Chances are you’ve seen plenty of Samoan tattoos, and chances are you thought they looked great but weren’t sure what they meant. Well, you’re certainly not alone in that since most Samoan tattoo meanings aren’t obvious like many of the other tattoo designs out there. The fact is that every line and symbol uses in Samoan tattoos have very deep meanings that have been around for pretty much as long as the Samoan people have been around. Below you will find some of those Samoan tattoo meanings so you can see if they might work for you.
Tattooing is an integral facet of the Samoan culture and marks significant individuals as worthy of respect and honor. And this is true of just about every Samoan tattoo design that you will see, which is pretty great when you think about it. Just about every single design that the Samoan people have used over the centuries was made to honor both their culture and specific people in their lives. Knowing that, it’s no surprise that many people get Samoan tattoos.
Many tattooing ceremonies serve as a rite of passage for men and takes weeks of painful application. That process actually adds in even more to the Samoan tattoo meaning since they are saying that they are willing to go through that pain to show how much their culture means to them. And this once again brings us to the respect and honor meanings, which are always going to be part of these tattoos regardless of what the primary meanings are.
These tattoos are rarely given to people of non-Samoan heritage and are sacred to the Samoan culture. That doesn’t mean that non-Samoans can’t get Samoan tattoos, but it’s definitely rarer than other types of tattoos that come from different cultures. Plenty of people are tempted to get Samoan tattoos simply because they love the style, but the non-Samoans who are best candidates for these tattoos are those who genuinely respect the culture and want to show that respect by getting the tattoos.
Pe’a (or malofie) tattooing is a large tattoo that covers the lower back to the knees in large symmetrical rings and smaller blocks that create a delicate and intricate pattern. The pain endured during this process is a symbol of the individual’s strength as a warrior and gains him the utmost respect of his peers. These aren’t quite as popular in popular culture, but if you see one, you can now know that the person who got it went through quite the process and can they probably have their own Samoan tattoo meanings attached to that large design.
Women can also receive this Pe’a tattoo, though it is called Malu. The malu tattoo covers less area than the men’s and is less intricate. It ranges from the top of the knees to the tops of the thighs. The markings are smaller and finer but equally beautiful. As with the men’s version of this Samoan tattoo, all of those lines and markings having their own meanings, usually having to do with their particular families.
Samoan tattoos represent protection and serve to shelter the woman from harm. There are a lot of “protection” tattoos out there, but the ones that Samoan women get are not quite as obvious to untrained eyes since they don’t have recognizable symbols in them.
For Samoan’s, the pain of the tattooing process, which originates in the Oceanic area, is a tribute to one’s family, heritage, and culture. And that is quite interesting when compared to other cultures’ tattoos since many people don’t attach any meaning to the pain they go through during that process. That’s because Samoans use a tattoo comb and a hammer, which is much more painful, though some would argue more consistent, than the tattoo guns you see in tattoo shops.
Every symbol within the Samoan tattoo is rife with meaning significant to the individual and to the culture. You will see hundreds of different symbols in Samoan tattoos, including arrowheads, the sun, water, and animals. While they do use some of the more well-known meanings for some of these symbols, they also have their own that they have used for hundreds of years. Often it is what those symbols mean to the family more than what they mean to the culture as a whole.
The large triangles, often with smaller triangles nested inside, is a representation of the extended family. When you see these, you will want to count just how many triangles are in the tattoo to try to decipher the meaning. For example, two triangles might represent a grandparent or a second cousin, depending on who has it. The lines that extend around the hips, connecting various triangles represent the connections of this family.
The smaller “V” shapes, more prominent in the female tattoo, are symbolic of bird prints that are often seen in the sand. Upward facing “V” shapes come together to form a line of waves in order to represent the ocean or sideways to show the pattern of a turtle shell. Sometimes the Vs themselves are the primary tattoo (and primary Samoan tattoo meaning), while other times they make up just a small part of a larger tattoo design. It really comes down to the woman’s preferences, both for the look of their tattoos and the meanings they want to use.
Spearheads are also commonly found in the scheme of the tattoo. These represent the most obvious of the Samoan tattoo meanings and are found in many of the men’s tattoos. Those who want to use a symbol to represent strength and to show that they are warriors will generally have these spearheads. Since spearheads are so common in Samoan tattoos, many men will give them a unique design to make them stand out a bit more.
Additionally, when they come together to create a pattern or motif, these symbols work together to tell a larger story. And that’s really how some Samoans like to show who they are to outsiders and to show pride in who they are. All of the Samoan tattoo meanings that they use are truly special to them and they try to give a full definition of themselves in those larger pieces. The object of the large patterns is to tell a story about traditional Samoan life. These tattoos usual require and garner a lot of respect in a Samoan village and should not be taken lightly as they are sacred to the culture.
Placement doesn’t always add a lot to the Samoan tattoo meaning, but it does tell you a bit more about the owner of the design. The neckline is a very popular place to get a Samoan tattoo, but some people like to get their Samoan tattoos so they go diagonally across their bodies. Other popular placement areas for Samoan tattoos include the back, the arms, the chest, or even full-body designs. Choosing one over the other has more to do with being able to tell their stories in a complete way in those locations, but they can also tell you a bit more about the people who have them. The more visible tattoos often show the owner’s pride in their heritage, while lower tats are more about the individual.
If you plan on getting a Samoan tattoo, then you will want to think about the meanings that you want to use and the look that you’re going for. Remember that placement can add in extra meaning and that you have to think about every little detail when getting Samoan tattoos. Of course, it’s best if you are yourself a Samoan, but if not you should find a way to get a design you like while also showing respect to Samoan culture.
Those who opt for one of the many great Samoan designs and Samoan tattoo meanings are often left with a tattoo that they are happy with for the rest of their lives. In fact, since Samoan tattoos do often tell a full story, it could be argued that they are much more meaningful than most other designs out there. These are very special tattoos that continue to be loved by people all across the world.