Tatted: Polynesian culture treats ink as a family crest

This is Tatted, a podcast telling the stories behind people's ink.
Graphic by Kat Owens

KAYLA DRAKE | Multimedia Producer

Rugby player, Penina Tuilaepa’s first and only tattoo is a homage to her family and culture.

Polynesian tradition in Samoa and New Zealand used tattoos to identify with specific tribes, now modern day Polynesians use their tattoos to represent their families.

Tuilaepa has the same tribal pattern within her tattoo as her brothers and father.

“We take so much pride in what we put on our body. You’ll never see a Polynesian with just random stuff,” she said.

Tuilaepa’s uncle tattooed her leg for her 16th birthday in his garage.

“We aren’t able to go into a tattoo shop anywhere else… it’s not meaningful if a Polynesian doesn’t do it,” she said.

For Tuilaepa it’s a way to represent her heritage both on and off the field.

The Maori pattern, making up the shape of Tuilaepa's tattoo, is a homage to the New Zealand style, which is more "flowy" than the traditional Samoan tribal designs, she said. Tuilaepa chose the Maori pattern because she was inspired by the rugby talent within New Zealand.
Photo by Kayla Drake
Tuilaepa runs the ball down the field during a game in 2016. Tuilaepa chose to put it on her leg because it fit perfectly in between her rugby short line and sock line. She is a prop and started playing rugby when she was 15. 
Photo used with permission from Penina Tuilaepa
Polynesian tradition for graduations is to make lei necklaces sometimes made from candy, money and flowers. Tuilaepa said people asked to take pictures with her at her high school graduation because of her elaborate dress and called her "Moana."
Photo used with permission from Penina Tuilaepa
Besides rugby, Tuilaepa is studying public health and plans to become a nurse after graduation and move to New Zealand.
Photo by Kayla Drake
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About Kayla Drake 141 Articles
Kayla is our multimedia producer, so basically all things video and podcasts. She prefers to cover human interest stories because she believes we learn best by hearing personal testimonies of grief, passion, tribulation and activism. When Kayla is not editing or writing, most likely she is either hiking or eating. And by eating she doesn’t mean fast food, college grub, but the St. Louis restaurant scene (which is to die for). She is a proud St. Louisan and is passionate about being a part in the city's redemption. Look for the girl with the stickered out water bottle on campus and say hi.