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APIA, Samoa (Samoa Observer, June 26) - Samoan elders want regulations to stop fraudulent tattooists working in the industry. And they warn that customers using self-taught artists for traditional Samoan tattoos risk attracting an ancient curse.

In recent years one man has died, two more have been seriously injured and an Auckland man has been left psychologically traumatized by a tattooist who disappeared halfway through work on his tattoo.

Having a pe’a - a traditional tattoo - is a rite of passage for Samoan men, but Tafa Multialo, secretary for the Lagimalofie trust, warns people to verify the cultural credentials of traditional tattooists after people have been left physically and psychologically damaged.

He says, "An ancient curse goes with the practice of ‘malofie,’ Samoan tattooing. Self-taught artists are fraudsters not authorized to use traditional designs, they breach intellectual property and attract the curse." The curse, ‘lama avea,’ can cause death, disability and illness through poisoned ink, injuries or accidents during the tattooing process, Multialo says. One marked man is Peter Williams, a former heavyweight boxer whose genealogy traces back to Samoan royalty.

He commissioned tattooist Kasala Sanele to tattoo his body and paid him a 1,500 tala [US$544] deposit towards an agreed price of 4,000 tala [US$1,452]. But Sanele went overseas before the tattoo was finished, leaving Williams, a quadriplegic after a fight in 2002, in shame, grief and fear. Sanele is understood to be in Las Vegas.

His wife, Charmeyne Te Nana-Williams, said her husband carried the title of Samanai, named after his ancestor who was the first man to get a pe’a.

It was vital for him to have his pe’a completed so he would rid himself of the curse and enjoy the honor promised by his heritage, she said. Tradition holds the curse would pass down to Williams’ children. Today members of the Lagimalofie trust are performing a ceremony to lift the ancient curse from Williams. The Ministry of Health’s Pacific health chief adviser Debbie Ryan says Occupational Safety and Health had already prohibited a traditional Samoan tattoo practitioner after several cases of necrotising fasciitis in Wellington.

Three young men developed the flesh-eating disease after being tattooed by Sua Vitlae Fa’alavelave. Ryan says the ministry will publish a guidebook with advice for those thinking of getting a traditional tattoo.

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