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Samoan Material Culture

Women's Tattooing

Women's Tattooing

The tattooing of women being far less elaborate and ceremonial than that of the men is not dignified by the name of tatau but is termed malu. The malu is a lozenge-shaped motif placed in the middle of the popliteal space and being the most important single motif is also used to include the whole process. There is thus no confusion in terms as the malu motif is confined to women.

As the patterns and full design are quite simple, the tattooing of a girl is often used as an opportunity for a student to try his prentice hand. This is also rendered possible by the fact that there is no fusita (fine mat) passed or any of the ceremonial that marks the tattooing of the male. It is often sufficient reward for the novice to have the opportunity of practice and to be well fed during the period occupied by the operation. When the tattooing is finished he may get a fine mat and a feast with pork. In these days, he may receive a little money. The reward depends upon the wealth and generosity of the girl's father. For the daughter of a high chief, who is to become the village taupou, it can be readily understood that an expert artist would be requisitioned and his reward greater.