There is something truly magical in being able to be part of someone’s journey in receiving a traditional tattoo piece. It is not something one can have just for themselves singularly, it is a multifaceted representation that pays tribute towards the family, the community and the culture they call home. You witness each person go through a range of emotions, evaluate the life that they have lived so far and pave way in the intent of where they want the future to lead. It is never something that someone gets lightly instead it always done with purpose and deep thought behind it.
Being the only Tongan in a shop that is majority Samoan, everyday is a real-time foreign film minus the subtitles at the bottom of the screen to aid you. Last Saturday the ‘Foreign film’ of the day was being lucky enough to witness two very culturally rooted woman received their Malu from Su’a Peter Sulu’ape. It was so much more than just the two ladies. Along with them came a large entourage of family and friends, who sat with them in the room as each lady took their turn to lay on the fala mats. As they were receiving their Malu words of respect and gratitude were spoken from the family members in hushed tones to Peter Sulu’ape .
To wear a Malu is to physically tattoo your culture onto your skin, yes, but it is so much more than that. It is understanding the responsibility and expectations that comes with it. To metaphorically tattoo your mouth before even thinking about tattooing your actual body. Though I may not have been able to understand everything that was happening due to the language barrier, it was a privilege to witness a tradition that has been 2000 plus years in the making. Where the English word “Tattoo” originated from.