The Samoan tattoo, or ‘tatau’ as it is known traditionally, is deeply tied into the culture of Samoa. It is done as a source of pride in their heritage and culture. To be offered the chance to be tattooed for young Samoan men is a very high honor. Many times the young men must find a relative who is worthy to be tattooed at the same time. In America, Samoan tattoos are often known as tribal tattoos. Tribal tattoos have become increasingly popular in the past few years. However, authentic Samoan tattoos are not quite as commonplace.
Complete Guide to Samoan Tattoos:
What is it and how to get one
Samoan tattoos are tattoos that are very deep in meaning and culture. Simply liking the way that they look is not a good enough reason to choose this type of tattoo. Honoring the culture and the history behind this type of tattoo is essential. These types of tattoos are very painful even when using tattoo guns or machines because of the amount of detail that is incorporated. This is especially true for skinny people that do not have a lot of cushion below the skin. For this reason you will want to think long and hard about your decision to get a Samoan tattoo.
What is it?
A Samoan tattoo is traditionally done with a tattoo comb. American tattoos are usually done with tattoo guns which use a needle to puncture the skin and insert the ink. Samoan tattoos are done by placing a tattoo comb on the end of the stick, dipping the stick into the tattoo ink, placing the comb against the skin, and hitting the stick with a mallet to force the ink into the skin. This is done repeatedly and so instead of hearing the buzz of a normal tattoo gun you would hear the repetitive tapping of two pieces of wood. Tap, tap, tap, I can hear it in my head.
Samoans use the same tribal symbols in tattooing as they do in some of their local art work. These symbols are everywhere in American culture. Many of the curved lines and spiked designs found on today’s popular t-shirts originated from Samoa’s tatau. Tap Out shirts worn by fans of professional wrestling is one of the most prominent places you will see the tribal symbols of this traditional form of tattooing. You will also find these symbols in fabric patterns as well as wallpaper.
What does it mean?
Each Samoan tattoo has a different meaning. This is because all of the symbols used in Samoan tattooing have different meanings. They have many tribal symbols such as spearheads, lizards, fish, the ocean, and the sun. Turtle shells are one of the most common symbols found in this type of tattoo. Each symbol can have 4 or 5 different meanings. For the Polynesian people turtle shells can mean fertility, peace, longevity, or wellness. This means that even though you have the same symbols as someone else with a Samoan tattoo you may not have the exact same meaning. This practically ensures your tattoo will be one of a kind.
Does it have to mean anything?
In short, no. Your tattoo doesn’t have to have special symbolic meaning, but be prepared to tell people a good story if they ask. There is nothing lamer than seeing someone with an amazing tattoo, walking up to them and asking the meaning behind their tattoo only to hear that they ripped the idea off someone else and it has no lasting meaning for them. Now you not only look like a moron, but if you say it to the wrong person it can be more than a little offensive. These tattoos have history and culture behind them. If you aren’t willing to show respect to that do yourself a favor and choose another type of tattoo.
The Hard Way to Get an Authentic Samoan Tattoo
To get an authentic, traditional Samoan tattoo you have to be a part of their community. You must work to become accepted as one of them, which is no easy task. Think taking out your neighbor’s trash, mowing their yard, anything you can do to show them that you want to be a part of them. You must prove yourself trustworthy and committed to them and their way of life. This type of acceptance is the only way to get a tattoo from a true Samoan community. It can take years to be accepted into one of their communities, but once you are accepted getting the tattoo will be a breeze.
The Easy Way to Get a Samoan Tattoo
Many traditional tattoo shops in Hawaii and Florida have people who have been trained in the old ways of Samoan tattoos. You would be able to go to them and get the same type of tattoo without all the hard work that comes from entrenching yourself into their community and culture. They use the same tribal symbolism and methods but you can get the tattoo without spending years of your life living in another region. This is not to say that your local tattoo artist cannot do a passable Samoan tattoo. Any decent tattoo artist can replicate the symbolism used in Samoan tattoos.
Samoan tattoo aftercare
A traditional Samoan tattoo done with tattoo combs will need to be massaged three times a day. Massaging the tattoo works out any infection, impurities, or pus collected under the skin. It is also a good idea to wash the tattoo daily. This is done best with saltwater. The disinfecting properties of saltwater reduce pain and swelling. You want to keep your tattoo away from direct sunlight, and keep it cool thus reducing the chances of infection. Be careful not to soak the tattoo as too much water makes the healing process slower. Keep in mind that any freshly tattooed skin is essentially an open wound. Make sure you treat it accordingly.
Samoan tattoos are some of the most intricate body art you will ever see. The meaning behind each tattoo is personal and in the end the tattoo should tell a story. If you are willing and able to go through the traditional or modern way of getting this tattoo you should be proud to wear it.
Limited Time Offer (click photo)