By stander / supporter / family
Watching the tattooing and the tattooed men from the sidelines is an amazing experience in itself. My mother said to me from the beginning to prepare my husband and myself for it is a challenging journey and it is no easy feat. Well her words couldn't have been more true.
My task throughout the tattooing was to make sure everyone was well fed, that everything was running smoothly and be there to support Aleki and give him the encouragement to keep him going. There were some bumps along the way but one had to try and keep it together so that the two guys can just focus and get through the tattooing.
Unfortunately for Lealali Aleki's(warm showered bum for most of his life) the cold showers throughout the day were nearly as bad as the tattooing itself (he said). Moreover they had to sleep on the floor on fala papa(hard mats) throughout the three weeks. They weren't allowed to use sheets while sleeping(and the nights were cold) nor sleep on mattresses. On the third night Lealali suffering from sleep deprivation decided he'd sleep on the bed because it might get him some decent sleep. I decided not to protest and let him do what he wanted. As we're chatting away with the family the sergeant major showed up for his nightly checks only to find yours truly knocked out on the bed. He immediately got him to get off the bed and back on the mat and that was that.
The tattooist has all these taboos that once the tattooing starts the participants have to respect. Well these rules all make sense for they are all to aid the participants on the road to a fast recovery. For example sleeping on the mat: The mat presses on the skin of the area tattooed thereby squeezing out any gunk trapped under the skin. That's my take on it and they've been using these rules for centuries so they really do work. On the mattress the skin sinks into the mattress and the skin dries stuck to the material. So when the patient moves the skin is ripped from the tattoo making it an open wound!
The advise from the tattooist and from those that were tattooed was that the cold showers and massage with soap and water was the quickest way to heal nicely. And a doctor friend advised Alex that it had been proven that nothing beats soap and clean water to keep the wound clean. So on went the 8-10 showers a day by the boys as the tattooing progressed.
Watching what these men went through day in and day out, I was in awe of this art that is part of our culture. In awe of not only the art itself but also a lot of respect for those undergoing pain everyday to complete this part of our traditions. What makes them go back to the tattooist every day for more pain boggles the mind. Lealali Aleki said he drew his strength from our ancestors and from his Samoan heritage that makes him who he is today. His Samoan up-bringing in New Zealand by his parents and his Samoan grand-parents who spoke to them only in Samoa and ingrained in them the importance of the Samoan culture and the interweaving of family into everything that makes Samoa unique.
The support from strangers and people we'd never met before was amazing. Other tattooed men just showed up at the fale to show support, to egg on and reassure the two new victims. Others came and stayed the whole day and helped to shower and massage the two guys. Others just came to eat and left. Others came with food or kava to asi(contribute/assist) in the process. This is what it was all about.
Another chief of the family came on the first week-end for a family meeting and was surprised by the tattooing, he decided to stay to support Aleki and Iegi through their ordeal. He was actually tattooed as well back in the 60s. It was amazing to see these tattoos from different eras. They all were of the same outline but the intricate designs varied from one to the other.
Mind you most of these people were my family but I hadn't met half of them before. The fact that I was my mother's daughter I and my husband were part of the family and we were their children to look after. Whether I had shown up before to this part of the family or not was not important. The bloodline spoke for us and I was thankful to my mother for keeping all these family ties alive.