PART II // Decolonise your minds, restore love and culture.
Hi love, and welcome back to my Part Two of my Body Art series. It’s a bit strange that I was able to reflect on a few dark areas of my life in terms of coping with growing up in a world that is in favour of patriarchy. That’s something I haven’t had the chance to do and it gave me an opportunity to be vulnerable in sharing things that have been extremely personal to me. This is all privileged information that now is accessible online, exclusively on the StyleHeirs platform. If you haven’t read my part one make sure to do so because in this section I’ma go over the current demons I have to fight and in a sense break down specific barriers via social media.
Previously, I briefly mentioned that my family is from Sāmoa and to be clear my grandparents migrated to America because of their parents seeking after the American Dream. A little backstory, I was born in Oakland California and my stunning Mother was born in San Francisco which makes me second-generation born in America so I’m definitely American with Sāmoan descent. Both my Dad’s (biological and real) were born in Ohio and they’re just regular Black so I am a descendant of African slaves but I’m not considering myself African-American simply because I have no way to trace back my linage to Africa, like I can with my Polynesian roots. In light of how disgusting slave owners were and didn’t care to preserve records of the “property” they acquired, I get the luxury of being labelled as both Black and Sāmoan in America.
Side-note, a piece of family history, my grandma’s oldest brother was the one that brought the Pacific Islander identity to the US government’s census. It was back when my family headquartered in San Francisco, majority of us now resides between Utah or Missouri. In the 70’s there were a bunch of Polynesians that coexisted within the Asian communities found in the Bay Area so because of how my great-uncle voiced to the local appointed officials that we exist, the federal government adopted the Asian/Pacific Islander category. Years have since passed and ultimately we have earned our own bubble to check off that breaks us from the Asian ethnicities.
It’s nice to know that still today my great-uncle is being recognised for his leadership and pioneering characteristics that attributed to the growth of and within the Polynesian communities in both San Francisco and Kansas City, Missouri. Many individuals in the mother-land would like to believe that I’m not Sāmoan because I wasn’t born there and I don’t speak the language, which is why I emphasis that I am American with Sāmoan descent, only to satisfy their prerequisites and mainly to shut them up. However, that’s out of my control because I wasn’t the one that decided to leave Sāmoa. Learning to speak our maternal language would have been top priority if it were up to my siblings and I calling the shots. Yet, growing up my grandma and her siblings reassured us that we are in America there’s no need or benefit to learn a language that wouldn’t advantageously place us forward in realising the American Dream.
Instead, they felt the need was for us to learn our Sāmoan culture and customs so that we could carry on those traditions when they pass-on, but most importantly learn to be American first. To them learning to be American was their own task to achieve, for those born here we had our own priorities in wanting to learn as much as we could about our Sāmoan identity that our family was trying to shake in order to feel more accepted in White America. Throughout my childhood, the family was the central part of our religion and how we lived within society. Majority of our activities outside of school and church were events centred around educating the younger generation on Sāmoan cultural dances and common daily tasks carried out on the island.
In Sāmoa, the men in the family are the ones that do the cooking not their spouses. However, the western ideals to gender roles don’t agree with the traditional indigenous understanding of how two sexes can work together. For example prior to Christianity’s arrival to the South Pacific trans-children were permitted to contribute to one specific identity or both simultaneously. Fluidity was a concept taken away by force and retaught that men are men, women can never be equal to men.
Although, my ancient Sāmoan ancestors tried their best to accept the new colonised rules whilst still maintaining our cultural identity as much as they could. There were some components that survived like women can still receive a High-Chiefs title that’s equal to that of a man’s responsibility as the leader of the village. What was drastically changed was one of our beloved mythological accounts of the tatau or commonly said in English, tattoo. The legend of the twin sisters Taemā and Tilafaigā the matriarchs of the tatau.
Both the twin sisters were said to be joined like Siamese twins and were instructed on the use of the specific tools and obtained them from the tattooist Filelei and Tufou in Fiji. The girls both began their journey to Sāmoa on a canoe as they paddled they repetitively sang the instructions ‘tattoo the women and not the men’ so that they could retain the instructions by memory. As they travelled they were distracted by hunger and a bright shiny shell at the bottom of the ocean. Immediately the twins stop chanting the song and dove into the waters to retrieve the shells. As they returned to oxygen they attempted to recall the lesson they learnt but instead mistakenly rearranged the song lyrics. The remix of the song is still practiced in modern times ‘Tattoo the men and not the women’ and that’s how easily colonisation can influence an entire indigenous culture for centuries.
In most First Nation communities there is a dedicated time where adolescent children can partake in ceremonies that serve as a rite-of-passage into adulthood. Since my twin brother and I were young kids we always admired tribal tattoos when we saw them. Perhaps he was more into it than I was but it wasn’t until after my stunning mother passed away is when I started to lean towards having a tattoo in honour of her. Which is a bit ironic because tattoo’s were definitely not welcomed in our Christian God-fearing household and credited to the reason why my extended family abandoned the tattooing practice before migrating to North America.
Thankfully, my twin brother has been the first individual within our extended family to restore that beautifully rich component back into our families identity. It was done traditionally with the similar tools the Siamese twins carried from Fiji and for him he completed his tatau by doing nearly 4-hour sessions daily for two weeks, a total of 44 hours. Which is the process that I wanted to take in regards to receiving mine but since I wasn’t going the traditional route of receiving the marks reserved for men. No traditional tattooist or how we refer to them as tufuga tā tataudid not want to use the sacred tools to give me a tatau designated for only women, called the malu.
Today, men continue to receive the markings that were originally given to women and it’s easy to connect that the tattoo was definitely intended for women because of certain elements found in the designs. On men, the tatau mainly covers the entire portion of the waist down to the knees leaving barely any surface untouched. The specific elements that are noticeably meant for women are the small motifs designed on the naval area, indicating circle of life with bearing children. Also the two lines that aim directly towards the breasts, indicating the source of nourishment in breast feeding. It’s been rumoured that when the German missionaries arrived on island they advised with their ideals of gender roles, that women are too fragile to go through a barbaric practice of tattooing. Which is when and why the twins Taemā and Tilafaigā somehow miraculously and conveniently mixed up the lyrics, like come on, how could the twins mix up the lyrics when they as women have the tattoo’s written on them. Make it make sense, please.
As my twin brother was healing after receiving his pe’a, I went out to do my own preparations to find a tufuga that was willing and open-minded enough to ink the Malu onto my legs. After writing several inquiring emails to a few tufuga’s around the world, no one responded to me. The last option I had was to locate the female tufuga in San Diego and I arrived to her shop to find her beyond occupied to personally answer my request. Luckily, I was greeted by an angry trans woman that happened to be Sāmoan and she immediately shut me down. Which caught me off guard because I thought talking to her she would align with my perspective but she was disgusted that I even had the thought to get a malu. There were times where I legit thought she had been brain-washed to the point where she settled to the western ideals and in a sense rejected her own being, her own lifestyle. It couldn’t be me, I’m sorry but I’m definitely not the type to succumb to a concept that doesn’t believe in me, doesn’t uplift me or one that doesn’t acknowledge that I am a person that belongs. What really got me was at the end of our conversation she admitted that she wanted a malu herself but was encouraged otherwise and most likely where her anger stems from.
That encounter solidified my anxiety that I would be upsetting the world once I got a malu, yet, I knew that my journey would be filled with a lot of support from my family and their love is all I needed to get me through this. As I couldn’t find a tufuga to do the work I started to look into tattoo artists in New York City. Which prompted me to recall the time I was 14 years old and my great-grandma had passed, she’s credited to have raised my mom along with most of her first-cousins. When Sāmoans have a family member pass away the entire Polynesian community comes together to visit the family’s home and brings gifts to help support the funeral costs and food. At the start of the visits, my mother pulled me aside in the kitchen and basically briefed me on how to perform specific ceremonial tasks when visitors arrive. Til this day, I vividly remember her grabbing my shoulders as she held back tears but remained strong in delivering her message. “Normally, your girl cousins are the ones that should be doing this, but since none of yours are here and neither are mine. You get to be the one to do the feaus.” At that exact point, I learnt the meaning to serve my family and I was beyond elated to do so and have been doing exactly that since.
Back in the day, say like before the 1970’s a malu could resemble just about any type of patterns but currently the malu has transformed into a specific layout. For the most part, the tufuga is the one that decides which symbols you get and they typically have a go-to template that they etch into each girls thighs. Knowing that, I didn’t want to get a malu that majority of girls shared, especially if they went to the same tufuga. Once I found my lady-tattooist, I went to her with specific symbols and a layout that wasn’t the commonly seen design and I’m happy to say that I’m the only one that has my unique malu and I love to relish in that fact.
For an industry that has financial gain it would be more likely for a custom visual ink to be given upon request but it seems like that’s too much to ask. When they’re the kind that regurgitates the lies that in order for it to be an authentic tatau it requires to use the tapping technique yet with the same tunnel-vision they have supplemented modern enhancements to the traditional tools. It’s the double standards for me because the tools can benefit from a progressive world, just don’t allow basic human biology to blur the lines on gender.
At birth, I was assigned male and that still reflects on my birth-certificate, it’s no telling if I’ll ever get around to changing it. As for my brother, he’s definitely a cis-male and was born 8 minutes prior to my arrival. What’s cute is that eight months after my brother accepted his pe’a I was gleaming with blood scabs and tears for a tribute to epitomise that my stunning mother and great-grandma are both forever existing even after their departure from this world. Immediately following my mama’s self-exit into a limitless universe I kept seeing the same series of numbers constantly at every turn or wherever my glance settled.
Without understanding what was happening I jumped to the safari app to search the reason I constantly saw 444 and found that its one of many spiritual angelic numbers. Specifically meaning that protective forces were communicating that my guardian angels presences was the strongest at that very moment. It happened so ofter that I had to figure out why the serendipitous sight kept returning and that exact symbol is yatted on the forefront of my thighs. Thats one out of the twelve motifs recognised online as a disgrace to my family and I can’t call myself Sāmoan because a malu shouldn’t be valued on a male-body.
It took me a few moments to decide on actually pursuing a tatau but I knew it wasn’t going to be easily accepted from jump. What I didn’t put into consideration was the power of social media and how things can go viral over night. Not to mention the active keyboard warriors that love to express negative comments and disapproval. It wasn’t until maybe a year and a half after I had inked my markings that I posted a photo of myself standing within a quaint town positioned in front of a rustic backdrop with white painted walls and blue shutters. Of course, I wanted to stunt with my malu being slightly revealed because first, I hadn’t done a public or any online reveals and then in-person only my close relatives knew. Secondly, the relaxed island vibes that Mykonos Greece has to offer. Plus the hot climates influenced my decision to go out in public wearing an i’e lava lavaor you know it as a sarong.
In the beginning the comments I received were supportive and hyped me up for simply doing me. However, screenshots of my instagram post circulated through niche private forums on social media platforms. Which only promoted a call to action by expressing their own transphobic behaviour and post colonial ideals of decolonized culture. Besides dwelling on those corrective encouragements, I’d like to display below a few of the many supportive messages that I personally received with tremendous love and cherish them like an art installation of purpose.
Ultimately, I’ve been able to experience certain impositions that have carried me to simply focus only on what I want to hear that aligns to equality to all. The only wish I had was to do it traditionally yet it only reminded me that we are way more advanced in many aspects that traditional ways aren’t the only methods. Other ways exist in this limitless universe created by a Limitless Power. And the death threats on instagram and revoking of birthrights will have to be transparent like to the point I can’t see them. Only because my present-life is lining up for a future beyond bright that I get distracted from it’s lustrous bougie appeal.
I wish I could share all the good and not so good comments, perhaps in another post.