60+ Unique Samoan Tattoo Designs & Meanings – Amazing Tribal Patterns (2017)
Samoa is one of the many islands around a sub region of Oceania collectively referred to as Polynesia. Islands around Polynesia share similar language, culture and beliefs, hence Samoan tattoos can also be referred to as Polynesian tattoos.
For a very long time, the Samoans have been tattooing themselves, both men and women for different reasons. They did this using very crude methods like wood, bone, tusks and turtle shells, which would make for a very painful experience.
They still did it, nonetheless, because it held so much meaning in their culture. The Samoans endured days and even weeks of the process, and even had members of their family present for encouragement.
The tattooing process was ritualized and had great significance because it could represent achievements and growing into adulthood for boys. Often, though, tattoos would represent a person’s class in society, with an important person sporting more ink.
This is why the women usually had small and light tattoos because they were considered inferior to the boys.
The art of tattooing had been common among Polynesian countries. Some even believe they were even the first to do it, perhaps because even the word tattoo originates from the Samoan ‘tatau’.
After being colonized by Germany, then New Zealand, the Samoan tattoos became more common in other regions of the world. The trend of using Samoan designs in tattoos has from then on spiraled onto other communities, probably because of better tattooing technology.
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Samoan tattoos may represent various things, depending on the dominant symbol used. Remember, these tattoos rely heavily on repetition and this causes the design to have a certain flow.
So, when one symbol, say, the ocean, is repeated, the tattoo has a different meaning from one with the sun as the dominant symbol. All in all, these tattoos may be used to represent fertility, family, love, life, death and also protection from evil.
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- Samoan sleeve tattoo
You have probably seen Dwayne Johnson’s (the Rock) tattoo on TV, the one on his left shoulder, that is a typical Samoan sleeve tattoo. Samoan tattoos are usually large and intricate, with several symbols combined, so the arm is a common area to place such a tattoo.
Depending on how large you want it, it can stretch over the entire arm to be a complete sleeve or you can have it localized around the shoulder.
- Samoan leg tattoo
The leg provides an alternative area to place the tattoo, plus it can be easily hid if you don’t want it to be visible. Again, the tattoo could be small enough to cover only the calf or extend it upwards into the thigh. Most women choose to have the tattoo on their foot and only extend it slightly above the ankle.
This forms a very cute image which could even go well with a ow cut shoe.
For the bold, a face tattoo would be ideal, factor in the beauty of a Samoan tattoo and you have the makings of an awesome tattoo. Frankly, very few people get a face tattoo because of the connotations that come with it, but a neck tattoo could be just as awesome.
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These tattoos varied mostly on use and meaning, with the wearer choosing the design that has the message they wish to send.
- Samoan tribal tattoos
This design consists mainly of long strokes to form the shape of a ribbon. Of course, other symbols are included to embellish the strokes and make it stand out. Because the design involved mainly linear elements, it can be fitted on any part of the body and it is especially common around the arm.
- Traditional samoan tattoo
The pe’a is the most common traditional design because it was also common in ancient Samoa as an initiation right. It covers the midriff of the body from the waist to the knee and also consists mainly of lines going around the body of the person.
Another symbol present in most traditional designs are the shark teeth, or ‘niho mano’, in fact almost 50% of all Polynesian tattoos include shark teeth.
These are represented by triangles with sharp edges which are arranged along the strokes of the tattoo. This symbol represents the ferocity of the shark but also power and courage. Most of all, shark teeth represent the god of the Polynesian people.
The ‘enata’ is a typical motif in most Samoan tattoos, and is used to represent the relationships between people and also with the gods. The symbol can also be used to represent various aspects of life such as birth and death, life experiences and rank in society.
Besides representing stuff, it can also be used to illustrate an action, for example, an enata facing a creature could represent defending the creature while an enata facing away from something indicates an enemy.
To understand how this works, you need to understand the form of an enata. Basically, it takes the form of a ‘W’, although the strokes can be embellished to make a more favorable shape. When used together with other such symbols, it forms a chain of waves, which is suitable for most Polynesian tattoos.
- Samoan turtle and shells tattoo
The turtle is another common symbol in Polynesian tattoos, and is usually created by combining two enatas. The turtle, being able to move from land to sea is regarded as the medium by which people cross into the afterlife.
A turtle can also be used to represent fertility, long life, family, union and even good health.
- Depiction of the sun
Although the sun is regarded highly by the Samoans, it cannot be used independently in a tattoo. By itself it may represent leadership and even eternity, but it is usually combined with another symbol.
For example, the sun at the centre with arcs radiating outside to represent the ocean could be used to acknowledge life’s cycle of life and death.
- Ocean and waves
Being an island, Samoans learned to depend on the sea for their livelihoods. Apart from that, the Polynesian people believe the ocean to be their final resting place and where everyone goes after death. The ocean is represented as an incomplete circle, an arc, radiating outwards.
It can also be added to a line by showing the waves riding on top.
Tiki are miniature human figures and they are used mainly for protection. The tiki design could include a complete face, with the eyes, nose, ears and mouth but it could also contain just one feature. Each feature of the face has a meaning, like the nose for ‘smelling’ danger and warning the person.
Tiki are very common in Samoan tattoos, although they are usually combined with other designs. Because it has various meanings, the design can have a very particular meaning to the person wearing the tattoo, which has made the design quite popular.
This is the most traditional of all Samoan tattoos. It was also very symbolic and most males had this design tattooed. A traditional pe’a is a large tattoo, extending from the waist, just below the bellybutton, and stretching down to the knees.
Some people still use the design, although it is not very common nowadays.