updated 08/24/2004 AT 2:00 PM ET
•originally published 08/26/2004 AT 6:00 AM ET
The Rock is now The Chief. The wrestler turned actor recently visited his mother’s native Samoa, where His Highness Malietoa Tanumafili II crowned Dwayne Johnson a high chief. “It was a life-changing moment for me,” says the 32-year-old, who spent time visiting the elderly and schoolchildren there. Johnson, who has donated some $50,000 to Samoan causes, recently talked with PEOPLE about his trip, title and really big tattoos.
What was it like to be made a chief?
It clarified my ties to the royal family when the title was bestowed. It was an incredible life-changing moment that I will never forget.
What did you talk about with the King?
I told him I was going to carry this title with honor, dignity and, above all else, with pride. He told me, “From this day onward, you will no longer be known as Dwayne but will carry the title of the Son of Malietoa, which means the son of a king. You will leave your boyish ways behind you, as you are now a chief of the Seiuli family, a chief of Samoa.” When I heard those words, I was moved. … It’s way deeper than an honorary title. It’s blood.
I’ve heard that you’re covered with some Samoan tattoos. Is there a story behind them?
It’s probably the most detailed tattoo you’d ever see. I just finished it up last year. … My tattoo tells a story about my successes and failure, my strength and warrior spirit, my love for my family, my loyalty to my family, my unwavering want to protect the ones I love, which is why my tattoo acts like a shield that covers a little bit of my chest and down my shoulder and little bit down my back.
My grandfather was completely tattooed. It went from his knees to right underneath his neck. It was done old-school style, with a bone and a mallet.
The last time you were there, you were a kid. How did it feel going back?
I’ve never cried so much. Never in a million years did I expect that to happen. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect . … The people there are so untouched and uninfluenced by Western culture.
Are you planning on going back?
I want to go back next time when I can take my friends and family and just drive around. This trip just made me extremely proud of my heritage and culture. I’ve never been ashamed to say what I am. I am half black and half Samoan. … There’s an old Samoan saying: “It’s humbling to be important, but it’s more important to be humble.” That really epitomizes Samoa.