Maori man with full moko tattoo
Maori man with full moko tattoo
Role of Tattoo
Tattoo Stories

Skin Stories: The Art and Culture of Polynesian Tattoo

Tattoo tools

Lesa Moli Li'o

Lesa Moli is a Samoan farmer and tattoo artist. He learned to make the tools of the trade from his father, who was also a tattoo artist. These tools are made from sharpened boar's teeth fastened together with a piece of turtle shell, tied together with Mautofu wood. The dye he uses is created from gasoline because it is readily available and burns easily.

Lesa Moli Li'o
Lesa Moli Li'o
From his father, Moli received instruction on mentally designing tattoos and envisioning on what parts of the body they would look best. He would then go around his village, Siumu, to look for men to practice on.

In Samoan tradition, a person needs to complete his cultural body tattoo in order to fulfill his traditional duties. According to Moli, in order to do this one must visit the Matai's gathering abode to be taught the traditional ways of conduct and service that is synonymous with completing his new tattoo attire. He is then ordained to enter the realm of the Alii's for his final approval. If he is unable to complete his tattoo, he is branded a coward and shames his family and his children.

Samoans keep their traditional values sacred, and Moli feels only Samoans should receive Samoan tattoos. In his opinion, people should not receive tattoos from cultures that are not their own.