Of Course You Realise… About Pe’a tattoos

** Warning, this post does contain a naked bottom — although you can barely see it because of the tattoo. Just thought I’d warn you right at the outset, in case it’s early where you are and you haven’t had your morning coffee yet, and you’re not quite ready yet for the sight of a bottom, tattooed or not **

I came across this in one of my random googling sessions one night when I couldn’t sleep and I thought it was fascinating. The Pe’a is a traditional Samoan tattoo for men, that covers the body from the waist to the knees. The detail is such that a quick glance and you’d think it was just a piece of skintight clothing.

The pattern with its amalgamation of small details and lines actually reminds me a little of the tangles that Sammy (she over at Bemuzin) does – although obviously not using the same canvas!

As you can imagine it’s an incredibly painful experience and it can take from a few weeks to several years to complete. The master tattooist does the tattoo using handmade tools made of bone, tusk, turtle shell and wood. I can’t imagine what the rate of infection must be to do such a huge tattoo with such rustic tools!

Tattoed men are revered for their courage (which is fair enough considering what they’d have to put themselves through) while men without a Pe’a tattoo are called telenoa which literally means ‘naked’. To start the tattoo process and not complete it due to pain or the inability to pay the master tattooist (it’s a very expensive process) is a mark of great shame.

Women have an equivalent tattoo but it’s a lot more delicate, more like a filigree along the thighs. The women’s tattoo is called Malu. 

Both the Pe’a tattoo and the Malu tattoo are a point of pride and are viewed as hallmarks of manhood and womanhood respectively.

I really have to take my  hat off to these men and women who have the patience and pain threshold to endure these tattoos — they’re absolutely stunning and a beautiful part of the Samoan heritage. But I have to admit, I don’t think I’d ever be able to put myself through that. I think I’d have to be a telenoa. 

How about you, have you got any tattoos? Seen any particularly amazing or crazy ones? Do you think you’d be able to get such a huge tattoo or would be a telenoa like me?

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16 thoughts on “Of Course You Realise… About Pe’a tattoos

  1. I don’t have any tattoos, I just detest them. These however, are rather beautiful and I’m okay with them although I think I’d also be a telenoa! I think it is because they are genuinely a cultural thing … an important right of passage for members of that community. It is a tradition for the Samoans and so important in the continuation of their heritage.

    Thanks for sharing this with us Celine … and I quite liked the naked bottom!!

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    • Haha, glad you liked the naked bottom Eileen! ;-p Yes it really sounds like the tattoos are an integral part of the Samoan culture and that really makes them very different from the tattoos the rest of us might get

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  2. These are incredible. That’s a huge investment (time/body wise) in body art, and I admire it. I have two small tattoos and am thinking of getting a third because, well, three is just such a magical number. I’m not sure I could get anything as intricate as the ones in this post, though!

    Great, really informative post!

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    • Yeah I’m too chicken as well. And also I’m far too flaky with that sort of thing , if I got a tattoo, I’d probably decide I hated it a couple of years later! But I’m completely amazed by those Pe’a tattoos, they’re just gorgeous!

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  3. Good Lord!! The infections during the procedure are bad enough but all that ink and dye would eventually get into your blood stream, wouldn’t it?? it’s a pollutant just like all the other pollutants. Nevertheless it is beautiful and holds great significance in their culture.

    And how do YOU know I haven’t tangled any bodacious bottoms? I haven’t shown them on my blog but you might find them during your googling 😜💥😅

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  4. Pingback: My tattoo story | Celine Jeanjean's Blog: Down the Rabbit Hole

  5. Cool! I know this is part of the Maori culture too. Year ago, I researched Maori culture and the tatoo art came up. At the time, they said the traditional way to make tatoo (which is the one you described) was coming back after years of doing the tatoo, but in the ‘modern’ way.

    I think this is one of those examples you have to belong to a cullutre to understand that part of culture. There is always more bahind it than we can see superficially, a deeper meaning that helps people belonging to a culture going through such ordeals. I think that’s the part we should respect and try to understand 🙂

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