Tautua Inked in Service. A Powerful Symbol of Commitment and Unity

The new RNZ documentary ‘Receiving the Traditional Samoan Malofie’ highlights the transformational process of receiving this traditional Samoan malofie.

Click here to watch the video.

You can also find out more about the following: Tautua: Inked for ServiceFaivaeselopepe Anric Sitanilei, RNZ’s social media journalist, reveals his journey in getting the tatau from tufuga Su’a Paulo Junior Suluape.

Sitanilei speaks with people in his village Toamua, where he grew up and wrote the documentary.

“I wanted my story to be shared to showcase the Tatau and to show that they are not just tattoos. Receiving the Tatau is a blessing, an honor, and can even be a religious experience.”

Meraz Parker Pooi, editor and camera operator at MP Studio Samoa, contributed to the video as the main cameraman.

The release of the film coincides with the start of Samoan Language Week.

traditional Samoan tattoo combs
Traditional Samoan Tattoo Combs, or the “au Photo: supplied / Meraz Parker-Potoi.

What is the cultural significance of Samoan tatau?

Faivaeselopepe Anric Sitanilei

The traditional Samoan male tattoo is called malu.

The Samoan culture holds a deep historical and cultural significance. It’s traditional body art used for centuries in Samoan culture.

The tatau not only represents a beautiful piece of art but is also a symbol of identity, family heritage, and individual achievements.

4NPLMY9 gallery image 52149
Male and female tatau photographed by Li‘aifaiva Imo Levi liaifaiva

The art form of tatau, combining Samoan mythology, pre-colonial culture, and spirituality, profoundly connects to Samoan society, mythology, and spirituality. The origins of the tatau are recalled in the legend of Taemā and Tilafaigā, two Siamese twin demi goddesses who swam from the islands of Fiji, bringing knowledge of tatau and the tools of the trade of Samoa.

It’s a complicated and intricate process that requires different tools and methods. Tattooists who are tufuga-ta-tatau have spent years in intensive training and apprenticeship to perform the tatau.

Velvet Crescent Ōtara, South Auckland in 1991. Fatu Feu‘u. Tufuga tātatau Su‘a Sulu‘ape Paulo.
Velvet Crescent Ōtara, South Auckland, in 1991. Fatu Feu‘u. Tufuga tātatau Su‘a Sulu‘ape Paulo. Photo: Mark Adams.

While the structure of a tatau remains the same, each person’s designs, patterns, and motifs are unique. Each tatau has been carefully designed by the tufuga to tell their story. The tattoo motifs and designs reflect an individual’s history and experiences.

Some people even consider the tatau as preparation for entering le saofa’iga a matai (the village council of chiefs). Some believe the tatau is a way to prepare for entry into le saofa’iga (the village council).

In Samoan culture, the tatau is a symbol of respect and honor. It is a symbol of strength, courage, and resiliency. It is a painful and uncomfortable process to receive the tatau. This endurance is a sign of their courage and ability in life to overcome challenges.

Li‘aifaiva Imo Levi liaifaiva, 2016-17.
Li‘aifaiva Imo Levi liaifaiva, 2016-17. Photo: Supplied

The tatau plays an essential role in preserving the Samoan cultural legacy. It is a reminder of the shared values and traditions, as well as the history, of a community. The tattooing ceremony is often accompanied by rituals and songs, which create a deep spiritual connection.

Tattoos are popular in many Pacific Island nations, and the tatau is no exception.

RNZ staff members showcase their traditional Samoan tatau
RNZ / Cole Eastham Farrelly Photo: TAHI Presenter So’omalo Iteni Schwalger and RNZ Social Media Journalism Faivaeselopepe Anric Sitanilei display their tatau

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