Drought in Samoa = Traditional Samoan Tattoo

Oge vai.  The majority of the South Pacific is experiencing a drought, Samoa however is finding itself significantly drier than the other island nations.  River beds have dried up, reservoirs are at an all time low.  While rural villages have had no water for weeks, some months, the capital city Apia is experiencing their own bought of dry pipes.  Obviously, water is important for hydration.  This drought is also leading directly to a smoggier Samoa.

Ahhh! I'm melting!

On a normal day about 60% of the electricity produced on Upolu is from hydro generators.  As the water dries up, the hydro generators do not work, and the Electric Power Corporation (EPC) turns to diesel generators.

So what do you do when a super drought hits, and you have no water? Get a tattoo!

Pili as a belt buckle... quite tender towards the back.

As far as I can see there is very little water involved.  Anyway, I had my Gecko {pili} finished.  Rather than free floating he is now holding the new tattoo in place like a belt buckle. A bit about the art of traditional Samoan tattoo.  A boar’s tooth is filed and sharpened into various patters.  Then it is fixed to the end of a stick about a foot long.  I have no idea how many different patterns there are, but I am willing to guess there are more than a few.

Shin, this was the worst part... ouch

There is a second stick which has no teeth attached to it.  This stick is used as a beater to smack the sharpened boar’s tooth into your skin.  Unfortunately, I could not see how they put the ink onto the tools.  Unfortunately or maybe luckily, for me, they were not using boar’s teeth.  They had filed razor blades instead.  Somehow, I felt this was more hygienic.  This style of tattoo also requires 3 people to create.  One man is the artist, while the other two pull and stretch your skin so it is as tight as possible.  Blood and ink seem to get everywhere and on everything.  In some ways, it is more tolerable than a western gun tattoo and in some ways far worse.  The actual tattooing only lasts for a few seconds and then the artist has to do something else.  I imagine he is putting more ink on his tool and/or getting a new tool.  This time is perfect for relaxing and putting your mind somewhere else.  Before he starts up again, the two guys pull your skin tight again, which gives you a perfect heads up that the artist is about to start again.  In this way, it is far more tolerable than the constant buzzing of a tattoo gun.  The down side is that I think my bones have been tattooed.

Inner right leg. No big deal.

This style is extremely painful around your bones.  The smacking of the filed razor blades into your bones sends shock waves throughout your entire body.  Trying not to twitch is almost impossible.  In this way Samoan tattooing feels like a cruel and unusual punishment for something I have not figured out what I did wrong yet.  The continual buzzing/stinging of a tattoo gun seems like a nice breeze while walking through a park on a warm summers day.  Once the tattoo is completed, there is some temporary relief in knowing that no one will be pounding you with a razor blade again.  That relief dies about 4 hours later when you or a friend has to deep tissue massage your new tattoo to get all of the extra ink out.  “Insane!” you may say.  Why bother doing it at all?  The extra ink inside your new tattoo if not squeezed out will run inside your skin blurring your tattoo and turning your skin green.  Every 4 hours for a minimum of 3 days, had better make it 5 for good measure.  This is the worst part of it all.  Sure, it is fun to have someone rub your freshly made wound, it tickles.  Nevertheless, to see black goo come out of your body is an extra special experience all to itself.  “No pain no gain” right?  Anyway, sorry I do no have any picture of it being done.  I think I am going to make all people who visit me here get one!

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5 Responses to Drought in Samoa = Traditional Samoan Tattoo

  1. I plan a visit but, I don’t plan to augment my existing tattoos or to get a new one. The pain sounds like an intense rite of passage. Are there any health dangers as to having tattooed bones?

  2. ntikaren says:

    i don’t think so. But you’d be like the nazi’s from Indiana Jones. I cannot remember if it is the last crusade or raiders of the lost ark. Anyway, towards the end one of the nazi dudes dies and he has a tattoo of a red and black swastika on his arm bone. He either chose the wrong cup, or it was when they opened the ark… I cannot remember, and wish I had the movies here to check.

  3. Erica Burman says:

    Just came across your blog. Thought you might be interested to know that we did an article on Tattoo Art in Samoa in the Spring, 2009 issue of WorldView magazine: http://www.peacecorpsconnect.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/WorldView.22.1.Spring2009.pdf

  4. Nick Shuraleff says:

    Nice design.
    Niko

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