Annual Tattoo Festival focuses on traditional ink making and its spiritual meaning
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Eight years ago, a Lama (candlenut) tree was planted on top of a mountain ridge 200 feet above Alega Bay.
The man who planted it is known and prefers being called by his nickname — Candyman, who along with his partner Tisa Faamuli, has piloted turning the Faamuli family environment into a food forest — from the beach all the way up to the "Passion Ridge," where the Lama tree stands tall.
With the time drawing near for the Annual Tisa’s Tattoo Festival at the Barefoot Bar in the village of Alega, Tisa who is the founder of the Tisa’s Barefoot Bar Tattoo Festival, decided to focus this year's annual Fest on learning about making Samoa's traditional tatau ink —and to discover why it's no longer used today.
It's a spiritual ink and some of the Samoan tattoo artists have dropped using it, due to its mana or the spiritual effects on certain people, according to Tisa’s research.
(Samoa News should point out the readymade [commercial] tattoo ink is more easily available and in terms of health hygiene consistency probably makes it a more viable product.)
That's what makes the 18th Tattoo Festival interesting this year, as they collect the tuitui or lama nuts, and explore the spiritual side of the Samoan lama or ink.
"We need to talk about it, and everybody needs to understand the sacred side of the lama because it brings the mana of the Samoa people and who we are," Tisa said.
"People are going back to their origins and it's the same as our people."
And without the Lama tree you can only dream of having the traditional ink.
There are other ways to make the ink, like crushing charcoal into the finest powder form, while some would create smoke from a variety of wood to rubber shoes or even kerosene in order to collect the black powder soot, but it still isn't the same as the Samoan traditional ink from the burnt tuitui from a Lama tree.
Candyman's Lama tree is in season but the fruit are all green therefore they won't be ready for the 2023 Tattoo Arts Festival.
Planting the Lama tree some eight years ago was part of the family’s Organic Food for Use and Security Project — Oct. 24 - Oct. 28.
Then the tree was left alone, however Candyman said, he planted the Lama tree with hope someday he'd learn about the black ink that was traditionally used for the pe’a he proudly wears.
But just last week Saturday, Candyman made the discovery of his farming lifetime that he’ll keep in his heart.
Underneath that Lama tree were preserved thousands of tuitui from the tree's annual seasonal fruiting of past years.
Family members had planted turmeric and ginger during a school break under the Lama tree, and while clearing weeds from his turmeric, Candyman discovered a surprise that would make the 18th year of the Festival an outstanding one.
"Oh my gosh, oh now I have learnt something new today."
All the tuitui he could want were preserved under the weeds, mixed up with piles of turmeric roots that are also ready for harvesting.
The double harvesting of turmeric and tuitui for the ink process were all there for the Festival that begins today, Oct 24 and will run through this Saturday.
Turmeric powder in coconut oil is traditionally applied over the body of a new ‘Sogaimiti’.
The tuitui, following records from ancestors, are to be dried in the sun or in an underground oven, umu lama.
It's been raining almost everyday during the Festival season, so there's no way to have enough time for the sun to dry the nuts, according to Candyman. So the umu lama was made to speed dry the nuts for this week's Festival and as of Saturday afternoon, a week ago, the lama ink was already being made through a ‘traditional’ process, or during a workshop.
Burning the dried tuitui to produce the organic traditional ink was a part of the experimentation in making of the black ink in Alega, where people were welcomed to participate and to hear why the traditional lama ink is no longer being used for the tatatau and malu of Samoa.
The making of the sama or the turmeric powder in coconut oil is also still a practice in tattoo making.
Tisa said, people need to understand why we have lost our mana spirit from God, by learning, studying, experimenting with the traditional ink making process — you can experience it if you come to the Fest.