In Samoan custom, a pe'a is only done the traditional way, with aspects of cultural ceremony and ritual, and have a strong meaning for the one who receive it.
Tonga & Samoa – Fact Check

Growing up can be a harrowing affair

Photo by Jochem Wijnands

Tonga & Samoa – Fact Check Growing up can be a harrowing affair

In many countries, you have to go out of your way to find something you think is authentic; in Samoa it is always close.

Daphne Huineman
Daphne Huineman Travel Writer

Walking through a village, I stumble on a tattoo session: a boy of 16 is getting his pe’a, the authentic tattoo from waist to knee. Tapping away at a block of needles while his assistants wipe away blood, the artist stretches the skin of his victim with his dirty toes.

Seeing my disapproving gaze, he waves cheerfully at a bottle of alcohol and extremely filthy rag. Getting such a large tattoo takes weeks and is extremely painful, while the large risk of infection is sometimes fatal. But it is also joyful, marking the transition from boy to man. It also strengthens the identity of young people torn between their love of the western life of Nikes and Big Macs and the strict mores of extended families and their matai (chiefs). They want nothing more than to show that they deserve respect.

Others may have no real choice in the matter, like Joanna who works at our beach resort. “One day I was working in the kitchen and my grandfather called me and said that it was my time,” she says. “I lay groaning in pain for six hours while the tattoo artist worked on my legs. Every 16 or 17-year-old girl in our family gets them.

They are typical for women, the men get totally different designs.” Women only have their upper legs done and hers are adorned with plants, flowers and shells. Is she happy with them? She shrugs her shoulders. “I have no choice but to like them. But it amazes me that more and more tourists come to Samoa for a pe’a. All the designs have a specific meaning for Samoans.”

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Samoa, tattoo instruments

The tools of the “tufuga ta tatau” comprise a set of serrated bone combs, a tapping mallet for driving the combs into the skin; coconut shell cups to mix and store the tattooing ink; and lengths of tapa cloth used to wipe blood and clean tools. Photo by Jochem Wijnands

Jochem Wijnands

Jochem Wijnands

Nikon SUPER COOLSCAN 4000 ED

The tools of the “tufuga ta tatau” comprise a set of serrated bone combs, a tapping mallet for driving the combs into the skin; coconut shell cups to mix and store the tattooing ink; and lengths of tapa cloth used to wipe blood and clean tools.

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