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Celebrating the past, present & future of the Samoan Tatau

The traditional ‘ava ceremony, that opens the Annual Tisa’s Tattoo Festival. At center is the 2016 Miss American Samoa, Antonina Lilomaiva.  [photo: Zachary Zemby]
12th Annual Tisa’s Tattoo Fest introduced new events and techniques
compiled by Samoa News staff

Alega, AM. SAMOA — A perfect weekend greeted skin art enthusiasts at Alega Bay for the 12th Annual Tisa’s Tattoo Festival this past weekend. Setting the tone for this year’s event was the first-time Tatau Forum at American Samoa Community College. The event was well attended by students, members of media, artists and the public and was a great introduction to our past and present i le Folauga A le Tatau.

Revealing the Samoan Tatau history and a secret bible hidden in the ancient Pe’a of the Samoa Islands, scholar Dr. Unasa Va’a held the audience’s interest with little known lore of the ancient skin art during his presentation on the first day of the popular festival that is a much anticipated event each October in American Samoa.

“We have so much more history to unveil about of our Tatau and that is why this event was well received by indigenous peoples of all ages, of the Samoan Islands and abroad,” says founder, Tisa Faamuli. “I am pleased to see this celebration grow through the years especially with new revelations unveiled by research by scholars of the Art and presenters at ASCC and their Fine Arts Department. It was the highlight of the event this year.”

Other firsts at this year’s fest included techniques introduced by guest artist, Li’aofaiva Imo Levi of Samoa who showed off the new stainless still tip ( Au) he uses to apply traditional Pe’a, in place of the ancient tools of the Tatau art. A colorful display of his art was well received on the fest stage at Alega — including a beautiful malu worn by the 2016 Miss American Samoa, Antonina Lilomaiva. She performed the Ava ceremony, that opened the festival — it was narrated by soga’imiti, and master of ceremonies Maotaoali’i Savusa.

“We are grateful for the efforts put forward by Tanuvasa of Apia in the spirit of supporting the Tattoo Festival. He flew to Pago on a day trip to showcase his malofie created by the use of stainless steel tip utilized by Tufuga Lia’ofaiva of Samoa,” Tisa told Samoa News.

Tattoo Festival Master Tufuga Su’a Fitiao Wilson continued to woo his following with skin art created with ancient tattooing tools of Samoa. Su’a Fitiao says he chooses to keep the traditional (Au) as his primary tattooing tools, handmade with wild boar’s tooth and special coral found in the rugged coastline of Tutuila Island. Both Tufuga showcased their outstanding work at the new Tattoo Fest stage this past weekend.

 Otto Johnkeit, a machine gun tattoo artist and guest of Tisa’s Tattoo Fest from Vava’u Tonga, presented a winning tattoo art design displayed by Mellissa that tied in the Miscellaneous Tattoo category art with veteran artist, Duffy Hudson of Tatau Manaia modeled by Faith Vaifanua.

Best of the Fest Most Creative Polynesian Female Tattoo created by local favorite and award winning artist Joe Ioane enjoyed another successful year in recognition of his creative Poly tribal female tattoo displayed by Jeneatte Poasa.

 Best of the Fest Most Creative Polynesian Tribal for Males created by Sau Uiligitone of Freestyle Ink, returned and won this year’s category. Pou Petelo proudly displayed the Pride of Pago Pago in his skin art. Placement of the Aeto on his shoulder was perfectly tattooed in place, to honor his village.

In the Leg tattoo category, displayed by Stumpy, won the Tauvae Category. Paulo Mauia, of Arts Finest of Samoa returned to the festival this year to win Best of the Fest Tauvae, and his second Best of the Fest award during the skin art competition at the Tattoo Festival 2016.

Returning award winner, Duffy Hudson, of Tatau Manaia’s Best of the Fest, shoulder/sleeve tattoo art, won this category for the fourth consecutive year — and his second in two different categories at the event.

According to the judges, it was a challenge to pick a winner this year.

Well-known local artist Reggie Meredith Fitiao, of ASCC Fine Arts department, said, tattoo art work shown at the fest this year was very hard to judge, because artists have upgraded their art and they were all very beautiful.

A showing of new tapa design female fashions by Off the Rock Joe and his partner Leuila Ioane were a welcomed treat at the fest.

Entertainment by the Rapper, Nova Caine Carter, delivered a powerful message to his generation, as a soldier of God. The 23-year old Carter delivered his spiritual message from the Festival stage, which also brought closure to another successful and exciting cultural event at the world famous Tisa’s Barefoot Bar venue, in Alega.

MC Maotaoali’i kept the fest moving with his thoughtful witty remarks that welcomed the fest crowd with the warm Samoan hospitality that is the keynote of Tisa’s Barefoot Bar — the yearly venue of the festival.

“Thank you for the great events this past weekend” Tisa said. “We were proud to welcome Masi and Miss American Samoa Antonina Lilomaiava, at the Fest this year. Miss American Samoa’s graceful siva and presentation of the Ava ceremony was well received and her new traditional Malu art by Tufuga Li’aofaiva Imo Levi of Samoa was met with approval from the happy crowd on Saturday.”

Guests and visitors, who experienced the hospitality of Alega village, in the authentic and sustainable environment of the Tattoo Festival, left Alega village trash free this past weekend. “We are grateful for their commitment in keeping Alega village and American Samoa trash free,” she said.

After being saddened to learn of the passing of Lealaifuaneva, Peter Reid Jr. just prior to the festival, Tisa said, “This year, Tisa’s Tattoo Festival is dedicated to our beloved cousin, neighbor, a tamali’i sportsman, leader, and successful businessman. We are grateful for GHC Reid Company’s 12 years of sponsorship of Tisa’s Tattoo Festival, beginning when it wasn’t a fashionable practice to do so. Manuia le Malaga I lau afioga Lealaifuaneva Peter Reid Jr.”

Tisa added, a fa’amalo to the business community and organizations that sponsor the event each year. Without their support, the event would not be possible. “We are also grateful for the support and sponsorship in a grant, provided by Amerika Samoa Humanities Council, a division of Endowment of the Arts for Humanities. A special fa’afetai goes out to Dr.Unasa Va’a of Samoa and Computer World for your support in making his travel and accommodations possible.

“American Samoa Visitors Bureau and long time supporters of the fest, Samoa News continues to inform our community and link Samoans all over the world, to the motherland with exciting news and photos of Tisa’s Tattoo Fest Annual event,” she said.

“Neil’s Ace Hardware and Tool Shop along with Industrial Gases and GHC Reid & Co- Vailima and Samoa News are the original sponsors of the first Tattoo festival and are still strong supporters of community events annually. They believe in the community and their support is felt throughout the years.

“New sponsorship by Harbor Maritime, Triple B Forwarders, and Sharron Rancourt Law Offices and in kind donations by Skyview, KS Mart, Forsgren, Tropik Traders, Tri Marine and Lomi Lomi Spa, helped with gifts for the artists and visiting guests. Visitors and guests of the fest enjoyed faster Internet speed and we thank ASTCA for this kind donation for the fest,” Tisa said.

Tisa’s Tattoo Festival is sponsored in part by Amerika Samoa Humanities Council, a division of Endowment of the Arts for Humanities.


The Samoana Jazz Festival this weekend on a Jazzy Sunday afternoon at 12:00 noon — at Tisa’s Barefoot Bar.  Reservations for lunch are highly recommended by calling 684-622-7447, or 684-770-9266.