Samoan tatau's enduring influence celebrated

The role of the Suluape family as guardians and international ambassadors of 30 centuries of Samoan tatau was celebrated at the International Tattoo Festival, held in Samoa for the first time on Thursday. 

Tattoo artists from Italy, Tahiti, America, Australia and many others  assembled in Samoa for the three-day event. 

At the Taumeasina Island Resort, the Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi, singled out and thanked the Suluapes for preserving a fundamental Samoan tradition.

For the next three days the festival’s programme includes time for tattooists to hold presentations on different countries’ traditions and methods; conduct a march; hold a concert; and even a wedding. 

This year is the 20th anniversary of the untimely death of one of the Suluape family, Paulo Suluape, who is credited with bringing the Samoan tattoo to the world stage. 

"I thank Suluape and their family for the continuation of this art, and it seems your gathering today is meant to commemorate the 20 years since the passing away of his brother, Paulo, another prominent tattooist," said the Prime Minister.

"This is a day of celebration; it is a happy day for a gathering with both local and overseas artists as well as the retirement of Suluape from his work."

Samoan tattooing was made internationally famous by the traditional tufuga ( traditional tattoo artist), Paulo Suluape, and since his death his family has adhered to and maintained the traditional methods.

The Prime Minister continued to congratulate all those who have gone on to continue and promote Samoan tattooing to the world and ensuring that the artform does not end.

Marlo Kaleookalani Lualemana – a female tattooist from Hawaii now based in California and owns a tattoo studio called Earthbound Tattoo Studio – said it was an honor to be a part of the festivities.

"We're honored to be here," she said.

"We just came here to represent women, Polynesian women and to be amongst all these beautiful people and come together, congregate and represent tatau."

She hopes to inspire younger women to take up tattooing, in what has traditionally been a male-dominated profession. 

“There's not a lot of us, but we want to continue this and hopefully [the number of participants] just keeps to grow,” she said. 

Duffy Hudson who owns and operates a tattoo studio called Tatau Manaia, based in American Samoa, said holding the international event in Samoa for the first time was the perfect opportunity to honour the Suluapes.

Mr. Hudson said he was also excited at the opportunity to rub shoulders with fellow tattoo artists from around the region, especially eminent artists from whom he has taken inspiration. 

One Portuguese tattooist, Brian Correia, has a passion for Samoan tattoos and said he would not have missed this year’s Forum for the world 

"It's awesome to be a part of it; I mean they are a big part of the world. They're bigger than most people realize in the world," he said.

"And it is really cool part of this historical thing."

As a reflection of the influence of Samoan tattoo culture around the world, Mr. Correia has named his studio the Black Tatau. 

The festival’s concert is to be held on Friday and will feature artists such as : Sam Choo Koon, Lapi Mariner, Fiji, Tenelle, Brown Hill; Wayno; and Western Conference. 

Artists showcasing their talents in the festival include: Manamea Tattoo Studio, Christopher Krieg and Paulo Mauia. Others are Fred Frost, Akiu Sale, Mua Posala, Leilani Pedreira, Marlo Lualemana, Ron Galido, Makalio Folituu (Tagaloa Tattoo, Tahiti), Keone Nunes, Suluape Steve Looney, Sii Liufau, Taefu Falefitu, Lane Wilcken, Tasi Meleah, Lawrence Ah Ching, Pili Moo, Tautua Ink NZ, Joseph Ioane, Charles Moeai and Duffy Hudson.

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