Interview with Samoan hand tap tattooist Su'a Peter Suluape (PART I)

Photo Credit: 
Faletuiga Photo/Tina Mata'afa-Tufele
Su'a Peter Suluape, at work, during the 5th International Samoan Tatau Convention held in Samoa last summer to coincide with Samoa's 50th anniversary of independence.

Su'a: The designs, like I mentioned before, are the same. The interpretation and arrangement of these designs have been modified to make the finished product more aesthetically pleasing. My father and I have modified the designs to be more refined and in doing so, the result is extremely neat. Our tools have been slightly modified as well. We have a few tools with the tattooing combs made from stainless steel rather than the traditional boar's tusk. This is mainly for hygienic requirements. We are very adamant about hygiene standards and practices to avoid blood-borne communicable diseases. The taboos differ from pre-missionary days and again the focus now is on proper hygiene practices.

808: Do you tattoo any non-traditional tattoos?

Su'a: I do contemporary art pieces using the traditional tapping method such as sleeves, arm and leg bands, pieces on calves, backs, necks, etc.

808: You have a lot of tattoos! Who tattoos a tufuga? Which is your favorite and why?

Su'a: I've been tattooed by my father, my younger brother Junior, Samoan Mike (Las Vegas), Leo Zulueta (USA), Joe Brown (Auckland, New Zealand), Ben Tehau (Australia), Orly (USA), and Bob (Europe) but my favourite tattoo was the one done by Johnny Sialaoa, apprentice at Suluape Tatau in Samoa.

(PART II of this feature will be posted next Aloha Friday.)