink. Samoan tribal tattooing began to enjoy a renaissance in the 1960s, perhaps linked with a revitalized national pride in Western Samoa after independence (1962). While all forms of Samoan tattoo are linked with a general pride and commitment to Samoan culture, there are some important differences.


Samoan tribal tattoo, both traditional and contemporary, allows the wearer to artistically explore and announce his or her Samoan heritage, and acts as a strongly voiced and permanent display of cultural pride, especially by those living in the Samoan diaspora. Samoan tribal tattoo artist, more commonly known among his people as a tafuga , Paulo Suluape, has died according to the New Zealand Herald . He was found in his New Zealand home in Thursday morning, and it has been determined the death occured around midnight on Wednesday as a result of fatal wounds to the back of his head. Samoan tattoo design is traditional. Comparison of a detailed drawing of a traditional Samoan pe’a in one of the old books about Samoa?Kramer’s The Samoan Islands ?shows little difference from the designs I saw being applied in the late ’60s and early ’70s.

Tribal tattoo art was very important in the Polynesian culture. Because they had no written language, tattoos were used to depict social status, family history and spirituality. Tattooing was done in secret but was revived again in 1984. Now in modern Tahiti the deep traditional meanings are used only by a few, and sacred symbols kept by royal families or shamans. tattoos, or pe’a , demonstrate the strong ties many Samoans feel for their culture. Samoans have practiced the art of tattooing both men and women for over 2,000 years.

Traditionally the method of rewarding the artist (for example, with woven fine mats in traditional Samoa) has been significant. These days the exchange of money is obviously the standard, but thought still needs to be given to the interaction between the person being tattooed and the tattoo artist. Traditionally the combs were carved from a boar’s tusk.

Samoan women were tattooed as well, but female tattooing was limited to a series of delicate flower-like geometrical patterns on the hands and the lower part of the body. Samoa’s unique tattoo is presented at these world conventions in a roped-off area, with security guards who brief spectators on the rules before they are allowed entry. People who do not follow the rules are kicked out of the area. Samoans are constantly being assessed by their chiefs for contributions of food, mats, and tapa for various ceremonies—funerals, weddings, house buildings, tattooings, and church inaugurations.

Samoans also have ancient traditions and ceremonies such as the matai ceremony and the art of Samoan tattoo which Leilani has described. But we have also adopted more recent traditions such as English cricket.


Women`s tribal tattoos are done on the thighs, legs, or hands, and are usually of a smaller design. While men?s tattoos are typically comprised of larger, solid sections of ink, the women?s patterns are of a much more delicate, intricate design. Women were also tattooed on their thighs and knees, but with delicate, repeated individual motifs. Samoan boys were tattooed at the age of 16-18 years, in a group puberty ceremony that served to reinforce societal authority.

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