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Northwest Tatau Festival presents heavy hitters in the tattoo industry

 (l-r) US Army veteran Molioleava Mulitauaopele, Whitey Chen, Su’a Suluape Alaiva’a Petelo, Bong Padilla, and Steve MaChing at last year’s inaugural Tatau Festival held at the Greater Tacoma Convention Center in Washington State. This year, the tap, tap, tap of the ‘au and the whirring sound of tattoo machines will once again fill the air in the Pacific Northwest when tattoo artists from all over the world gather for the 2nd Annual Tatau Festival scheduled for June 30-July 2. See story for full details.  [p

Got ink? Tattoo fanatics from around the globe are already making plans to attend the Northwest Tatau Festival, set to be held at the Greater Tacoma Convention Center in Washington State next month (June 30th - July 2nd).

The three-day event coincides with the annual Samoan Flag Day celebrations in the Evergreen State.

Last year, during its inaugural run, the Tatau Festival drew in hundreds of people. Some came to get inked for the first time, while others were adding on to already existing body art.

A few stopped by just to browse through some of the Polynesian-inspired merchandise that were up for sale: aloha shirts, t-shirts, accessories, and various handicrafts.

Those who had never seen a tufuga at work left with nothing but fond memories of seeing a malu (traditional Samoan tattoo for females) being done for the first - and maybe the last - time.

Master Tufuga Su’a Suluape Alaiva’a Petelo (a tufuga ta tatau of the famed Suluape bloodline from Samoa) gave everyone a glimpse of what it’s like to get a malu and what it means to wear it with pride.

Using traditional Samoan methods and equipment, Suluape didn’t seem to mind the audience he had last year, staring in amazement and snapping photographs as he meticulously went to work on the legs of the girls who decided to get the malu.

The rhythmic tapping sound of the ‘au and the concentration in his eyes as he made sure all the lines were intact, made for a spectacular show.

The end product was nothing less than beautiful.

This year, Suluape Alaiva’a Petelo will be at the Tatau Fest once again. This time, he will be accompanied by his son Peter who is also a well-known tufuga, having mastered the art that has been part of their family legacy for generations.

A handful of young men have agreed to get the pe’a (traditional Samoan tattoo for males) during next month’s highly anticipated event. While the malu takes about four hours to complete (two hours per leg), the pe’a is a much more complicated feat, taking days, sometimes even weeks to finish.

It is a painful process that — to many — signifies a man’s transition from boy to manhood.

The Tatau Festival will feature live tattooing and live entertainment. Polynesian Clubs from different high schools in the area will be performing, making it an ‘all-ages’ event.

While last year’s line-up was pretty impressive, artists who will be in attendance this year include: Suluape Riccy Boy Novera (Las Vega, NV/Haleiwa, HI), Suluape Steve Looney (Honolulu, HI), Alipate Fetuli (Anaheim, CA), Andy Tauafiafi (Wellington, NZ), Akiu Sale (Kailua, HI), Fred Frost (Salt Lake City, UT), Bong Padilla (Kalihi, HI), Lui Talo (Anchorage, AK), Kamu Kamu (Fife, WA), Kuaika Quenga (Maui, HI), Taefu Falefitu (Alberta, Canada), and Leilani Kaaiwela-Pedreira (Tacoma, WA), just to name a few.

The majority of the featured tattoo artists are of Samoan descent, most of them born and raised in the territory before moving off island.

Artists from as far as French Polynesia and all over the US will be available during the three-day event and while appointments are preferred, walk-ins are certainly welcomed.

Coordinators of the Tatau Fest told Samoa News that the goal of the annual event is “to share the art of tattooing, specifically the traditional tatau.”

“We want to educate the world about the traditional art of the tatau and at the same time, offer a chance for all tattoo artists to display their work — whatever their style may be. This is a chance for us to come together and learn something new, share it with others who will be attendance, and keep the storyline going in the saga of the tatau tradition.”

Follow the action of the Tatau Fest on Facebook at <northwest tatau (tattoo) festival>

Tickets are available at and everyone is invited.