Visual Encyclopedia

Malu

Malu is a word in the Samoan language for a female-specific tattoo of cultural significance. The malu covers the legs from just below the knee to the upper thighs just below the buttocks, and is typically finer and delicate in design compared to the pe'a, the equivalent tattoo for males. The malu takes its name from a particular motif of the same name, usually tattooed in the popliteal fossa (sometimes referred to as the kneepit, or poplit) behind the knee. It is one of the key motifs not seen on men. According to Samoan scholar Albert Wendt and tattooist Su'a Suluape Paulo II, in tattooing the term ‘malu’ refers to notions of sheltering and protection. Samoan women were also tattooed on the hands and sometimes the lower abdomen. These practices have undergone a resurgence since the late 1990s.

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