Samoan tattoo abuse irks master

By Talaia Mika 30 September 2023, 8:29PM

A renowned Samoan master tattooist has decried the continued abuse of the traditional art which he says is disrespecting Samoan culture.

Instances where a female is inked with a tatau, which is traditionally meant for men and a fa'afafine getting the malu which is meant for women have not gone down well with Sua Suluape Petelo. 

Su'a led his assistants and together with the Malofie group of men with traditional tattoos or 'tatau' inked people as part of their Malofie Exhibition at the Samoa Tourism Authority Fale on Friday, while focusing on teaching the students about the values and the history of the tatau.

In an interview with the media, Su'a said he firmly believes that as a traditional tattooist with many years of service to the country, doing a tatau on a woman will destroy and disrespect the bond between the tufuga (traditional tattooist) and a woman. 

Doing a malu on a fa'afafine, according to the master tattooist, is also disrespectful to the culture and its history as well as to the Samoan ancestors who started the tatau.

"I will never accept a fa'afafine coming to me to get a malu and I have never in my years of doing this done that before," he said. "I had an older brother who tattooed a tatau on a woman and no one was happy about it. 

"I was even more disappointed and asked him why he did what he did but he said it's because no one had done it before. Then the next thing we knew, he got into an accident and died and I told his children that this is the real reason why he died because karma never sleeps and he did harm to the culture.

"Not only it's inappropriate to the culture but also to our traditions because if a girl wants to get a tatau, what would the tufuga feel towards her having to see all private parts of her body, which he shouldn't and that's why a tatau is for men and a malu is for women."

Su'a also appealed to all Samoans to put more pride into their culture by wearing their traditional tattoos for their love of the culture and "not for show".

He then not only stressed the essence and value that the tatau holds and carries but also the changes brought about by the ever-changing Samoa today and the technological revolution. 

"The goal is for more people to wear this Samoan treasure with pride," he said.

Asked about the growing number of Samoans getting the traditional tattoo, Su'a said he is happy to see many young Samoans stepping forward with the courage to get inked.

"The good thing is seeing more of the females coming forward to get inked with the traditional tattoo and there's more women than men," he said.

Su'a leads the Malofie Association of Tattooists and men and women with traditional tattoos who were inked by Su'a and his assistants. There are currently 15 traditional tattooists working alongside Su'a including his three sons and a woman.

By Talaia Mika 30 September 2023, 8:29PM
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