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By Tina Mata'afa

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (Samoa News, Oct. 18) - Tattoos, tattoos, tattoos. They were everywhere at Tisa's Barefoot Bar this past weekend as tattoo fanatics traveled eastward to Alega Beach for Tisa's two-day Tattoo Fest 2005 that kicked off the Moso'oi Tourism Festival on Saturday.

"It is exciting when a vision is translated into reality," said Event Marketing and Planning manager for the fest, Maggie Keane on Sunday after the Body Art competition was over. "Tisa had a vision of a tattoo fest honoring Samoan tradition of the tatau and the past two days could not have been more perfect."

Hundreds turned out over the weekend.

At the eastern end of the barroom, in a small fale Samoa, traditional tattoo artist or tufuga Suluape Sua Tau Ah Keni had set up shop. You find no machines in his workshop, only the au. The artist uses another stick to tap pressure onto the au. The work of the toso is just as important as that of the tufuga. The toso stretches the skin and wipes away ink and blood to clear the skin for the artist, all the while picking up the movements and artistry that will one day make him a tufuga.

Contrary to popular belief, the needle of the au that cuts the design into skin is a fashioned boar's tusk, cut to a triangular shape and fastened to a stick, one artist who did not attend the fest told Samoa News on Sunday.

"It's not a shark's tooth," he also said. The boar's tusk is placed against a turtle shell backing to allow "for elasticity." Artists no longer have to hit as hard he said. "It was much more painful back then than it is now," he added. "But pain is still pain."

"I had to get my malu because Suluape said if my husband takes over, I should have my malu," said Si'ia'e Salanoa whose husband is toso and son to Suluape.

Tap, tap, tap, observers heard while Suluape hovered over Junior Maene who had initiated his soga'imiti with another artist who "up and left the islands" leaving his tatau unfinished or "pe'a muku." His case is a special one as he did not opt to quit his tatau but was left "hanging" by the first artist sources said.

"He should have it completed by Tuesday," Suluape Su'a told Samoa News.

"I heard that really hurts," one palagi said squinting. "I have a few tats, but that is just...," he said shaking his head, unable to complete his sentence.

Dr. Daniel Aga opened the competition with a speech that recounted one version of the origin of the Samoan tatau.

The story is that a legendary Samoan pair, females Taema and Tilafaiga swam from Manu'a to Fiji. There, they befriended two girls and were given the tatau as a farewell gift when they departed to Samoa.

One local artist who uses the au said the Samoan motifs used in the traditional tatau are changing.

"The equipment now is much sharper," the artist said and artwork "more detailed." The artist who still considers himself a student as well and "still learning," said with sharper equipment, "more lines are added," where a "dull" au of the past could not manage so many in a localized area. Artists now take the tatau patterns to new levels, rendering "abstract" patterns.

"You can twist a pattern but you can't change it," the artist said. For example, triangles may have rounder corners, but it remains a pattern from the tatau, still Samoan.

"Only the women were to get tatau," said Dr. Aga, which is just one of a variety of stories drawn from Samoan oral tradition.

"Traditions change," said Ma'a Sausi. "Samoan tattooing is a growing art that is constantly changing," said Pago Pago native Sausi who is a retired military veteran. Ma'a came out because of his "interest in the art and tradition" and to "show support for the up and coming artists." He has one tattoo on his shoulder that depicts a female spirit body, that was created in Apia.

"People get tattoos for many different reasons. Some choose symbols that mean something, to remember special occasions," he said. "I got this to commemorate my mother's passing," he told Samoa News.

On Sunday, just one woman entered the malu Body Art Competition, Si'iae Salanoa, whose malu was created by Suluape Su'a Tau Ah Keni, her father-in-law. She won $300. Tattoo lovers came out for many different reasons. Some to work and show their skills in creating body art, many to show off their tats, and a few, to get "tatted." For one ASCC college student on Saturday, it was her very first tat.

"She finally let me get a tattoo," said 19-year old Faiane Miller excitedly whose mother, Monica Miller of 93.1 KHJ permitted her to get her "very first tattoo" on Saturday.

While she laid back in her chair, leg propped up, 20-year old tattoo artist Loleni Sele worked on her tauvae with a machine.

"It feels good," she smilingly told friends who kept coming by to check on her.

"This really hurts," another customer wailed earlier under Loleni's needle machine. Doreen in the Light, as she is called, received a taulima and later her partner Scott Edwards of 93.1 KHJ received a matching arm band.

"We have matching palm trees in there," she told Samoa News showing the palm tree that Loleni had created.

Edwards, however, chose the youngest of the artists, Brown Ah Keni to "tat him up." Brown, only 16 years old and the son of Tufuga Suluape Su'a Tau Ah Keni earlier completed a shoulder sleeve for Robert Vernon, manager of Wallace Theaters in Nu'uuli.

Artist Duffy Hudson took first place for a taulima or arm band that he created on his brother Sene. A typical arm band by Duffy ranges from $200 to $300 "depending" on the design and its intricacy.

"My artwork stays with a person for their entire life," said Duffy, which is why he has taken to the art and has been doing it for "about 2 years."

Even Coleman Elementary teachers Esther Sua'ava and Salavao Savea-Lopez showed up "looking for information on the tatau" to use in the upcoming DOE History Day.

Richard Reid, owner of Big Boyz Body Art had his artist James Tomasi give him a tat that started from his right torso and a shoulder sleeve.

"This is good," said Reid of the tattoo fest. "It's all about the art. And time and patience."

October 19, 2005

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