PROJECT TATAU with Sulu’ape Skinz

In October/November this year, we fulfilled a sacred Samoan cultural project that involved a partnership between PICAA and NZ/Hawaii-based SULU’APE SKINZ, led by Samoan Master Tattooist Su’a Peter Sulu’ape. In Project Tatau, 11 members of our Melbourne Samoan community received the tatau (men) and malu (women) from Sulu’ape over a period of 2 weeks. PICAA’s role in this project was to co-ordinate everything from fundraising, payments, timetabling tattooing session, catering, venue,  as well as organising the ‘ava (welcome) and samaga (blessing of tattoos) ceremonies.

You may be wondering why PICAA has hosted such a project – seeing as we are promoters and practitioners of creative arts. Australia is used to seeing us on stage performing as a choir, or producing theatre productions. Our simple answer – we encourage our fellow Pacific Islanders to remember that EVERYTHING we create with our hands, our voices, our bodies and minds, is creative. In the palagi world, creative arts is usually seen as stage performances, and painted canvasses. For our people though, everything that we create, is creative – including tattooing. It is a beautiful moment in a Samoan’s life when receiving the tatau/malu and PICAA is so proud to have been part of o le lagimalofie a lau Susuga Su’a ma le falelua o le aiga Sā Su’ā and the life changing moments of our project members and the life-changing moments for our project members.

The decision to receive the sacred tattoo in the way that our ancestors received it, is one that should not be taken lightly. The sessions involve long hours of being ‘marked’ by the traditional ‘tapping’ of ink on the lower half of your torso (tatau) and legs (malu). The pain, at times, can be intense, and at other times, mesmerising. The pain that one endures during these long sessions, as well as during recovery, is the usual reason why many shy away from ever putting themselves up to receive the tatau/malu, but our tufuga, Su’a Peter Sulu’ape has always encouraged us to remember the reason why we are receiving it in the first place. The pain must be received with an attitude of gratitude, it must be embraced willingly and in remembrance of why it is important to the fa’asamoa (Samoan culture). Once you accept the pain in this way, then you can endure it.

Project Tatau began in February and concluded in late November with a public performance of the tattooed members displaying their la’ei Samoa through song and dance. It also means the process of Su’as work being done at hand eg: “lagimalofie I lau susuga Su’a” which is the respectful way of saying the process of tāga tatauWe were invited by Shepparton-based Pacific organisation Know Your Roots  to share our work with the large Pacific community in Shepparton – shoutout to Melissa Silaga and her team for a wonderful event. Sharing this project with other Pacific community organisations is a major highlight for PICAA as we believe in the power of collaborative efforts in order to make our communities stronger, confident and more united.

Quick fact – the word ‘tattoo’ comes from the Samoan word ‘tatau’ (that’s right, try saying ‘tatau’ with a 17th century british accent).

As hosts of Project Tatau, we thank our tufuga Su’a Peter Sulu’ape and his team for sharing their gifts with us. We thank the families of our tattooed members – for their support during the entire 2 weeks of tattooing. We thank our Samoan elders for blessing this project and being with us every step of the way. We also thank the 11 members of our project, for sharing the same passion that we have for our culture. A massive congratulations to Tupuola Matamua Matti Matamua, Matamua Ulalemamae Vera Matamua, Tolumaanave Angela Faatau, Gina Tafea, Mara Fuimaono, Fotulafai Fua Fuimaono, Tusi Fiu, Danny Wairasi, Filomena Wairasi, Tunaimatia Sanele Savea and Anjel-Iota Savea.

Please enjoy some of the beautiful photos taken by our Tokelauan sisters at Kaiga Media and Liz Arcus Photography 🙂

Malo ‘aupito, from Team PICAA

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Project Tatau members performing at Pasifika Festival in Shepparton (Photo: Liz Arcus Photography)
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PICAA Taupou Zahriya Leaoasoma performing her siva taupou at Pasifika Festival in Shepparton (Photo: Liz Arcus Photography)
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The newly tattooed members of Project Tatau with Sulu’ape Skinz orator Soi Lalovi Lome (Left) at Pasifika Festival in Shepparton (Photo: Liz Arcus Photography)
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Project Tatau members, with lil Andrew Savea (in front) at Pasifika Festival in Shepparton (Photo: Liz Arcus Photography)
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Project Tatau members with their newly-blessed tatau, with the Sulu’ape Skinz team (Photo: Kaiga Media)
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Tusi Fiu receiving her malu from master tattooist Su’a Peter Sulu’ape (Photo: Kaiga Media)
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Matamua Ulalemamae Vera Matamua celebrating her malu (Photo: Kaiga Media)
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Tunaimatia Sanele Savea celebrating his malofie (Photo: Kaiga Media)
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Family support during a tattooing session (Photo: Kaiga Media)
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Ariana holding her mum’s hand as she receives her malu (Photo: Kaiga Media)
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Family support during Tunaimatia Sanele Savea’s session (Photo: Kaiga Media)

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