Polynesian tattoo symbol: rafters


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Polynesian tattoo symbol: rafters

'aso: (Samoan) m. line, rafter.

'aso are lines used to support the structure of Samoan tattoos as rafters do in houses.

Rafters are important erchitectural elements giving stability to houses.
Long houses throughout Polynesia were large buildings where the whole community could meet to discuss important decisions.

All cultures in Polynesia have some sort of these houses, with different architectural solutions and shapes, often with a counterpart in tattooing, as in the case of the Samoan fale tele or "big house" and the male pe'a.

Samoan house and tattoos comparison

Another examlpe is the Maori wharenui, the long community house that represents the ancestor, which includes carved and painted decorations much in the same way as Maori tattoos include both punctured and etched parts.

Let's focus now on the pe'a, the traditional Samoan male tattoo, and on some lines that join its parts, called 'aso.

Aso types in Samoan male tattoos

They can go from several thin parallel lines to a single thicker one, both bent or straight, and they hold the structure of the tattoo together in the same way as rafters and rods do with the community house.
'Aso fa'aifo, literally "bow-shaped rods", is the name of the two rods that connected the main rafter of the chief's house on the opposite rounded ends, and it is also the name given to the curved lines on both sides of the pe'a, at the hips, as shown in the figure above.

According to tradition, all parts of the tattoo are applied in a specific order, where the lines of the 'aso fa'aifo ideally connect the beginning and ending parts of the tattoo, which relate to ancestors and to the new individual entering the community by receiving his pe'a.

These rafters represent tradition and support, and they are an important element in Samoan style tattoos that relate to family and origins, while enhancing the lines of the muscles by adapting to the structure of the body (a very important concept in Samoan tattoos).

Hawaiian tattoos feature a similar element, represented by a single or sometimes double line, called moli'na, or "flight of the albatross".

Hawaiian tattoo symbol molina

It has a similar protectoin meaning and it represents the flight of the albatross, which can fly far from land for very long periods and will eventually go safely back to land.


'aso elements used to enhance the structure of this full sleeve tattoo along the lines of the muscles:

Samoan full sleeve tattoo

'aso elements supporting the central part in this mixed sleeve:

Polynesian feminine full sleeve tattoo

You can read the description of each tattoo by clicking on its photo.

Books about Polynesian Tattoos

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