My husband was offered and he accepted a matai title from my family early last year. Afterwards he said to me that it was time he gets the tatau. He'd always wanted one and now he felt was the right moment to get his tatau.
The tatau is the full body(covers 65% of the body) tattoo that young men who come of age get. Today men get it when they are ready or want it. So we planned quietly and arranged to do the tattooing in Savaii with a tattooist at Vaipu'a Savai'i whom also tattooed my brother 6 years before. Alex and many of our friends have been tattooed by this man Su'a Loli Keli with arm bands or other designs. He's a real artist with a good eye. He's very talented and everyone I know he'd tattooed come away smiling and happy with the design they get from Loli Keli.
The time came and we traveled to Samoa via New Zealand. We spent one night in Auckland and the H-Town delegation picked us up from the airport which was really nice. We spent a few hours with them as Tau and MM got on like a house on fire until we couldn't stay awake any longer. We relaxed at the Millenia hotel in Apia for 2 nights before we caught the Lady Samoa III boat to Savai'i from Apia with Mom. We did our big shopping in Salelologa before we headed out to Sagone.
We'd decided to stay with relatives in the village. We went straight to the tattooist house to do the formalities to give the fusika and discuss the tattooing and all. There was a nice feast that evening with our hosts and we got to meet the rest of the family. We felt comfortable and welcome from the first day. The tattooist(tufuga) arrived at around 8am the next morning. After breakfast the tattooing began at around 9am. Alex was joined by Iegi. Iegi is from our village and a friend of my brother's. He was to be the soa or the partner of whom shares the pain with the primary tattooed man (it being Alex in this case). So each session starts with the primary participant followed by the soa. The designs are not necessarily the same for both men.
They started with the va'a (canoe) mid-way down the back. They took three hours to do Alex's back and then broke for lunch and finished off the day on Iegi's back.
Watching that first hit by the tattooist is something else. And that's only the beginning of the journey of the tattooed man.
Day 1 after the first session. Alex is watched over by Leilua Viali who was the fofo(masseus) and mentor. Alex and Iegi called him the Sergeant Major because he checked on them at the most unexpected times to send them to the showers, remove any sheets from the tattoos or make sure they're not sleeping on the freshly tattooed areas.