Monday, June 20, 2005

O la`u pe`a (continued)

The long awaited follow up

Now that a significant amount of time as elapsed to ensure proper reflection I am now ready to record and share my own personal experience with the “pe’a Samoa”. (Actually, I was having problems downloading my pictures of the experience from my laptop and I didn’t want to have you all read this without a visual).

It was Saturday the 7th of May 2005 that my very close friend, Dori, and I set out on our adventure. I met Dori in front of the ATM on a busy, crowded street in downtown Apia. She had arrived promptly complete with our obligatory “oso” (Samoan word for a gift of food). We had agreed on purchasing a half case of “eleni” (tinned fish), 1 carton of cigarettes, and a cake made by Dori. That morning I had been busy learning a traditional Samoan dance and had to depend on Dori to run the errands. She did not disappoint. So with “oso” in tow after withdrawing the necessary funds from the bank we had out to the fish market to wait for our bus. And wait we did, and wait, and wait, and waited some more. Our appointment with Samoa’s renowned tattoo artist was for 3:00pm. However, it was clear that when we finally boarded the very crowded bus at 2:45pm with a 45-minute ride out of town we would be late. I sat on Dori’s lap for the duration with both hers and my own legs asleep only 10 minutes into the ride. When we reached the village of faleasi`u we silently rejoiced that we had made it. We departed from our luxurious mode of transportation and with the assistance of a friendly woman began the 30 minute trek inland to our final destination. We arrived at his house at approximately 4:05 where we were quickly reminded that we were late. I quickly busted out with the required Samoan apologies and explanation for our tardiness. He was understanding and warmed up a little towards us as I continued to speak in Samoan. He smiled politely at Dori’s well-intentioned attempts to use the local language.

I was to go first, as I knew I would have a harder time facing the music if I had to watch someone else undergo the torture first. I watched cautiously taking notice of every detail in the way our tattoo artist meticulously made the preparations. Every piece of equipment was in sterile bags and he used rubber gloves to touch his equipment. (Peace Corps recommends that if we are going to get a tattoo that we use this particular man as he is not only the finest in his craft but as of a year ago he was also still the only known sterile tattoo artist on the island) I was instructed to lie face down on my stomach and after a very brief and vague description of what I wanted he quickly began the tap, tap, tap.

That is a sound I will never forget. For two hours I heard the tapping of Suluape’s wooden tool tapping (hammering?) into the other wooden tool with the boars tooth attached at one end that pounds the design into the skin. The pain was intense and immediate. I squeezed Dori’s hand and started humming to distract my mind. Dori supported me throughout with singing songs and although she listened to my moaning she was quick to let everyone around know that I was fine and not to worry. I was in fact, just being a big baby. I appreciated her attending to this minor detail, as I did not want the boys assisting their father to feel any guilt on the pain they were helping to inflict upon me. This was a pain I freely chose. So the tap, tap, tap, went on with every minute or so a pause to wipe the ink and blood. Suluape had 2 of his sons assisting. They held the skin taught and kept me from squirming too much. Also in the faleo’o (small Samoan house, made of wood and palm leaves with no walls) were Suluape’s wife and large scattering of children and cousins. They were all entranced by the television playing a Bollywood film although when my moans turned more to shrieking they would look towards me with mild alarm. Dori would always assure them that I was fine. After two hours passed I finally heard the sweetest word a person could say at that moment: “uma” (finished). I said, “mo`i?” (really?) I looked down at my leg and was stunned at the beauty. I was scared to get up and bend my leg, frightened that I would somehow smear the firmly impressed ink. Suluape said “tu i luga! (stand up!) I obeyed and was quickly given a wet bandage to keep my leg wrapped. I was then told I would go with Suluape’s son in their car to pick up the gift of boxed tinned fish that Dori and I had left at the house near the road. It was too long of a walk to carry the close to 30-pound box. A sterile pad was laid to keep the blood from staining the front seat of the car (and I’m sure to prevent infection) and away we went. We were gone for nearly 45 minutes. (We not only picked up the tinned fish but also Suluape’s grandchildren two villages over) When I returned I was shocked to see that Dori had already braved enduring the first half of her tattoo alone. She was the strong one. I quickly sat by her and held her hand but not a peep was heard from her lips. Every once in awhile she took a deep breath but it was apparent that I had needed her much more than she had needed me. When it was all done, we were ushered to the tap at the side of the house to wash and massage the tattoos. Suluape’s daughter did this part. A massage sounds like it would feel good, doesn’t it? But this was quite the opposite. She took the soap and let the cold water run down my leg. That was nice. Then she began kneading her hands into my thigh. (This is to ensure that the ink does not leak into other areas of the skin) I nearly screamed bloody murder. Again, throughout this process Dori was quiet. After it was all over we rested in the faleo`o until Suluape had decided what we should pay. It was dark and Dori and I were in pain and sleepy. I was wondering how we were going to get home since the busses had stopped running hours ago. I heard Suluape tell his eldest son to put gasoline in the car and drive us home. I was thrilled and quickly translated to Dori that we were getting a free ride home. We were driven to Dori’s house and thanked our driver. Once inside, with the luxury of light, Dori and I examined each other’s tattoos and the bruises that were quickly developing. We had done it. We really did it! I will forever remember that day and will forever be proud of us. Many will not see the same beauty as I do when then seeing my tattoo back home. That’s okay. The have not witnessed what I have and I cannot expect them to understand the intricacy of this amazing culture. What I know and what is more important is that we are now and forever a part of Samoa and Samoa is now a part of us.


At July 3, 2005 at 8:45 PM, Blogger schaveyt said...

Ouch! You indeed have a 'real' tato.

At July 11, 2005 at 3:42 PM, Anonymous JD said...

Amazing! A true Samoan tattoo, not just a "Peace Corps" armband. Enjoy it, hope it heals well for you. How did you decide on the placement? One leg or both?

At July 11, 2005 at 11:20 PM, Blogger Amanda said...

Thanks, guys! I decided to place it on my leg just above the knee because, honestly, this is the firmest part of my leg and I want to showcase my muscle. I only have it on my right leg.

At July 14, 2005 at 3:48 PM, Anonymous JD said...

Did you friend receive the same band? Or is your composed of symbols with meaning to you?

At July 14, 2005 at 11:10 PM, Blogger Amanda said...

My friend actually got an arm band. Our patterns our similar although not identical and she did not have "jellyfish" of the women's malu done. Pretty much, the tattoo artist, Suluape, decides what patterns he will give you and then if you are curious he will tell you what they mean. I only asked him to incorporate a piece of the women's traditional tattoo, the malu, into my thigh band. I find the Malu extremely beautiful but I don't think it would be appropriate for me to have the entire Malu tattoo

At July 20, 2005 at 7:44 PM, Anonymous JD said...

I understand that the Malu is the traditional style of tattoo for a woman. Is it not appropriate, as in stealing from another culture, or because you are not of Samoan decent, or something else?

At July 21, 2005 at 12:46 AM, Blogger Amanda said...

I don't think any Samoan would think it would be inappropriate if I got the Malu. I've asked my Samoan friends and they all say it would be cool even though I am not of Samoan decent. However, from my own viewpoint, if I get the full Malu it says that I am true "teine Samoa" (Samoan girl) and that I love Samoa and it's traditions through and through. I love many things about this place, but I have to be honest in that, I also see many many things I do not love about this place. Samoa is a piece of me now but it is not all of me. I hope this makes sense. By the way, JD, how are you connected to Samoa?

At July 24, 2007 at 7:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow that is truly a beautiful Malu. My Name is Me Fuimaono I am 1st generation born in the mainland. I now live in hawaii. I really want to get a Malu. Could you email me the name of the artist and the village as well as any other info you have about how to contact. I am going to Samoa for the first time in Jan. For 1 month, I am really excited. My father was the Matai of my family and always wanted me to get it. He passed away so I want to do it in honor of my family custom and tradition. My email is
Fafatai Me


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