The Marks that do not Fade: TELESA Tattoos

Traditionally, in Samoa – both men and women can be tattoed. Malu is a word in the Samoan language for a female-specific tattoo of cultural significance. The malu covers the legs from just below the knee to the upper thighs, and is typically finer and delicate in design compared to the pe’a, the equivalent tattoo for males. The malu was traditionally applied to young women in the years following puberty.In my TELESA book, a malutattoo is the final step for a young woman in training to become a telesa, it is the key to unlocking her elemental gifts of Air, Water, and Fire. And unlike current practise in Samoa, the malu in TELESA is administered solely by women tattooists as it is a ritual which helps to bind a new telesa to her sisters.

Excerpt from TELESA: A malu is applied using hand instruments. Mini stone head chisels and adzes with razor sharp edges are used to repeatedly tap and cut the skin open while hands pull the skin taut and tight. When the skin is pierced and blood flows, the adze is dipped in a black pigment ink. And then the adze taps again, cutting into the skin, leaving its markings. While the tattooist does their work, women sit there beside the recipient. They sing songs of her ancestors. They tell stories of the women who walked before her. The lives they led. The battles they fought. The children they bore. The men they loved. They trace her lineage back to Nafanua the war goddess. Back to Tangaloa-lagi, god of the earth. They distract her from the biting gnawing pain as the adze cuts and cuts again. They wipe the sweat from her brow and if there are tears, they will wipe those away too. When she cannot continue a moment more, they will pause with her, give her cold water to drink. Help her walk down to the beach to bathe in the ocean, supporting her with strong arms as she flinches against the bite of the salt. The cut of the whipping wind and the grate of the sand. And then back to the biting adze. When the pain builds in waves, threatening to overwhelm her, they will hold her hands in theirs, holding her firmly to the earth, holding her captive to consciousness. Keeping her firmly anchored to this mind-numbing agony. They will not let her escape it. But they will her strong enough to endure. Endure. Endure. Endure. We are with you. Endure And so, a woman enters the covenant sisterhood of Telesa.

You can view a real malu tattoo being applied, in this YouTube video link.
You Tube Samoan Tattoo Song

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4 comments

  1. 🙂 reminds me of my high school friend that got one. I love tattoos and am actually looking to get a piece done. I just dont know what yet. Love the excerpt! @LyfesLyrics

  2. Endurance definitely defines it – getting the malu I mean. In case you didn't know, I skip all the excerpts to the Telesa because I don't want it to spoil the PREMIERE! Well for me anyway 🙂 So hurry up and finish it already hehe. Anyway I wanted to say, that malu design in the pic is very unique…in fact, I LOVE IT and have never seen any like it. All the malu designs coming out these days are one and the same…must be Suluape's favorite (and possibly easiest) design. Is it your sister's? Coconut Girl

  3. Hi Coconut Girl – you dont need to read THIS excerpt since you already know everything about endurance and malu's. Where did u get yours done? Do you get to have a say in the design? And yes, thats a pic of my little sisters. Beautiful.Thanks LyfesLyrics, I would love to get a tattoo of some kind myself. But Im a wimp. Me and the Hot Man went to get tattoos done when we were dating ( each others names). He went first and had my name etc put on but when it was my turn, I freaked and couldnt do it. (Bad girlfriend alert.)

  4. I got it done in Savaii, by a tufuga named Loli Keli Sua. I think he was a student of the old man Suluape. Yes I had a say in my design, so I said "ia pule a oe i le mamagu e fai" haha. I can't complain though – it's imperfect but so am I heh. I thought that might be her malu, I saw it once before and thought it looked fantastic…not to mention she has the gorgeous legs for it. Coconut Girl

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