“For me it’s to keep my roots literally on me. They are already in me but now it’s displayed on me.”  — Sergeant Dave Orum

Sergeant Dave Orum and his wife Sergeant Josey Orum have completed a powerful and gruelling journey together, having Samoan Tatau (tattoo) etched on their bodies using the traditional method of a small chisel making the design.

Published in the Air Force News, Issue 226(external link)

Sergeant (SGT) Dave Orum’s Malofie, or more commonly named Pe’a (male tatau) runs from just below his knees to the middle of his back and took a marathon 54 hours over 10 sessions to complete. SGT Josey Orum’s Malu (female tatau) covers the top half of her legs and took nine hours over
 two sessions.

Nothing was pre-drawn or planned and the final design was chosen by the Tufuga ta Tatau (tattooist) Su’a Suluape Fa’alili, who worked out the patterns after speaking with the couple and assessing their body shape, SGT Dave Orum said.

He described the pain of the process as “really bloody sore”.

“I’ve got a Samoan arm band as well and that was done with a machine and the pain of the traditional tattooing is on another whole level.”

But he never considered leaving it unfinished.

“That’s not really an option, you end up bringing shame on your whole family if it’s not finished.”

SGT Dave Orum has his Samoan heritage through his mother’s family.

“It was always something that I wanted, obviously being Samoan and it being a traditional journey.”

Getting the Pe’a was a “lifetime achievement” because it was such an arduous journey, SGT Dave Orum said.

“It’s not really a decision taken lightly.”

“The tattooist kept going for as long as my body would allow, but towards the end of each session I would go into shock, get cold and start shaking,” he said.

For anyone going through the process they have to have a Soa — someone to go through it with them.

When SGT Dave Orum decided he was going to get a Pe’a, his wife immediately volunteered to be his Soa.

“It’s a journey not taken by yourself, you do it with someone else,” SGT Josey Orum said.

“Just my husband and children have Samoan heritage, I’m Māori. At first I didn’t think it would be right for me to have it, but I had conversations with my mother-in-law and she granted her blessing.

“It was a way for me to further connect with the culture of my husband and my children. Marrying into the family I also marry into the culture and it’s just a deeper connection to that.”

Admitting to being a bit worried about how painful the process would be, it turned out to be better than she thought.

“Watching Dave go through it, he dealt with it really well and mine was nowhere near as huge and as lengthy as his — I’ve pushed out three children, I’m sure I can handle a few hours.”

She described it as much of a mental challenge as well as a physical one.

“When I got my first leg done and it got to around the three hour mark I thought we’d almost be finished, but it was another hour and a half after that before it was done, so that was really difficult mentally for me . But with my second leg, because I knew how long it was going to take, it definitely wasn’t as bad.

“I cried when it was finished, I was just so overwhelmed with emotion. I think it’s beautiful.”

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