“There were two little girls who were the best of friends. One day they woke and they were women…They decided to be tattooed. To seal their friendship with blood.”(164)
It was in the Jackie’s basement that we made the decision: the four of us, who had been best friends since the 4th grade, were going to get matching tattoos. I have to confess that a little wine was involved, or I could have hardly have imagined that I would agree to the plan so quickly. I had never planned on getting a tattoo—not that I have any real problem with them, but their permanence is so, well, permanent. In other words, it always seemed like a decision that people made on a whim, and then were forced to spend the rest of their lives with an inked in reminder of that choice. But the more I thought about it, the more meaning the idea had. Each of us would carry a piece of each other for the rest of our lives—a daily reminder of our commitment to and appreciation of one another.
On the day we got the tattoo, I will admit that I was a little apprehensive. But with my girls by my side I did not for a second think of turning back. We each hopped on to the table, and let the artist do his work, while the others watched the pain (I’ll be honest, its not the most comfortable feeling in the world) that we were dealing with for each other. The tattoo artist, named “Demon”(seriously), wore his hair in a long ponytail and was literally covered in his own art, so you can imagine that a group of giddy, giggly girls getting such a thrill from such a small tattoo could have been scoffed at by a man who even has his forehead tattooed—but instead, he repeatedly told us how cool it was that we were doing something like this, together. The tattoo is only the size of a quarter, and reads in small cursive “lylas” with a four-leaf clover underneath the script. L.Y.L.A.S., or “Love You Like A Sister” was the little insignia that we used to end our notes to each other with in elementary school, and the four separate leaves making up the one clover was a symbol of our friendship. What I had always considered to be a tacky thing had turned into a tasteful representation of our love for and loyalty to one another. It seems especially important now that we are all separated, and our lives our blossoming and our time for one another grows more and more stretched.
Figiel emphasizes the importance that the Samoans place on tattoos, and their meanings. Although my friends and I had the power to choose the art that was sketched into our bodies, the meaning of the Samoans tattoos are just as personal and communicative as ours are. I also find it significant that it is a source of pride, and how shameful it is to have an unfinished tattoo, as Figiel demonstrates in the nose-flute man’s story, as well as in Tausi. The body and sexuality, although not quite as liberated and carefree as Mead and others would like to have the Western culture believe of the Pacific Islands, in general it seems to be celebrated as natural. I, on the other hand, originally agreed to get the tattoo only when I was positive that it could be covered up, and not seen unless I actually showed it to someone, the tattoo and its personal meaning was simply for me. It seems that the notion my notion of privacy has been influenced by conceptions in Western culture that sexuality and the body are private, and to speak or display either is inappropriate. Figiel describes her Samoan characters’ bodies through beautiful, nature metaphor, and details sexual encounters in a less vulgar and more natural way. She is not the first writer that we have read this semester to do so; it seems that Figiel and the other authors are approaching these subjects that are fundamentally a part of human nature and exhibiting them as such, and thus breaking down the conventional taboos and ideas that our bodies are only private and not something to be discussed in detail. In essence, she is representing the important power of the face, the body, and how it communicates to others with an example of the power of art on the body, the tattoo. Its simplicity coupled with its permanence and specificity is what makes the ink so significant to the Samoan culture, and to me and my best friends.