In case you didn’t know, the English word “Tattoo” originates from the Samoan word “Tatau,” which roughly translated means, “ha, ha, crazy drunk man let us scar his back.” Seriously, “tatau” means to “strike twice.” Such a definition is amazingly misleading considering that a traditional tattoo takes months to finish. It was a sacred ritual, commonly saved for the chief and his sons. Now, both male and female Samoans use tattoos as a way to proclaim their Samoan culture. Samoans typically use natives siapo designs in their tattoos. Siapo is an art here in American Samoa which uses geometric figures and strong lines… it’s about like black and white triangles on steroids.
Once a year, one of our local enviro-friendly, art-conscious, left-winged, dreadlocked, on-island, venture capitalists, named Tisa, holds a tattoo festival at her restaurant on the beach. We may have been the only blank skin on the beach. Contrary to what you may be thinking, there were no peirced noses, Harley Gangs, or Devil Worshippers, it was a great family trip full of first time experiences.
1. My first time to see a Congressman strip and dance for money. (Well, he didn’t fully strip, but during a traditional siva dance, he did lift up his lava lava to show his pe’a.) Congressman Faleomavaega, our local representative from American Samoa put on a show. If only Hassert and G.W. could learn to dance, they’d never have problems raising money.
2. My first time to see a person endure a traditional tattoo. Although there were several tattoo artists using the contemporary hot glue gun looking apparatus to scorch skin, one man utilized the traditional method which involved a set of shark’s teeth constantly beating a person’s skin. There was a good deal of blood, but not so much that Colt has vowed to never have a tattoo. Too bad. Truth is, most of the men had consumed enough alcohol to dull the pain. Thus Colt walked away thinking people who got tattoos had to have bad breath and also had to be sleeping on the ground in order for three people to hold them down and paint on them. This particular artist, Wilson, has his own website… http://www.geocities.com/TheTropics/Shores/7277/wilson_tattoo.html
3. My first time to pay for a festival. I was caught off guard by the $5 cover charge, but I guess I should have expected it from Tisa, our crazy, on-island venture capitalist. Luckily parking was free. Tattoos were extra.
4. Colt’s and Ally’s first festival which they got to play in the ocean waves rather than walk in the hot sun for hours on end. It sure beats a sespool of water, urine and sunscreen at the Poultry Festival.
While the kids played in the Pacific ocean, we basically sat around and watched people show off their tattoos all Sunday afternoon. As you can imagine, there were very few tattoos of anchors and naked Tahitian women. Rather, the traditional Samoan tattoos contain stories and are individual to that person. It is very artistic, and most are very intersting to look at. Much unlike the tattoos sported back home. Who really wants a picture of Daffy Duck, a dragon, or Frodo Lives! on their back???? And who in their right mind tattoo’s their face? Furthermore, it’s ironic that the origins of a tattoo which were originally sacred have evolved after years of mutilation and cross-cultures, so that today many tattoos stand for violence, gangs and evil.
As I sat around and admired all the blue and black ink, I too wondered if I was ready for a tattoo. After at least two minutes of forethought, I settled on the idea of a tattoo which would encricle my upper thigh. I’d have to use my thigh because my biceps are simply too small to tell a good story. It would only be a comic strip on my small guns. Thus, I decided I needed a tat that depicted Jesus coming to Earth, Our Family’s Journey to this island, and the Samoan way of life, all meeting in one moment. Plus, a good “Frodo Lives” etched into my skin too. If you can’t tell, I probably need to flesh out (no pun intended) the details of this tattoo. But usually, the local tattoo artists prefer creative elbow room, so I don’t want to be too confining.
I’ll probably talk myself out of this idea by the time I post this article. But, who knows? At least I’m not going for the traditional pe’a tatau which starts at both thighs and covers its way to the man’s shoulder (including everything in between… and I mean EVERYTHING! perineum and all. check out wilson’s site on the pe’a.)
For now, I’m just walking around with freckles on my shoulders, which happens to get more attention from the Samoans than any tatoo could possibly produce. Maybe I’ll just play connect the dots and hope a dragon or cool design reveals itself.