It wasn't, and still isn't easy becoming a Samoan tattoo artist. The practice of tattooing by hand is still practiced there, and has remained unchanged for the last 2,000 years. 

 

 

The tools of the trade are very much the same as they were all those many years ago. A comb of teeth made from bone, (normally of boars teeth), is attached to tortoiseshell fragments that is then attached to a wood handle to form what is called an au. Burnt candlenut combined with oil or water is used to make the ink, which is held and stored in coconut shell cups. The artist dips the comb in the ink, and then, with another wood stick or mallet, taps the comb to insert the ink into the skin. This tapping is said to be where the Samoan name for tattoo, tatau (to tap or to strike) comes from.   

 

 

The role of tattoo artist is usually passed down from father to son.  Long hours are spent by an apprenticed youth tapping patterns into the sand or into barkcloth before being allowed to work on a person. It is years of study and practice before a son is ready to become an artist in his own right. 

 

 

 

Robert Drake is a professional freelance writer, editor, copywriter and blogger. To learn more about this fascinating fellow, visit his website.

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