The value of a Samoan treasure

The debate about how people are treating Samoa’s treasured tatau and malu is not a new one. Opinions of course differ over people’s motives.

Some say it has been commercialised to the point where the art has lost its value, others believe Samoa is part of a globalised world where we have to keep up with the changing times. As part of that, attitudes towards such a treasure must evolve.

Whatever belief system you subscribe to, there is one thing that cannot be denied. Anybody who has had to endure the pain of getting inked is perhaps the only person who is qualified to have an opinion about the issue.

That’s because it takes courage. It takes guts and bravery to lay there while the tufuga works his magic.

For Mulipola Anarosa Molio’o, from the village of Faleapuna, four of her children have just received their traditional tattoos.

Mulipola understands the importance of the tattoos and says she makes sure her children understand it too.

“The men’s tatau or the women’s malu is a very important part of the Samoan culture,” she told the Samoa Observer.

“I have five children with one of them planning to get a traditional tattoo in the new year’s. My children approached us to get tattoos when they were still in school.

“And to us, we know that our culture is one vital aspect of our identity as Samoans, so we agreed to it.”

For Mulipola’s children, their tattoos is a rite of passage. It is part of who they are.

“We are always involved with cultural practices within our village of Faleapuna because of our titles at Faleapuna and so we always take our children with us,” she said.

“The boys are usually the ones doing most of the duties of a Samoan young man (taule’ale’a) within the village and they thought that it would be better to have traditional tattoos so it can complete their attires.

“And it’s the same for my daughter as well.”

Mulipola explains that you can’t just get a traditional tattoo; you have to be prepared mentally and physically.

“To me, if you want to get the traditional Samoan tattoo, one has to be well-prepared,” she said.

“One must know about the culture and all the responsibilities they should do and they must know how to carry it well.

“So we’ve taught them about all the things they need to know about our Samoan culture and especially when it comes to wearing and getting the tattoo. 

“They’ve also experienced and practiced it in our village and family gatherings because that goes hand in hand with the tattoo.”

Mulipola says that with a big part of our tradition now nothing but a fashion trend, it brings her and many others much sadness.

“It saddens me to see how some people use our traditional tattoo nowadays for fashion,” she said.

“What I mean is that back in the days, the only time we see girls and boys with tattoos was when we have gatherings and family functions. But that’s not the same anymore.

“My main concern is that our culture is starting to fade away. We can also see that they’ve added some other patterns and designs to the tattoos. 

“I think that there is no other place to learn about all this than our families. That is the one place where we can learn about all our culture. 

“We should also encourage our children to start going to the village council’s house to listen and observe all the things they need to learn about our culture; that’s where we can learn our true Samoan ways.” 

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