Samoa's most famous tattooist to visit New Zealand

The Samoan pe'a, or tattoo, is a mark of enormous respect.

Often reserved for the select few, the tradition is slowly gaining popularity with Samoans living abroad.

Now the Malofie exhibition in Porirua has brought Samoa's most famous tattoo artist to our shores, in a bid to reconnect people with their culture.

The saying goes: if there's no pain, there's no gain. And Tafaoali'i Tuna Talamaivao's body is proof he's committed to getting his pe'a.

"It's very painful aye, very painful, it's not easy," he told Newshub.

"It felt like he was trying to blimmin' hit through to come out the other side. And then right here is my hip bone, and jeepers, that was a whole 'nother happy place I had to go to."

A small fine tooth comb with ink is attached to a stick, which is then struck repeatedly to pierce the skin - leaving a permanent mark.

"I don't know if it's an island thing but the rhythm of it all - it sort of doesn't bother me as much, just hearing the rhythm is quite soothing," says Talamaivao.

Only a handful of tattooists, known as Tufuga, have the required skills to dish out this type of pain.

Master Tufuga Su'a Suluape is one of them and has travelled from Samoa with his sons to tattoo New Zealand-born Samoans as part of the Malofie exhibition.

"It's great to have this opportunity to showcase our culture at this exhibition and to help our people understand the meaning of the tatau. This is why we are here," he says.

For decades he's etched his designs into human flesh, and says the pain is part of the experience.

"The tatau is about the pathway created by a boy's parents to test the young man to see if he's ready to serve his family. The pain is part of the process and you must endure it," he says.

Understanding the meaning behind the pe'a has helped ease Talamaivao's pain.

"When I see people with it, my whole view of them has changed. I used to think 'Oh look at that tough guy'. Now I see look at that guy who's honoured his family, honoured his parents with that," he says.

A sign of respect which will stay with Talamaivao for the rest of his life.