‘Inked’ and Service: my journey of connectedness and identity

Last month, Management lecturer Dr Betty Ofe-Grant was bestowed with the Matai (Chief) title in recognition of her services to her family, village and Pacific peoples. Betty shares what the acknowledgement means for her as an NZ-born Samoan academic.

I am the first female and NZ-born Samoan Matai from the village of Samamea, Fagaloa.

The title I have been given, "Maulupeivao", translates as "strong bird of the forest."

In keeping with tradition, an 'ava (kava) ceremony was held that included drinking 'ava and speeches from family members.

At the same time, I completed my malu, an ancient, indigenous tatau (tattoo) performed on Samoan women, noticeably on their thighs, using handmade tools such as the au (steel blades on wood) and black ink.

My malu was completed over two sessions at my aunt's house in South Auckland - a process that took around seven hours in total. Although extremely painful (I forewent numbing cream or pain relief), I was simultaneously relieved and thrilled when my malu was finished.

I showed my joy through Samoan singing and dancing (siva).

Betty dancing Betty Ofe-Grant

The malu is a visual expression of my culture and identity as a Samoan woman, connecting me to my people, Samoa and the Pacific. I see the malu as a 'language of stories' symbolised by marks and motifs passed down through the generations of Samoan women who undertake this rite of passage.

These markings have ancient meaning and are tied to the earth, animal and ocean life. My Pacific ancestors were voyagers who navigated the oceans and travelled to many different islands like Tonga and Hawaii.

The marks inked into my skin embody specific characteristics. For example, the malu 'diamond' represents protection and is the fale (house) that encompasses the story of creation and humans.

I also have the marks of the jellyfish, starfish, and octopus - they symbolise women who are 'soft' and nurturing on one side but who have the 'sting' on the other.

Fundamentally, the malu represents a journey of pain and discovery, as marked by the new 'inked skin' that symbolises rebirth, transformation, and a greater sense of connectedness.

Betty's tattoo

I am proud to wear a tatau that has authentic meaning, tradition, and ancient cultural heritage as worn by my Pacific female ancestors.

This connectedness continues the genealogy of the tautua (service) from me to my family and my work as an academic at AUT.

When I am teaching, researching, data collecting in the field, and speaking at conferences, my malu and Matai are with me. They visually represent my linkages to my ancestors, my present work and service, and my identity.

The formal Matai ceremony and registration will take place in Samoa at a later date.

Author: Amber Older

Date: 26/07/2021 4:20pm