Originally, tattooing of women in Samoa was done only on women of rank. Because of this distinction, tattooing became very popular among the youths of Samoa who considered tattoos to be a mark of their manhood.
The legends of Samoa describe how two sisters, Tilafaiga and Taema were sent from Manu'a to Fiji to visit the daughter of King Tuimanu'a. While there, they were presented with a gift from the royal family of King Tuifiti which was a tattooing instrument. While swimming home they carefully held onto their precious gift while singing a chant that the Fijians had taught them translating it into Samoan. In English, the chant would say "women are tattooed and men are not."
They were very exhausted when they arrived home and in their confusion they reversed the chant singing the first part last. When they reached Savai'i, they were carried into the high chief's guest house and were treated like royalty until they have recovered from their swim. Before continuing their swim to Manu'a, they offered to the chiefs and the people of Savai'i the tattooing instruments that have been a gift from King Tuifiti.
The people of Savai'i started at once to tattoo the young men as they had learned from the reversed chant. Tattooing became the mark of distinction among the youths of Samoa except Manu'a where the king ruled against the practice.
The right to perform tattoos in Samoa can be traced back to a person's ancestors and if the person's forefathers were known to be a member of a tattoo guild, then the person was permitted by hereditary to enjoy the same privileges. An experienced tattooed artist trains apprentice tattooers who worked under their supervision until they are allowed to perform independently. The wife of the tattooer is also greatly honoured in her position of wiping the blood of the tattooed person. She is known and addressed as the Meana'i (artist's helper). She is very well paid by the family of the youth and at the completion of a job which normally takes more than three months, she shares the payment and many gifts with her husband.
During the time of the operation, relatives and friends of the family come from far and near to help. They bring with them quantities of food, robes and tapa cloths to help with the payment of the artist and his wife.