We call it ‘Tatau‘, and according to legend, it was brought to Samoa by two sisters.
The story is beautifully preserved in the traditional, chant-like song: O le Vi’i o le Tatau Samoa.
The Samoans are credited as the only Polynesians that have continued the tradition of the tatau from the time of first European contact throughout recent times under heavy foreign influence.
There are so many aspects of the Pe’a and Malu that one could true dedicate a book to write a summary about the tatau and a life to learn and understand what the tatau truly is as an art form, its place in Fa’a Samoa ( Samoan culture ), and within the lives and traditions of Samoan people. I will start by writing on the origins of the Samoan tatau which has been passed down orally through legends and song.
Samoa,Toga (Tonga), and Fiti (Fiji) had much interaction while having individual cultures. Although Samoa and Toga are closer in culture and people look more similar to that of Fiji, Samoan legend attributes many things to both Toga and Fiji, the tatau being one of them.
The tatau was originally brought over to Samoa from Fiti by two sisters Taema and Tilafaiga.
This story is often heard in the Tatau Samoa Song . The two women who traveled from Fiti to Samoa singing to let the women have the tatau and the not the men. Upon reaching Falealupo they saw a large clam in the water and swam below to see it. By the time they reached the water’s surface, their song had changed to let the men have the tatau and not the women.