Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Tribes and Tribal Tattoos

The word "Tribal" has been used to describe island tattoos that are now in fashion. When referring to a Tongan or Samoan or most other Pacific Island tattoos, the word "Tribal" is incorrect. Referring to Islanders as living in 'tribes' is a racist notion used to separate people according to how civilized they are.

Tongans never lived in tribes and their tattooing practices weren't practiced within a tribal context, so do not refer to them as "tribal tattoos".


  1. Malo e lelei Manulua and thank you for this fantastic blog and other website. Your research and insights demonstrate a real love for your heritage and passion for our traditional Oceanic artforms, especially tattooing. I really enjoy the thought provoking and articulate presentation of this blog.
    I'm proudly half Rotuman and our once common tattooing culture was also outlawed and fell into disuse in missionary times. Similar to our Tongan and Samoan ancestors, Rotuman men once proudly wore fe'saga (leg tattoos like the pe'a and tongan equivalent) and Sulu'ape Aisea Toetu'u is using his knowledge and experiences in reviving Tongan tatatau to help bring back Rotuman fa'i by performing the first Rotuman tattoo since missionary times in Hawaii last year on a Rotuman Aussie. I myself received an armband, not unlike the Sa'moan taulima earlier this year, inspired by Rotuman aesthetics, and am contemplating one day receiving a fa'saga the traditional way and helping revive this artform.
    I really liked the comment you made on your other site: "The tatatau is a mapping of one's course in life and it provides guidance for one's duty to their culture. The tatatau explains the journey that the individual has accomplished, and must continue to endure as a Tongan" The gravity of breathing new life into age-old traditions brings an exciting tension between historical accuracy and modern relevance. I'm inspired by the courage, conviction and authenticity of your pioneering work, and look forward to seeing and hearing more of it.
    Malo aupito! Hanisiof ma alalum!

  2. Malo Mata for the comment! I'm happy to hear that there is a revival of fe'saga! Aisea is the perfect person to help with that also. His skill and knowledge has really helped the Tongan awakening of tattooing, but overall he's just an awesome guy! Look forward to meeting with you some day. Nofo aa.

  3. Hello there, I am so excited I found your site, I really found you by error, while I was researching on google for something else, Anyhow I am here now and would just like to say kudos for a fantastic post and a all round thrilling blog (I also love the theme/design), I don’t have time to go through it all at the moment but I have saved it and also included your RSS feeds#comments

  4. Hi just wondering if different tribes or areas of Tonga have different designs?