It seems that no matter where one goes today, it is impossible to escape the reality that body art, in the form of tattooing, has become an integral part of our culture and society. Although tattoos once had a reputation as part of the “undesirable” class in American society, as they were typically associated with the biker and criminal milieu, tattoos have experienced a resurgence in popularity over the past decade. As numerous celebrities have begun to utilize tattoos as a means of expressing their personal style, so too have many Americans followed suit. The image of the young rebel male looking to rebuke society by having his flesh permanently adorned with art has faded and given way to a new culture of 20, 30 and 40 somethings, and beyond, of all walks of life choosing to express themselves through the art of tattoo.
As the prevalence of tattooing continues to proliferate and permeate popular American culture, very few stepping up to the inking needle give a second thought to the rich and vibrant history associated with the tattoo. In fact, many people do not even realize that for many societies, the art and practice of tattooing is an important part of life that is inextricably linked to the core their culture. Perhaps one of best examples illustrating how the use of tattooing is essential to the epitome of a particular culture is the Samoan culture and their use of the tattoo. By analyzing the significance of the use of tattooing in Samoan culture, one invariable gleans a closer understanding of the historical development of the tattoo as well as an intimae look into the culture of the Samoan people.
Understanding the way in which Samoan culture has affected the development of the modern day tattoo is almost as simple as stating that the practice of tattooing was, in many respects, first developed by the Samoans. In fact, as noted by one author: “There are not many Polynesian words that have entered the English language, but perhaps the most widely used is tattoo. Exactly where and when the word ‘tattoo’ originated is open to debate, but it is certain that it was a corruption of the Polynesian word tatau, picked up by the early European sailors exploring the Southern Ocean”. Early historical accounts of the white man’s first interaction with the Samoan people indicates that the Samoan males, in particular, had their skin covered in “britches.” Artists that had been taken along on the voyages sketched the designs found on the Island peoples, but were unable to identify the origins of such creative artwork .