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Samoan Material Culture



Even now it is customary for a number of youths to be tattooed at the same time. The parents share the expenses of employing the artist. In olden times, according to Stair (33, p. 158), it was customary for the sons of the various tulafale (talking chiefs) to be tattooed at the same time as the chief's son so as to share his pain (tale-i-lona-tingd). The chief's family bore the expense of feeding and paying the operators and in addition made presents to the boys who had shared the pain. It is said that the tattooing of "the sharers of pain" was often carelessly done and was looked down upon as 'O le ta tula-fale (talking chief's tattooing). Be this as it may, we have here further evidence of the astuteness of the talking chiefs. They, as the councillors, were responsible for custom and ceremonial to a large extent. Hence, in the custom of sharing the pain, the talking chief got his son tattooed free of cost and was paid with a fine mat as well. It is probably this less decorative form of tattooing that led to the distinction originally between the tattooing of a high chief and that of a talking chief as mentioned by Handy (14, p. 21).

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When a number were tattooed, a large shed was often built specially in a village open space to form an operating theatre. Sham fights and various, games were played during the gatherings. In present times, young friends gather around with modern musical instruments and may be seen in the operating house endeavoring to cheer up the patient with melodies that have been diffused from foreign music halls.

The artists as belonging to a skilled guild were formerly highly paid in fine mats and bark cloth. The payment took place after the completion of the operations. Following the payment of the artists, the families of the boys who shared the pain received their recompense.

Stair (33, pp. 163, 164) draws attention to the very important ceremony of sprinkling the tattooed (Lulu'unga-o-le-tatau). The night before, the artists and their assistants with lighted torches went through a number of motions until the torches were all put out at a given signal. A coconut water bottle was dashed to pieces in front of the newly tattooed youths, the torches relighted and a search made for the plug. The finding of the plug was important as its loss denoted death to one of the tattooed party.

The next day all the newly tattooed were sprinkled with water from a coconut by one of the operators. The sprinkling (lulu'u) ceremony had to be done over each person tattooed irrespective of rank but the breaking of the coconut water bottle was clone only for a high chief.

In olden days custom, personal status, and the approbation of men and women were the incentives to undergoing the operation. In modern times, approbation is still sought. The fear of pain is overcome by the keen desire to bear the marks of manhood and to be able to hitch the kilts a little higher at the evening dances and so demonstrate superiority over the untattooed. As maturity follows and the young man succeeds to the position of matai (chief), he has the satisfaction of feeling that he is truly one of the elect for he can bare his knees with assurance as he sits cross legged before his wall post in the circle of the titled.