Long-Term Learning

Learn efficiently and remember over time.

Start Long-Term Learning

Get personalized study reminders at intervals optimized for better retention.
Track your progress on this set by creating a folder
Or add to an existing folder

Add this set to a folder

  • When did they originate?

    There is no documented date

    When were they estimated to have originated?

    It is estimated that they originated 5000 years ago

    Why is the date unknown?

    This is due to the fact that in Polynesia, before the Europeans' arrival, every event was told by word of mouth, as they had no form of transcribing until the missionaries arrived.


    The tattoo was most likely the Samoans' first form of cultural art along with their woven mats.


    Samoan legend states that two Fijiian women named Taema and Tilafaiga introduced the practice of tattooing to Samoa.


    It is said that they canoed from Fiji to Samoa, singing "tattoo the women and not the men", but along the way, they made a mistake, and instead switched to singing "tattoo the men and not the women".


    When they arrived in Samoa, the mistake went uncorrected, and when the Samoans adopted tatau, the men received the majority of it.


    Samoan tattoos are a long and painful process.


    It takes many weeks to fully complete a Pe'a but overall it can be finished in as little as five days with breaks in between sessions to let inflammation subside.


    Tattooing combs are made of sharpened animal bone or teeth.


    They are dipped in a dye made from the soot of burnt lama nuts and then repeatedly struck with a mallet called a sausau. The sausau is almost two feet long and made from the central rib of a coconut palm leaf.


    New tools are made for every Pe'a for hygiene purposes.


    Autapulu (wide comb used to fill in large dark areas of the tattoo)


    Pot used for holding combs


    (cup used for holding dye)


    (pestle used to grind up dye)


    The Malu is the female version of the male traditional tattoo called the Pe'a.


    The Malu is often a representation of centipedes, octopi, birds and flying foxes. It is of a lighter nature than the Pe'a, and is more "lacy" with less of the large black areas often seen in the Pe'a.


    It covers from the bottom of the knee to the upper thigh. It is generally much smaller than the Pe'a, although the women also tattoo their hands.


    As with the males, it is considered a great source of shame to have an unfinished tattoo and it is almost always hidden.


    The Pe'a is the male traditional tattoo.


    The patterns and symbols of the Pe'a are complex and abstract. They consist of many interlocked, interwoven shapes and patterns.


    The Pe'a is remarkable in many ways, one being the sheer expanse of skin it occupies, another being the painful process undergone to obtain it.


    Pe`a are much larger than Malu, with a lot more large dark patches, as seen in these photographs.


    In Samoa the sacred art of tattooing is generally done by up to seven different people.


    The person who performs the tattooing itself is always male. He is accompanied by up to six other people.


    These people may be male or female depending on who is more experienced.


    the other six people are responsible for mixing the dyes, wiping away blood, holding the combs, holding the skin tight, recieving used instruments, dipping instruments into dye, sharpening instruments


    Young women sit around the person being tattooed, holding them down to stop them moving too much, which could damage the tattoo.


    In addition, they also sing the following song to distract the men from the pain, because it is considered disgraceful to show any obvious sign of pain during the process of getting tattooed.


    For males, the ritual of tattooing is generally performed on an age range of between fourteen and eighteen years.


    They will only tattoo a person who has stopped growing so that the tattoo will not be stretched or damaged. This is the same for both males females.


    The tattooing of a male symbolises becoming a man in the community that he lives in. It tests his strength, durability and patience, which are key factors of growing up and receiving the responsibilities of manhood.


    For women, the tattooing is mostly for decoration and does not hold huge significance.


    Those who do not accept the culture and rituals of their community and refuse to get tattooed, or do not complete their tattoos are regarded with huge disrespect and no father will let his daughter marry them.


    The Samoan tatau changes every time is is applied.


    This is because each tattoo is unique to the person who receives it, as the tattoo is designed for the personal identity and physical size of the induvidual.


    However, the variety of patterns and shapes that the tatau consist of has generally stayed the same. Some elements are always included.


    For example, in the Malu there is always a diamond shaped pattern on the back of the knees.


    The purpose of the tatau, especially the Pe'a, is to prove that a boy has enough strength, courage and determination to be considered a man.


    For this reason, when a Pe'a is being performed, traditional methods have been maintained, as modern tattoo needles are significantly less painful, and much faster to use.


    Increasingly, however, and against tradition, Samoan tattoos are being performed not as initiation into manhood, but as a sign of connection with Samoan culture and tradition. These tattoos are not necessarily performed using traditional methods.


    The tatau itself is a ritual of coming-of-age.


    The procedure follows a strict order, theoretically taking five days, with rest days in between, to finish a tatau. This is a rough guide of the work done on each day.

    Day 1

    Lower back

    day 2

    Posterior and genitals

    Day 3

    outer thighs

    Day 4

    Inner thighs and back of knees

    day 5

    abdomen and navel

    Please allow access to your computer’s microphone to use Voice Recording.

    Having trouble? Click here for help.

    We can’t access your microphone!

    Click the icon above to update your browser permissions above and try again


    Reload the page to try again!


    Press Cmd-0 to reset your zoom

    Press Ctrl-0 to reset your zoom

    It looks like your browser might be zoomed in or out. Your browser needs to be zoomed to a normal size to record audio.

    Please upgrade Flash or install Chrome
    to use Voice Recording.

    For more help, see our troubleshooting page.

    Your microphone is muted

    For help fixing this issue, see this FAQ.

    Star this term

    You can study starred terms together

    NEW! Voice Recording

    This is a Plus feature