Tuilagi brothers' tatau tribute to late father
World-renown internationals Leaupepe Alesana Tuilagi and Fuiono Anitere'a Tuilagi fought and won many battles for Samoa during their time as rugby players.
But on Monday, the former Manu Samoa players, better known as "Alex" and "Andy" celebrated an off-field victory after enduring the pain of getting their tatau (tattoo) at their family's home at Fatausi in Savai'i.
Their tatau was applied by tufuga (traditional tattooist), Su'a Paul Jr. Suluape.
They were supported by families, friends, community and village in Savai'i.
Among those in attendance were Su'a Suluape Petelo Alaiva'a, Member of Parliament Namulauulu Sami Leota, Toleafoa Dr. Satupa'itea Viali, and supporters from Vailima and Aiga Malofie.
Speaking to the Samoa Observer after the application of his pe'a tattoo was complete, Le'aupepe Alex Tuilagi, became emotional as he recalled what motivated the brothers to finally get inked with the traditional Samoan tatau.
The brothers were paying tribute to their late father and former M.P., Namulau'ulu Tuilagi Vavae Leo.
"This has been a long dream and wish [of] our late father for us," Leaupepe said.
"As you know, our father passed away late last year and it was something that he had always wanted for us.
"Back when he was alive, whenever we walked around shirtless, he used to ask us never to walk around without shirts unless we carried the tatau on our skin.
"We thought it was too early for us and we must render our service to the village and family first before getting our tatau.
"But when he suddenly passed away, we felt that we did not achieve his dream, and that disappointed us."
However, Leaupepe found solace knowing that his late father, Namulaulu Tuilagi Vavae, was looking down on them with pride that they had finally completed their tatau journey.
"I'm sure he has been there with us since the beginning," Leaupepe said with a smile.
"Getting the tatau is not an easy journey, but we were comforted with the belief that our Papa was there encouraging us and it provided us with the strength to get through this."
The Tuilagi brothers started their tatau process three weeks ago, said Leaupepe:
"The plan was to start our first session here in Savai'i. But because of the unpredictable changes in the weather, we started our journey in Upolu and we are here today (Monday) to celebrate with our families, friends, and the village.”
While Leaupepe admits that undergoing the tattooing process was not easy, he said that it was an experience he would never forget.
"It's true what they say that getting a tatau is not easy. But it's all worth it in the end and I am grateful and I feel so proud and I had to share this experience with my brother,” he said.
"We would not have done it without the strong support of our mother, our wives and children, our families here and overseas, our beloved friends, our village, and the community.
"We are in awe of the support we have been receiving and we have to thank God for everything."
Now that Leaupepe and Fuiono have their tatau, four out of the seven famous Tuilagi brothers carry the marks of millenia-old Samoan tradition on their skin.
"Our older brothers Freddie and Henry are also carrying the tatau. Our two younger brothers, Manu Tuilagi and Vavae are also hoping to get their tatau, but all in God's [time],” Leaupepe said.
"This is our tribute to our late Papa, who carried and wore his tatau with honor and pride.
"He used it wisely to serve his family, village, and Samoa and we hope to do the same.
"Now that we are inked with our traditional tatau, we are now ready to serve our families, village, and country as well. We hope to continue his legacy."
They were very appreciative of their tufuga and the hard work involved getting their tatau done.
Tufuga Su'a Jnr. Suluape was equally thankful for the legendary Manu Samoa players, whom he referred to as "celebrities" who chose him to do their traditional tattoo.
"This family has been choosing us to get their traditional tattoo in the past years, so it's always an honor to offer our service for the Tuilagi family,” he said.
Su'a said that when the Tuilagi brothers approached him for their traditional tattoo, he was inspired to do something greater than just offering his usual services as a tufuga.
He used the opportunity to formulate a project to boost the tourism sector during trying times, said Su'a.
"So we reached out to [the] Vailima Company and Samoa Tourism Authority (S.T.A.) [to see] if they could provide sponsorship for a project,” he said.
“The project is to create a documentary about these celebrities and their journeys, highlighting their upbringing and their great contribution to Samoa by putting Samoa on the map.
"We saw this as an opportunity for us to promote our culture and our traditional art of tattooing. We know the Tuilagi brothers have made a name for themselves worldwide, so to create a documentary out of their tatau journey is a great way to promote our culture and Samoa."
Su'a said they were grateful to have Vailima and the S.T.A. on board with their project.
"We want to thank Vailima, the S.T.A., and Vanu Studio for supporting our project and their great effort in implementing this project,” he said.
"We cannot wait for everyone and the whole world to see the end result and the whole documentary."
During an ava ceremony to mark the completion of their tatau journey, the Tuilagi brothers were encouraged by the matai who attended the ceremony to bear their tatau with pride and humility and to serve their families, village and country.