'Polynesian Tattoos' The Art of Ink (Season 2) Digital Exclusive | Paramount Network

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00:00   |   Apr 10, 2018


'Polynesian Tattoos' The Art of Ink (Season 2) Digital Exclusive | Paramount Network
'Polynesian Tattoos' The Art of Ink (Season 2) Digital Exclusive | Paramount Network thumb 'Polynesian Tattoos' The Art of Ink (Season 2) Digital Exclusive | Paramount Network thumb 'Polynesian Tattoos' The Art of Ink (Season 2) Digital Exclusive | Paramount Network thumb


  • - [Si'i Liufau] We are able to look at our tattoo and remind
  • us that this is where we came from, this is who we are
  • and these are the stories that define us as a people.
  • - [Alipate Fetuli] This was like a right of passage
  • where you force this kid into some crazy (beep) and then
  • when he makes it out, it's like he's ready for the world.
  • - [Mike Fatutoa] Tattooing is just one of those clever ways
  • of making sure that traditions are never forgotten.
  • There's so many deviations of the same thing
  • because they're relaying the same stories
  • over and over, all the way back to the first stories.
  • (upbeat music)
  • When I first got into tattooing, I wasn't really leaning to
  • tattoo Polynesian artwork.
  • I really didn't know much about it.
  • It wasn't till my family started asking me for
  • Polynesian tattoos and I wanted to be able to
  • understand the artwork that I was giving to them.
  • I ended up learning more about my culture
  • and it kind of led me into becoming full into Tau tattooing
  • traditional sao moon sao.
  • - I was born in eastern Samoa, but I grew up in Hawai'i.
  • Pursuing Polynesian tattooing, that was a comfort
  • zone for me, because I was familiar with the motifs,
  • and I could grab a hold of it because
  • that was my first language.
  • - I never sought out to be a Polynesian tattoo artist.
  • When I first got into tattooing, I was doing
  • gangster stuff on the West Coast.
  • It wasn't until I had my son, where I was like,
  • man you know what?
  • I'm going to try to be a professional,
  • and that's when I hooked up with my very first tattoo job.
  • - [Si'i Liufau] Polynesian tattooing is the artwork
  • of the oceanic people, the people of the pacific.
  • - Polynesian tattooing is a body of work of different styles
  • from different places.
  • Hawai'i, New Zealand, Samoa, Tonga,
  • New Caledonia, parts of Fiji.
  • - [Si'i Liufau] That's a common belief that the word tattoo
  • in our english language did come from the word tatau
  • and came from the early visits by Captain Cook
  • and those voyages.
  • Those were some of the first people that recorded
  • their experience with Polynesian people,
  • so, when they seen what we were doing and it was called
  • tatau, the word transformed over time to tattoo.
  • Tatau is the art of tattooing that's been practiced
  • in Samoan culture for thousands of years.
  • The traditional Polynesian tattoo starts from the midback
  • and goes down to below the knees and it's very heavy.
  • It's very linear with a lot of geometric shapes.
  • All of our markings are tied to the earth,
  • they represent plant life, animal life, oceans.
  • We try to embody certain characteristics of these
  • animals into ourselves.
  • Probably one of the most widely seen shapes
  • is the octopus tentacle.
  • The octopus is a soft body but it's one of
  • the smartest animals in the ocean.
  • It's also one of the strongest animals in the ocean.
  • - We see a lot of sea creatures in our tattoo works
  • because that was the environment of our ancestors.
  • They were natural voyagers, they went from each island
  • and settled there, settled here, that's why you
  • see so many ocean based motifs.
  • - [Si'i Liufau] We have two tools, the Sausau
  • and the Au, one hand I hold the Au and
  • the other one with the Sausau.
  • And we're just striking that into the skin.
  • Our tools were made of woods that we found on the island,
  • and turtle shell for the backing and boars tusks,
  • which were filed and sharpened to create a tattoo comb,
  • that actually made the mark.
  • Now, turtle shell is illegal, so we replaced that
  • with plexiglass or fiberglass.
  • - The tufuga or tattooer, both his hands are occupied
  • so, the role of the stretchers is to position
  • the skin to where the tattooer is trying
  • to implement his designs.
  • - The stretchers are called coso au coso or au solo,
  • these are the men or sometimes women that help us out.
  • Not only do they stretch the skin and hold it so that
  • the tools can puncture and make their mark, but they also
  • help soothe the person that's getting tattooed.
  • - Being a coso is the beginning of the learning process
  • of understanding the work that goes into it.
  • - [Si'i Liufau] The ceremony that we do at the finishing
  • of a tatau is called the Sama.
  • This is where we finish the work and we bless the tattoo
  • we rub the person that's recently tattooed with
  • fenuual with coconut oil and langah to help the body heal.
  • - It's a ceremony for the men who had the courage to go
  • all the way through.
  • When we tattoo people we're not just doing the motions
  • this is some ancient shit.
  • There's a lot of emotion and energy that
  • goes into what we do.
  • - One of the beautiful things about being over here
  • is I get to work with a bunch of guys
  • that are really passionate about what we do,
  • and the true meaning of our art form.
  • Just to be able to share our art of Polynesian tattooing
  • and the knowledge that keeps it sacred.
  • Especially this far away from the islands
  • that created our style.
  • - What Polynesian tattooing means to me is
  • a reconnection, to all my ancestors and
  • everybody behind me.
  • Cause I'm not only speaking for me,
  • but I'm speaking for a whole generation of kids
  • that are like me, that are getting Polynesian
  • tattoos to reconnect.
  • - The recent revival of Polynesian tattooing has a lot
  • to do with people trying to find their cultural roots,
  • their identity, when I put these designs on people
  • they're taking a piece of me and
  • my culture with them.
  • Polynesian tattooing have been around for
  • thousands of years and I don't see it
  • going away anytime soon.

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Polynesian tattooing is a way to make sure traditions are never forgotten. For artists like Si’i Liufau, Mike Fatutoa, and Alipate Fetuli, it’s even more. It's a first language.

We set off to explore the different individual styles of tattooing, what makes them unique and the artistry it takes to execute them.

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