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Dear Editor,

Three days ago, Public Health announced the closure of local tattoo shops, due to an isolated infection issue. This move is making it impossible for local tattoo artists to provide the public with tattoos at Tisa’s Tattoo Fest, since it is too late to get health certifications for local artists with the Tattoo Fest only a week and a half away. 

I commend the Tufugas for preserving this precious art of our people, and their art form needs to be exempt from foreign intrusion and international laws.

In order to fully comply with the law, this year Tisa’s Tattoo Fest will continue to support the Tufugas and Tatau Art Off the Grid and the Fest will feature a demonstration of the tatau art as well as other cultural demonstrations during the three day festival, Oct. 25- 27.

It took a decade for our small island community to nurture and revive the Tatau Art in American Samoa. And it became a huge success and great brand, to attract visitors to our island with off island aigas making a special journey home to claim their birthright of the Tatau tradition cultural art, during Tisa’s Annual Tattoo Fest.

Two local award winning tattooists, and an award winning Tufuga from Tutuila are doing thriving business on Tutuila Island. In fact, Traditional Tatau has become the second biggest export of Tutuila Island, since the first tattoo fest was established here. It took a lot of commitment from our small business community, the American Samoa Visitors Bureau and yours truly to keep the Tatau Art alive in American Samoa.

Most all other forms of cultural arts in American Samoa are extinct, and it should cause alarm. I am advocating to keep western laws out of village and cultural affairs.

Siapo making, ie Toga and mat weaving have completely vanished from villages where they were once the pride of indigenous local artists. Materials for making traditional arts are imported from Samoa today. In fact, local artists have disappeared or stopped their art completely. We lost the art of building traditional fales including raw materials once conserved for all art form that were once valued and protected to sustain our way of life.

Western Laws must not be allowed to regulate Samoan cultural Tatau Art. It is an ancient art of the Samoans with significant meaning and strong ties to a three thousand year old culture that is kept alive, even with intrusion of missionaries in the 1800’s.  

We look forward to working with our local policy makers to clear the path for the journey of the precious Tatau Art of the Samoans.

I will continue to fight to keep traditional cultural arts of American Samoa from extinction, based on Alega Preservation Institute’s mission “Protecting the Pe’a, our Resources, Culture, and our Samoan Way of life.” 

Tisa Faamuli

Founder of Tisa’s Tattoo Fest

Tisa’s Barefoot Bar in Alega

(Editor’s Note: While I am fully supportive of the tatau and its cultural manifestations in American Samoa — I believe the local tattoo business, which includes traditional & modern forms, should be subject to health standards.

 There is at least one Samoan tattooist I know of that today is still battling hepatitis health issues — which included receiving a kidney transplant. And, although, he became infected when he received his tatau in Samoa, not here in American Samoa, the possibility is still very real, and I believe a ‘hit & miss’ approach to a ‘healthy’ tattooing environment is dangerous to all involved.

A person buying & receiving a tattoo, in American Samoa — whether traditional or modern — should have the minimum expectation of a tattooist with a clean bill of health, as well as the ‘parlor’ or place of work too.

And then there’s the person, who wants to get a tattoo. They need to be aware of any health risks they themselves may be open to, due to the state of their own health.

It’s unfortunate — but full health disclosure protects everyone’s ‘minimum expectation’ of getting a beautiful tattoo; and in this day & age — it means rules and regulations to protect both sides. ra)