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Traditional Samoan Body Art

PE'A | Traditional Samoan Body/Art | The Encyclopedia | The Tattoo Concierge Guide
 
Held to balance the scales for men through pain of undergoing the process as women endure childbirth, traditions of pe’a tattoo artwork in Samoa are said to date back over 2,000 years. An artist is called Tafuga with original implement designs of bamboo alongside wood or turtle shell still in use today. Experiencing somewhat of a modern revival it once shortly fell out of favor following the arrival or European explorers. Commonly requiring three months to complete and one year for healing, pe’a artwork may extend from a mans’ ribs down below the knees
 
| ‘The pe’a is the Traditional Samoan Body tattoo. Worn by men alone, it covers the body from the torso to the knees. Young men receive the pe’a as a rite of passage, signaling his transition from boyhood to adulthood, and his intent to serve his family and community. Without the pe’a, a man will never truly be a man, and having a half-finished pe’a, known as a pe’a mutu, is considered shameful. A man who gets the full pe’a is a soga’imiti.
 
The process of being tattooed is an intense, painful ordeal which is done over five stages, and could take weeks to complete, given the level of pain and the time needed to recover between stages. It was also costly. Men could not receive the pe’a until they accumulated enough wealth to cover the cost of the woven mats or tapa cloths needed as payment to the tattooist.
 
The tattooing tools, known as au, are similar to those found in many other Polynesian cultures, and consisted of a comb of different sizes, made of sharpened teeth or tusks, lashed to a turtle shell, and attached at a right angle to a stick. The smallest is the au fa’atala which is used to tattoo points and dots. The largest is the au tapulu and is used to fill in the solid design. The comb is dipped into the pigment and is tapped into the skin using a separate mallet, known as a iapalapa….
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