Tattoo's are naturally symbolic. They are always tattoos, but they are always something else. Wendt took a lot of time to explain the significance of the Tatou and the Malu. he made sure to explain their origins, their meanings, and symbolic value . He takes precious time though to illustrate the importance of the tattoo itself. The symbols are clearly important, there is no denying it but as evidenced by both Wendt and Figiel the significance of the tattoo itself is in the acceptance of the pain, the process itself.
Wendt explains that the family may pass down their symbols from generation to generation. They may take new ones as they all have meaning in both the life of the person receiving them and the family that they are a member of. The tattoo though is also a right of passage and beyond. As I mentioned before a tattoo can represent something, but to a person in Hau' ofa's Oceania or Sea of Islands it consistently stands for adulthood, strength, and endurance physically and mentally.
What I found to most interesting is the choice that people have. They can either challenge themselves and their bodies to get the tatau/malu and so be immediately placed in a honorable social position. They can choose to opt out of the entire procedure and live their lives knowing that they did not have the courage to attempt. Or, one can make that attempt, muster their courage, and fail. The Island society does not value the attempt or the courage. There is no try, and one is so left with a permanent mark of their dishonor for the rest of their lives.
At first I was a bit skeptical of such thought as I was pretty much babied in American society mentality of 'do your best' These are the type of people Island society support and the type of people they are pushed to become. Strong both mentally and physically. Determind, and sure of themselves. What I initially viewed as pride stemmed from the fact that Wendt outright denied a non-Samoan's right to a tattoo. I was for one reason or another offended, and then became defensive. Why should I not be able to prove myself? If not to others, at least to me. I felt as though Wendt made the tattoo about pride
Well, it should be. Samoan's should wear their tattoo with pride. They should wear it with pride because of what it represents to them. They should wear it with pride because of what it means to their family. Figiel expresses the uglier side
of tattoo, as with a pair of women who go to receive their malus together. Their families are cursed. One because of the betrayal her malu represents and the other because it is unfinished. We see their lineage and what it means to be 'dishonored' in Samoan culture because of the tattoo. Pride is in who these people become. IF they are worthy of the tatau/malu, if they can take the pain, if they can endure, and if they have earned the right to a symbol. I would be proud too. Though I was also quite taken aback by Wendt's frankness about how he thought a coward of himself, yet after the readings in some way I understand and it made me almost pity him for a moment. Though it doesn't seem to have affected his writing or influence.