The art of tattooing in Samoan culture is one that brings about a sense of belonging and community for those who have them. For those who do not have tattoos, this presents an otherness outside of that community. Thereby the tattoos become a way to form identity through the means of belonging. This belonging presents a set inclusion as well as an outside culture or exclusion.
In her novel, Tattooing the World, Ellis writes, “Tattoo is a primary form of signification that indicates who does and does not belong” (Ellis 31). This belonging ties a person to a culture or excludes them from this culture. The idea of belonging shift as the tattoo culture changes and develops allowing a broader access to this culture. The text indicates that the community is not set to those who have tattoos alone but rather those who have an appreciation for tattoos may gain access to this community. Physically they may not be tied to the community through tattoos but an appreciation for tattoos in understanding and interpreting others tattoos allows a person to gain a momentary access to the community. Also but participating in the tattooing process, which becomes extremely important, someone can gain a sense of belonging to this tattooed community through the witnessing of the pain and loss of blood that accompanies the tattooing process. Having access to this process permit a typed of admission into the tattoo community.
Further, a tattoo can represent belonging and not belonging within the same community. Ellis writes, “The pelipel would both allow him to belong to Pohnpeian society and still show that he could never quite fit in” (Ellis 8). O’Connor’s tattoo given but the Pohnpeian’s shows his connection to his culture; although his tattoo is not the traditional male design which demonstrates his otherness. This is similar to a temporary tattoo which allows for access to a community in some ways but not others. Access to the community is thus given but with limitations to demonstrate this belonging yet not. Community belonging is thereby differing from place to place.
The different concepts of tattooing are hard to define and merge together, with the tattoo community being one that is unique. The sense of belonging or not belonging is altered as the art form of tattooing itself is changed. The physical representation however, automatically lends to provide access to a community culture of those who have tattoos.