I got a tattoo! I got a traditional tauvae, or a band around my ankle, with the addition of the pua flower on the outside of my ankle. The pua flower is my favorite flower in Samoa and I wanted it to be a part of my tattoo. There is only one man we are allowed to go to (according to our Peace Corps doctor), but he is the best of the best.
The art of tattooing passes within families. It is almost impossible to become a tattoo artist if you are not in the bloodline of a tattoo family. The family that did my tattoo is one of the families that has been tattooing since almost the beginning of the tattoo tradition in Samoa. They are world-known artists in a family that has been famous for generations. Because they frequently travel to different countries to tattoo, they picked up safety and hygiene from countries like the United States and New Zealand. (So don’t worry! J)
The traditional way of tattooing is done with needles attached to the end of sticks, dipped in ink and tapped with another stick into the body. There are different widths of needles, depending on the design and the tattoo. When the missionaries first landed here in Samoa, they tried to put an end to the traditional way of tattooing. At the time, it was a boar’s tusk attached to sticks, instead of needles. The missionaries were appalled, saying it is unchristian, barbaric, and needed to be stopped. The Samoans argued so passionately that this was something indispensable to their culture that the tradition remains today.
Obviously, I wanted my tattoo to be done the traditional way. They had to do the pua flower by the gun because the traditional way only works for geometric shapes, but the rest of the band was done traditionally by one of the best in the business. The gun hurt a lot more than the traditional way (at least until he did the band on my Achilles tendon. That was the worst!)
The pua flower took about 20 minutes. I then went back to the main fale, where the man had just begun his lunch. I laughed because only in Samoa do you have to wait to get a tattoo because the artist is eating! The rest of the band took about 45 minutes, so a little over an hour to get the whole thing completed!
It’s almost a Peace Corps tradition to get a tattoo while in Samoa. Because of the importance of tattoos in the culture, it feels like a perfect remembrance of the Peace Corps service. After he finished, he explained the meaning of the symbols inside of my tattoo: the design on the outside means strength. The design in the middle stands for unity, and the two on either side stand for a spiritual path. If there is anything better for a Peace Corps tattoo, I don’t know what it is.
By the way, I LOVE IT! J