Tuesday, 19 June 2012

My Culture, My Malu- a reply

I have a malu. An 'au has bitten my skin and indelible black marks remain to tell the tale.  I don't hide this.  In fact, on any given day in Sydney, you can see a Samoan woman heading into work in a conservative grey suit, and you may not look twice or notice the vae'ali , which crawl down below the back of her knees, signifying her service, both past and future, her tautua, and symbolising that it is on this service of the untitled- the aualuma and the aumaga, that the matai rest.

So while I was not in Samoa for the recent 50th Independence celebrations, when I recently read a well written article by Sita Leota, in the Samoa Observer, 17 June 2012, which shared her opinion about when, and how, one should display the malu, I felt compelled to reply.

Albert Wendt writes beautifully and I love his line "There are no 'true interpreters' or 'sacred guardians' of any culture. We are all entitled to our truths, insights, intuitions into and interpretations of our cultures."  I don't deny Sita, nor any of the other Samoans who are/were in furious agreement, the right to interpret our culture.  I do however, take serious issue with the imposition of that interpretation on others.

The article sets out "when you are tattooed as a female, the first rule has always been that you don't display your malu in public unless you are in full traditional Samoan wear about to dance the siva Samoa or in a ta'alolo." Is that really what the first rule has always been?

The truth is that the art of tatau was almost lost to colonisation and to Christianity.  The missionaries were not overly fond of tatau. Whether it was because they literally interpreted Leviticus,  because they saw this cultural practice as possible pagan competition, or simply because they saw it as "the mark of the savage", tattooing was so successfully discouraged throughout the Pacific, that of all our Polynesian brothers and sisters, only Samoa managed to maintain this "mea sina".  Even today there are calls for the churches to be more accepting of tatau.

Not so coincidentally, colonisation and Christianity also had a major impact on our clothing or lack thereof.  Now I like the mu'umu'u as much as the next woman, who has experienced the sauna that Samoa can be, they're lovely and cool, and they cover a multitude of sins and possibility for sinning, which, of course, was the idea. That said, they are a reflection of just how the church viewed women and their bodies (or more accurately, how they didn't want people to view women's bodies).

Sita quotes Albert Wendt when entreating and exhorting those of us who have malu to "protect it, shade it, cover it".  Somewhat ironically, it is the eminent Professor Wendt who sets out in the same article that "Being clothed (lavalava) had little to do with clothes or laei. In pre-Papalagi times, to wear nothing above the navel was not considered 'nakedness.' To 'clothe' one's arse and genitals was enough."

Isn't it likely that the church's traditional position on tattooing, on women, and on covering up, has something to do with the compulsion to (or more accurately in the case of this article), to tell others to cover the malu? It may be that traditionally women covered to below the knee before they went under the 'au, and indeed, many contend that was the reason for the malu - to clothe. The fact that women show malu when they are "in full traditional Samoan wear about to dance the siva Samoa or in a ta'alolo", i.e. in our most traditional of activities, reflects that women traditionally showed their malu, that "the malu for women ...[was]  considered  'clothing,' the most desired and highest-status clothing anyone could wear." (Tatauing the post-colonial body; Albert Wendt)

I'm proud of the fact that our culture is a living, breathing culture. I accept it adapts and adopts. Obviously Christianity is an important part of our culture - Fa'avae i le Atua Samoa. So I can accept an argument that our culture changed with Christianity to incorporate covering the malu. In a living and breathing culture, things change.  But if it did change then, can't it change now? Can't Samoan women display their malu now, as their ancestors did, without being subject to an opinion piece?

Sita takes umbridge with what she considers is using the malu as a "fashion accessory". Again Wendt insightfully says, "much of what has been considered 'decoration' or 'adornment' by outsiders is to do with identity (individual/aiga/group), status, age, religious beliefs, relationships to other art forms and the community, and not to do with prettying yourself." It may be that one does not agree with displaying the malu, it is another thing altogether to say that just because one displays the malu, they don't do it out of "any sense of belonging, of culture, of being Samoan" as Sita asserts.

Sita writes that the definition of malu is ‘to be protected'.  But it can also mean "to protect".  As Zita Sefo-Martel puts it "The woman is therefore seen in Samoan culture as the protector of the children, the family, and the village. She is the giver of bloodlines." I am a strong Samoan woman. I have a malu and I can protect what is mine - my malu, and my culture. I do not need an article in the Samoa Observer to guide me, to tell me when and how, I can display my malu, and I very much doubt, any other Samoan woman does either.

O le malu o le laei o tamaitai Samoa. 

38 comments:

Lani Wendt Young said...

Excellent discussion here. I was moved by the first piece on the malu which argued very passionately for it to be covered/kept "sacred" etc - BUT it also did not sit well with me because I feel that one goes to all the trouble of getting a malu precisely because one is making a visual statement about her culture, her identity,etc. So for me, it seems rather strange to then say that once you have a malu, you should never wear shorts, skirts or etc that allow it to be seen UNLESS ONE is participating in a strictly 'Samoan' activity ie the siva/taupou/etc. I agree that people should strive to better understand the significance and cultural meaning of their tattoos - and perhaps there are a few people today that could fall into the category of 'running out to get
Samoan tattoos like a fashion accessory...just for the heck of it' But enduring hours upon hours of pain for a malu does not sound to me like a person is being flippant or casual or disrespectful about this very precious cultural practise. I don't know very much about the malu. Or its origins. Or even what each pattern signifies ( so it would be very easy for others to dismiss my opinion as that of an ignorant afakasi woman...*sigh* as usual!) - BUT, if I ever were brave enough to have a malu done, I would NOT be hiding it under long pants and skirts 24-7. Hell no. I wouldnt dress in skimpy bikinis or thigh-high mini's either ( but then , I dont dress like that ANYWAY...). I would wear what i usually wear. And certainly sections of my malu would be revealed. And I would display my malu with pride as an intrinsic essential part of ME. Because I am a (mixed up) afakasi woman who embraces her Samoanness all the time. At work, at play, at rest. Not just when Im dancing the siva. Or doing something specifically classed as 'Samoan'.
Im so glad that you wrote this. Thank you.

Ned Stark said...

Like my Pappy always say, "Everything has its place" A malu under hot pants visually doesn't compute with me, but then Im old, too conditioned to seeing them under lavalavas and puletasis since the beginning of time. These kids now have Lady Gaga and Internet porn, pushing the line on self expression is their prime directive. I personally would love to see a malu on a beautiful naked women, now that would be Hootttt. But then I'm a pervert, so 'To each their own' my Pappy always says.

alaileula said...

I love this. I got my malu when I was 21. Right after, my wardrobe changed. It was long pants and long skirts because I had it in my mind that my legs were never going to be seen again, except during a siva. After awhile I became comfortable with walking out of the house in shorts, but only knee-length. Although, I do disagree when I see some women with the malu wearing skirts that could double as headbands, at the same time I don't feel like I need to wear Amish clothes because of what I've put on my legs. I know what my malu means, what the symbols are, and I know how long I laid there for my legs to look even better than they did before. ;) It was the longest 5 hours of my life. How could anyone hide that? I'm proud of my malu. And if it just so happens to peak out of whatever wardrobe choice I've made for the day, oh well. :)

Anonymous said...

awesome article. I am looking to get my malu done later this year and it holds special meaning to me. I am proud to be Samoan yet respectful enough of myself not to wear clothing that is not becoming of my figure. And if my malu should show a bit of itself, then so be it. :)

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with the author. Traditionally the malu is to be covered with the exception of the mentioned traditional occasions, but the malu was also traditionally, only tattooed on the legs of high chiefs daughters, it marked not only protection & virtue, but also status.... and that has changed now hasn't it!? Now days any one that has money and no status can pay and get one, it's sad but just as she said, the culture is still very much alive and is subject to change with the world and times.I can proudly say that i am a daughter of a high chief, I know what my malu represents, I love our culture! I know who i am and where I came from & that's the main thing. I'll show my malu whenever I see fit. I am proud of it & in the 13 yrs that I've had a malu, i've never been ashamed to wear it ;) If the tradition of who rightfully wears a malu has changed then when to show it, in my opinion can be personal choice. Why try & uphold parts of the traditions, when more important aspects are already lost??? Dressing modestly is something that should go without saying. Most samoans are brought up with christian values, to be respectful and to dress modestly. Samoan females that showcase their malu in hot pants are ridiculous which is why getting a malu is a right, not a privilege & if that tradition was maintained maybe there wouldnt be a problem with the malu being wrongly represented. Thankyou for sharing this blog with us, i enjoyed reading it.

Unknown said...

Malo lava le tauivi sis:)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this discussion. I too have had my malu for 12 years and to this day I hear people say that it should covered and what not. As mentioned in another response to this article, we went through the pain of getting a malu because we are proud of our Samoan heritage and we want to display our malus with pride. With that said, I will not yield to what people say should be done to a malu especially an article for that matter. My malu has made me a stronger woman than before. Thank you again. Display your malus with pride. It's indicative of the strength of a Samoan woman.

Crystal said...

Excellent blog!! This is everything I was thinking but I just diddent know who to put it in words and explain it to people who thinks the malu should be covered lol....anyways I always question them people, before the palagis came to Samoa weren't Samoans half naked anyways so they would of had to show there malus because long pants and dresses diddent exists in them days lmao

Fetuolemoana Tamapeau said...

Really enjoyed reading this. A well-measured and fair response. What I was also concerned about/interested in after reading the first piece was the Samoa Observer's decision to publish a piece(also well-written!) on the Malu without the same perhaps 'critical' tone or call to account for our men who wear the Pe'a? I hope that in all this we do not over-criticise our women (one another) without making sure we ask the same questions of the male leaders in our families/communities as well. All in all, thank you for providing another interesting perspective!

Anonymous said...

I know of a young NZ born girl, who has a malu, she's never been to Samoa, eleiloa fai se upu or tautala faasamoa, this is where the saying really applies "ta muamua le guku" ga ta laia ole malu or pea....however on the flip side ..like this young lady, there are many many "global samoans" born outside of the motherland, with very limited to no knowledge of the cultural meaning, responsibilites that comes with the revered measina ole malu... they are getting inked with a malu or pea to display their pride of being from Samoan descendancy. Culture evolves,and should a lady be brave to undergo the pain of malu, as long as the malu wearers are not acting abhorrently dishonouring the revered Malu..let them!!..one thing I have come to know...regardless whether a person is born in or outside of Samoa, despite the lack being able to converse in the language, kusa lava pe ele iloa le aganuu ..a person who has a drop of Samoan blood IS ALWAYS PROUD STAUNCH TO BE SAMOAN...so let him or her yell it , tell it, and INK IT permanently on their bodies if they so choose... cultural evolution... the malu oughta evolve so that any proud Samoan lady is able to support it ..and not just to Taupou's, wear it with dignity....

Peta said...

Great article Lia. I havent read Sita's article. I have a malu and it is mine. But I am my family's. I am my father's daughter. I have no qualms showing my malu on non-cultural occasions. But I am always mindful of what is important to my father, that I am the only member of my extended family to bear the traditional mark - the last was my great great grandfather Tauilo, that when I was tattooed the Tufuga imprinted me with my heritage from the Ainiusami, and so I give my malu and my body and my family the respect that is required in the manner of my dress. I haven't always dressed modestly but unless I'm at the beach I now do for these reasons. If some other person from some other village or family tried to impose upon me their standards and expectations for a malu I believe I would politely tell them where to go.

Teine Samoa said...

Many thanks for all the comments.

Lani, I completely agree with the sentiment "I would display my malu with pride as an intrinsic essential part of ME. Because I ....embraces ... Samoanness all the time. At work, at play, at rest. Not just when Im dancing the siva. Or doing something specifically classed as 'Samoan'."

Thanks Fetuolemoana, I too was concerned that the article had an undercurrent of the unfair and unfortunate criticism that too many women too often level against each other.

Thanks Peta, I agree that we belong to our aiga and that each Samoan represents, and their behaviour reflects on, more than just themself. This is true, regardless of whether one has a malu or a pea, or does not. It's just lucky we're from Samoa where there are absolutely no glass houses, because there has been an awful lot of throwing of stones!

Anonymous said...

I would advise you all to read Sita Leota's article in today's issue of Samoa Observer. She is spot on becasue unfortunately in today's world, wearing a malu does not resonate tautua -the malu was for high chief's daughters who were well versed in all things Samoa - not just claiming to be part of the aualuma but being "aualuma".
According to your view "ua fa'ala'au tu le aganuu a Samoa" and I am thankful that in truth it isn't! Noone can stop you from displaying YOUR malu but when you do cast a thought to this - your submission to the 'au is a submission to a tradition, not the submission of tradition to what you feel is appropriate!
Alofagia uma tatou e le Alii

Anonymous said...

oops i meant "ua fa'ala'au tu i vanu le aganuu" my bad...

Teine Samoa said...

Thanks Anonymous 5, I am grateful for, and try to be respectful about all commentary, because I think when you put something in the public domain you should expect that there are people who will agree, and naturally, people who will disagree with you. I did not claim to be a part of the aualuma, nor make claims about who my father is, nor reference where I grew up or my background, as I consider that people only personalise issues when they don't have strong enough arguments. Whether or not one considers a submission to the au to be a submission to tradition, the point of my post is that it certainly is not a submission to you or Sita's interpretation of tradition, nor to what you think is appropriate. Ma le fa'aaloalo lava

jo_an said...

wow! i've been m.i.a around here on blogger and the day i make my come back - i first come across sita's article - 'my culture, my malu'. and than i come across your blog response and it opens my eyes to an even more diverse point of view/s. thank you first of all for sharing yours and for all of you above who have shared your own perspectives as well. i never thought i would be speaking or blogging about the malu, being afakasi i didn't ever want to speak out of terms or offend others who know more than me. i am but a simple outsider looking in trying to find my own 'voice' in the discuss so please do not take my words as anything other than my own point of view. i didn't realise that sita's article and her subsequent article following would be seen in a multitude of ways. I read them both and instantly accepted and 'went with' the point of view expressed by the author, but after reading this blog post and the one just above it - & all the varying opinions from other bloggers - i have come to the conclusion that it's something different to everyone. my mother is in the process of finishing her malu. i have sat and watched and been with her through the entire process.. she has had 4 sessions already (around 6 hrs per session) and has roughly another 4 hours to go til it's complete. needless to say - her malu is a very intricate and extensive one at that. i am awe of her strength and determination.

my point of view is ever evolving and i am so glad and thankful for your blog posts teine samoa - :)

Teine Samoa said...

Thanks Jo_an, I've been away from blogging for a long while myself- that I have written two posts in a rows is actually a little miracle in and of itself. I think it's awesome that you kept an open mind and are willing to listen to both sides of the argument. Your opinion is just as valid as anyone else's, and it's really lovely hearing about how you are sharing your mother's experience going through her malu.

Anonymous said...

Hi Teine Samoa,
I loved both your pieces, and like you. I also found Sita's response a bit over the top if not a very personal attack. So what if she or anyone who has grown up in Samoa (myself included) have done folafola'agas and what not. I grew up in Samoa and only just migrated overseas in the last 5 years. But I must say, reading in between the lines, it seems that the issue really isnt about who is right or what or about the malu. The issue for me is that there is this rift between Samoans who have been born and bred in Samoa and those overseas born Samoans. Its a case of finger pointing, you didnt grow up like I did or in Samoa, so you have no right to say that you know anything about Samoan culture etc. You were spot on about our very own version of Mean Girls. Its bad enough that we have palagis discriminating against us, but to have our own people discriminating against each other. I for one will not be getting a malu because I have my own personal convictions but it doesnt mean that I will not be supporting or be happy for any other Samoan woman, cousin or friend who doesnt speak any Samoan at all to get hers done, because like all Samoan women whether they have lived in Samoa all their lives, or only been to Samoa once or not at all, at the end of the day. When you put your name down under Ethnicity in any form, you dont write down half caste or half Samoan. You tick Samoan. And if getting your malu is what brings you closer to your culture, then so be it. And also I will be saying show off your malu the way you like. Isnt that what we have been celebrating for the last 50 years, the right to freedom of choice in our own backyards without having to conform to something that society thinks is right or being dictated to?

Louisa Te'i said...

From one woman who has a malu to another, thank you for speaking for those of us who have gone through the process. I agreed (for the most part) with Sita's article but the fact that she doesn't have a malu lessened her voice (for me). It is a PROCESS and one that I think you have to go through to understand. I felt that mine not only changed me physically but also psychologically. I felt even more connected to my ancestors that also wore the tatau. I realize that so much more is expected of me now but I wear mine with pride. I would never want childbirth advice from a woman who had not gone through the process of labour and I won't stand to be criticised for my choice to get a malu by those who have not gone through it themselves. It's made for very interesting reading though.

jo_an said...

@ Teine Samoa - Well keep up the blogging I say! I (like many of your followers) enjoy reading your blog posts :)

Teine Samoa said...

Thanks Anon 6, I have also been thinking about how and why we differentiate and discriminate against Samoans who were brought up in a different place and I may blog about it.

Thanks Louise, the child birth analogy is a really interesting one. I'm with you and Peta- if anyone other than those who have a right to guide me ( my parents, my aiga etc) tries to dictate to me about displaying my malu, I will politely tell them where to go- thus this post.

@ i T @ h said...

Great Topic!

The Tatau/Malu as well as many of the Cultural aspects or traditions of Samoa has been the ongoing topics of controversy between Samoans from all corners of the Earth as well as between Samoans and Non-Samoans. As much as we would like to be known as a Country that stands together on these issues, it's as the old saying goes, "e ese'ese falea'oga" (different schools) or interpreted as different schools of thought. The world changes, and along with it what we come to hold dear to our hearts (measina a Samoa), we can all say we have witnessed it's transformation. Nowadays, things can be bought that would never have been allowed in the past. Our Matai system is corrupted by people who at the sight of money will sell out their own people and their own land. Traditionally as someone pointed out above, the Malu was a birthright. Only the daughters of the High Chiefs wore the Malu, and it was a birthright for the Tufuga Ta Pe'a (Tatooist) to tattoo these women. Once money was paid for a tattoo, everything changed. What was once a covenant between the Tufuga Ta Pe'a families and the chosen High ranking families was broken, the fate of the Malu changed as well. Exchanging of money for other things such as Chief Titles and Land ownership has also put a wrinkle in our traditional ways.

I think Sita's point of view stemmed from the traditional view of having "ownership" or "right" to have it and then having the knowledge and understanding to keep it sacred. This knowledge and understanding of course coming from those who came before; the Elders. Without seeming as if I am against all Samoan women wearing the Malu, I do think that it is being given too freely upon request. I too am a Samoan raised outside of Samoa and honestly it bothers me to see young girls on facebook profiles with almost nothing on parading their Malus. I have friends who send their teenage daughters to the Samoan Flag Day Celebrations just to get a Malu. When asked why, cannot come up with any answer except, "po'o fea lava e alu ai e iloa o le Samoa". (Wherever she goes they'll know she's Samoan) I'm sorry but for me, this is not good enough. It also angers me that there are Non Samoan men and women who decide to get it because they think it's cool. Our Measina is being treated as a fad or the newest tat craze. In this, I'm in agreement with Sita.

Although upon reading this blog (Thank You Teine Samoa) and the responses of others, I do see your point. As everything in life, we all have our own opinions and perspective. I hope mine made some sense.

Teine Samoa said...

Thanks @IT- Different views are what makes the world interesting so thanks for sharing. Since you said "I too am a Samoan raised outside Samoa" I should clarify that I was actually raised in Samoa but I dont think where one is raised is particularly relevant. I agree that traditionally malus were a sign of status for a Samoan woman. I didn't go into my own story because I wanted to discuss the issue rather than make it all about me! ( which I have to admit is unusual... LOL)

I don't feel the same way about palagis getting tataus. Historical evidence suggests that Tongans were getting Samoan pe'as and our own songs and legends tell us the tatau comes from Fiji. The tatau is a beautiful art form and if a palagi is brave enough to get a pe'a I have respect for that. I think it's interesting that people aren't pointing to sleeves like Sonny Bill Williams, which are after all, a bastardization of the true tatau in their cultural critiques (personally I like all tattoos and have no issue with that development, but I notice that the outrage around keeping things "traditional" is somewhat inconsistent).

I have a lot of respect for the Tufuga who have kept this art form alive. I think that the Tufuga who have passed this art down from generation to generation, who safeguarded the malofie, should be given due respect. I think the opinion of the Tufuga have weight, their wisdom on these matter has been passed down with the art form.

I can't agree that our culture and matai system has been corrupted by money. The Samoa I see hasn't sold out.

That said, I really am interested in different opinions and I appreciate the time you took to read and comment.

Lani Wendt Young said...

Checking in again on this discussion - i find the comments fascinating. I love that blogging is providing a forum for open discussion on a myriad of topics that Samoan (and Pacific) women from all over the world can engage with. I look forward to many more insightful discussions and hope that we can continue to engage in discourse that is respectful and enlightening. I find some of the comments on Facebook etc from Ms Leota regarding this whole issue to be immature, derogatory and offensive - which in my view, is a sad thing because her initial article was of such a high caliber.
(But then, I'm only a domestic sphere bloggger - and not even a real Samoan one at that, so what do I know? LOL.)

Teine Samoa said...

Thanks Lani, I agree that blogging creates a unique opportunity to engage on issues and I am grateful for a forum in which I am able to express my opinions. I am ever conscious that we are from a small community and that everyone is someone's family or friend, and I think most other bloggers (particularly Samoan bloggers) also take this approach and are extremely sensitive about criticising others. I have alway admired how your blog handles tough issues and disagreement with grace. That is a model for us all.

Anonymous said...

It's simple....you want to get the malu then keep it sacred & covered. I don't understand why people try to change traditions or find other reasons why it shouldn't be hidden when it should show in your way of life. Just like the samoan saying, "E iloa le tama po'o le teine samoa i lona tu ma aganu'u." If you have a malu to show your a samoan woman then you should also live by its traditions. I see alot of women not covering they're malu as if it's not sacred and something just taken lightly. And now it seems like just anyone can get one if you got the money. Soon it'll just end up like a regular tattoo anyone can get at a tattoo shop.

Teine Samoa said...

I'm happy to discuss, even many months later, where there is some genuine attempt to actually engage in the discussion. I will not bother to engage where someone just repeats and rehashes the same points anonymously without any consideration of the counter argument or analysis. Thanks for keeping it/ being simple!

tattoos designs said...

people have too many concerns against tattoos designs . how many one can take care of .

confused @ the hate,we;re all people. said...

wow! this was a while ago, yet im looking for clarification and im sure ill find it here.im a young australian woman, with the words " stand strong" tattooed on my chest, but im samoan.many say this is disrespectful of me because i have no imediate ties to the culture, but i didnt get it to be disrespectful, after all its just 2 words not in my native tongue, it can hardly be seen as disrespectful, yet i gain many rude comments. i have taken intrest in the samoan culture after meeting a young samoan boy, i know i can never be apart of this wonderful culture but i can admire it, in any way i see fit.its called freedom of choice. however im not writing this comment to be seen as rude either, id just like to see others valid opinions as t whether this is rude or not. i cannot change the fact its on my body, nor would i if i could.i will die happy knowing it has a beautiful meaning behind it to me anyway. i know some negative feedback wil come of this but please realise, i acknowledge you culture and it is truly amazing, i would never purpisly do something to be disrespectful, but to me its just a way for me to acknowledge a beautiful language.to be clear i am signed up to take classes to learn to speak some samaoan and 'christian' a half aussie/samoan man from syndey in his late 40's has told me. he thinks its wonderful i have such intrest and resect for the cultre and does not see it as rude/ignorant or disrespectful. as he said "each to there own expressions" and i will not be ashamed of the way i chose to express my excitment to this culture,after all it will always be apart of me.i will continue to learn as much as i can, for i am not apart of the brilliant culture but i acknowledge its beauty

Teine Samoa said...

Confused,

Apologies for the delay in the reply. I always appreciate comments and try to answer them as soon as possible but I have fallen a bit behind on this blog.

First the disclaimer- I am not a self-appointed expert in Samoan culture. But my observation is that lots of Samoans have tattoos which are not traditional, and I don't personally think it is disrespectful.

I encourage all people (whether Samoan or another ethnicity) to explore their heritage- if that's what you are doing through language classes then that's fantastic. I also think it is great to have an interest in other people's cultures. Good luck with it.

Stevie Fieldsend said...

Hi Teine Samoa and all the other bloggers who have contributed to this interesting discussion on the 'malu'. I have wanted to be a part of it for some time but haven’t felt brave enough as I have had little to do with my Samoan heritage and feel like an outsider. But find, as I get older it is becoming more and more something I long to be connected to and be a part of. So I decided to do a project at uni focusing on the traditional women’s Samoan malu. So far, I have found that there is not much information regarding the ‘malu’ particularly in historical accounts (where it barely rates a mention-which hardly unusual!). So, this blog has been very interesting and informative in how the contemporary malu is viewed and worn. From my 'outsider' point of view at present (subject to change as I learn more) I think its important to let traditions evolve and WOMEN TOO! It irritates me (putting it mildly) how - there are these constant patriarchal systems in place of shaming and keeping women down,constricted and invisible. Time and time again I see images,postcards and performance etc celebrating the naked Samoan male body proudly flaunting his pe'a ( which I have absolutely no problem with - quite the opposite!) but I hear no criticism and no shaming just compliments and admiration.
It was woman that bought tatau to Samoa and meant for woman but of course they got confused and men stole the glory - as Albert Wendt mentioned in a conference "Tatauing the Post-Colonial Body" about one of his students saying to him 'its just another example of men taking over tradition" he agreed with that and so do I. Its time women stood up for women and let each other express and celebrate who they are. So I really appreciate and agree with what Teine Samoa has to say about her malu and expression of it.
At present I have been researching/exploring artists, thinkers and scholars such as Albert Wendt, Sia Figiel, Sean Mallon, Juniper Ellis, Greg Semu, Lemi Ponifasio ,Selina Tuistala Marsh and this blog! Do you or any bloggers have any suggestions on who else could inform my search regarding the malu? Does anyone know how and when the women came to be tataued? I have read that it could have started out as practice for the men’s pe’a…. but I think there’s more to it than that! Anyhow that’s all for now and a big thank you to Teine Samoa for your intelligent, gutsy, up to date perspective on the contemporary malu! I look forward to reading more points of view on this discussion and being a part of it.

Teine Samoa said...

Thanks Stevie,

I am really glad you decided to join the discussion. The only opinions that are any less valid here are those which are not expressed respectfully. Your interesting and well-thought out comment obviously doesn't fall into that category.

I did notice that many of those completely outraged over what they saw as a 'non-traditional display' of the malu, often publicly drool over the non-traditional tattoos (taulimas/ sleeves with Samoan designs) of male rugby players. Now I have nothing against male rugby players or non-traditional Samoan tattoos and I understand any and all drooling that a combination of the two may entail, but hypocrisy on the other hand....

Your interest in the malu is fantastic- it's definitely under-researched. I looked into it a little bit before I got my malu. Largely you have to search for tatau or pea and then there is sometimes a reference to the malu. The missionaries and academics who wrote about it have said that we Samoans are notoriously reticent about talking about the meaning of the malu. I think in an oral culture people are often reluctant to write things/ have things written down.

I don't hold myself out as an expert, but the tufuga who did my malu told me the meaning of each symbol in my malu. I got tattooed at the same time as 10 of my cousins and it seemed to me that there was more skill in the malu- you can't make a mistake so I very much doubt it evolved as practice for the pea.

I love Tusiata Avia's 'Wild Dogs under my skirt'- there's a link to it here - http://sydneyfob.blogspot.com.au/2011/08/travelling-and-coming-home.html in a post about a bit of my own journey.

stevie Fieldsend said...

Thank you Teine for your response, it was exciting to get it, as well as finally becoming a participant of this discussion. I must admit I was a little scared that I may have said the wrong thing or sounded stupid! I loved 'Wild Dogs under my skirt' and have left a response on that blog. I think your right in regards to not much written information on the 'malu' and that the knowledge of it, is contained in the oral history. Whilst european written accounts can be Mildly relevant (but something I find it hard to care about and often makes me bristle) it is the Samoan oral accounts that I am interested in and wish to include in my thesis- after all- it is theirs/yours/our history to talk, discover and truly know about. I realise that I need to get my A...over to Samoa and listen to what the matriarchal elders have to say about the herstory of the Malu, but it won't be possible until next year. So in the meantime, I would love for anyone (SAMOAN WOMAN)! who is involved in this discussion to pass on any stories that they know of about the history of the malu - such as, How did the malu originate? when the legend said - 'tatau the men, not the woman'. I am interested in ALL stories about the malu tho' that is why this blog is so special. One day when I am ready I will be getting one myself. Bye for now.

Anonymous said...

Well i like the article. I wasn`t raised in samoa, but what i was taught in a real samoan trandition that malu is to keep it secret and covered. What samoa back in the days before u get a malu or a pe`a they said " ia ka muamua lou guku faakua ka laia sou malu poo sou pe'a". Be able to speak a real samoan before u get tatt on. Is good that you want to show off ur malu, n to be proud of ur culture n who u are as a female. But, keeping the culture and trandition alive is way better then showing it. If any samoan old folks spit a reo samoa to u n u have a malu or pea n cant speak that is most embarrassing thing ever. So what i am trying to say DO NOT SHOW UR MALU, ONLY WHEN U R SUPPOSE TO! Keep the trandition alive.

Anonymous said...

This had been awesome to read. Im 43yrs old and have decided to hold tight onto my culture that it is time for me to have a malu for my children to see how important our culture is. I want this for me to treasure, my grandmother had a malu and I have more girl cousins than boys and none have followed her footsteps. I thought maybe Im too old, my husband became discouraging although he has a pea I thought he would support me, but the more I read the comments on here the more I want to do it. Im proud to be samoan and jope one day with Gods blessing Im able to complete this that my 3 daughters will continue the tradition.

Teine Samoa said...

Thanks for all the comments. I was fortunate to be given the opportunity to speak more about my thoughts about the malu at the Brisbane launch of Lani Wendt- Young's 'The Bone Bearer'. I have put a copy of my short speaking notes in my latest post http://sydneyfob.blogspot.com.au/2013/08/fire-feagaiga-and-feminism.html?m=1

Anonymous said...

Finally, somewhere I can read others' thoughts & opinions on the malu!

I've wanted a malu for as long as I can remember. I'm an afa kasi and was raised with my grandmother, Samoan was my first language and I used to accompany my grandmother every year to Samoa. What can I say, Samoa is my spiritual home. I can't even begin to explain how I feel when I arrive in Samoa. Such a home coming feeling. Anyways, back to the malu, I've always wanted one but I have a problem ... my Samoan family do not approve of the malu for religious purposes. I remember asking my grandmother if I could get one & she reminded me of the church's teachings and that we are not permitted to tattoo our bodies. Years have since passed and a couple of tattoos later, my skin still waits for my malu ... which will probably never happen.

Kimaea Kirifi said...

Loved reading this. I'm afakasi Maori who doesn't speak the lingo and have always wanted a malu. 27 yrs old now and STILL wishing... only reason I haven't got it yet is fear of being judged. Tattoo the tongue first etc... Reading articles like this makes me look past it. My heart is in the right place, time to pick my balls up and do it!