Samoan Art: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Suzanne Rose

Suzanne has taught all levels PK-graduate school and has a PhD in Instructional Systems Design. She currently teachers literacy courses to preservice and inservice teachers.

Have you ever seen a tattoo? They're common now, but did you know they have been around for thousands of years? In this lesson, you'll learn about Samoan art, including 'tatau,' or tattoos.

The Samoan People

The people of Samoa live on a group of islands in the Polynesian area of the Pacific Ocean. These islands have been inhabited for at least 3,000 years, so a very rich traditional culture developed. This culture is based on respect for family and tradition. This can be seen in Samoan art.


One important and oldest traditional Samoan arts is siapo, or tapa. Siapo is a type of cloth that is made from bark from the paper mulberry tree. It's very time-consuming to make, because the tree bark must be harvested, stripped, separated, scraped, and beaten before it can be used! After all this, it's laid out in the sun to dry.


The artist then uses natural dyes, created from berries, seeds, bark, nuts, and other items from nature to make patterns on the bark cloth. There are thirteen traditional patterns that are used on most siapo. These patterns represent things common to the Samoan culture, such as nets, coconut leaves, shells, and flowers.

Siapo was so important to the Samoan people that it was used for money and trading.


You probably know about this traditional Samoan art, called tatau. In English, we call it 'tattoo.'

Historically, all Samoan males have these tatau, which they call pe'a, covering their bodies from the waist to their knees. Pe'a are done to show that the man is no longer a child.

These tatau are created using handmade tools that are made from shark teeth, shell, wood, bone, and tusk. Believe it or not, the process of getting a tatau can take a couple weeks, or it might even take several months! If you're getting a tatau, you bring along family and friends to support you through the pain and the healing process.

Tatau were created by a special artist. This job was so important that it was handed down in the family from father to son. Groups of up to eight men would receive their tatau during a ceremony.

Traditional Samoan Tatau

The tatau was very important because it expressed the person's personality and identity. Tatau also showed a man's rank in society and often connected them to their ancestors. Samoan women also could have a tatau, but theirs were only on their hands or legs and were patterns and flowers.

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