International Samoan Tatau Festival Artists:

Petelo Sulu Ape



Talofa! My name is Alaiva'a, internationally known as Petelo Suluape. I am the ninth of twelve children and there are four tattooists amongst us brothers. I was the third brother to become a tattooist.

Tattooing has been in my family tradition for six generations but I never dreamed of becoming a tattoo artist. In fact, since no one in my family had a formal job, I tried very hard to succeed in my education so that I could attain a good job. When I was sixteen years of age, I stole one of my father's tools (the smallest one), took it to school, and started practicing on my school friends. Five years later at the age of 21 (1975), I graduated from the Teacher's Training College and became a Science Teacher. The very next year, at 22, I practiced tatau without permission from my father. It was only one evening when he saw the result of my work did he know what I was doing and encouraged me to finish the piece that I had started.

Unlike any other Polynesian culture, we Samoans believe that blessings from our parents is what we ultimately strive for and which dictates our everyday actions in life since whoever receives these blessings is respected by all members of the 'aiga (extended family). When I was 24 years old, I unexpectedly received the blessing associated with tatau from my father, two months before he passed away. It was a big and formal ceremony with the whole village present. I felt sorry for my two older brothers who had already been tattooing because they missed out on this very important blessing (they resided overseas by this time). I wanted very much to share this blessing with Paulo and Petelo but they had too much pride and refused to do so.

Tattooing became a part-time job for me from then on (1978 to 1985). In 1985, I received my first invitation to an international tattoo convention which was held in Rome. This was the first time in the history of tatau to be accepted and exhibited on an international stage. Every year after that, I continued to receive invitations to various international tattoo conventions but was not able to attend due to work and family commitments. In 1990 I decided to go on my second trip out of Samoa to Amsterdam, Holland for a tattoo convention. This trip served as a serious 'culture shock' as I could not believe the things that I witnessed happening in broad daylight, things that were otherwise taboo in Samoa and would always be taboo in Samoa, especially in the confines of the 'Red Light District'. During Christmas 1990 I travelled to New Zealand with my mother to visit Paulo and this was when Paulo seemingly begged me to take him on any future trips overseas. This incident made me feel that something had definitely affected our bond as brothers as a result of the bestowal of blessings by our father upon me. Then in 1992 I was invited again to Amsterdam but decided to pass it on to Paulo to attend, again, due to my teaching and family commitments and from 1993 to 1999 I no longer participated in international tattoo conventions. Instead I decided to dedicate my time completely to my teaching career and my family. When Paulo suddenly passed away in 1999, I made the very difficult decision to sacrifice my teaching career and become a full-time tattooist for Paulo and my father.

In 2000, I attended tattoo conventions in Italy, Sweden, and Germany.

In 2002, I attended a tattoo convention in Christchurch, New Zealand then on to Berlin, Germany and took my eldest son Peter with me in the hope of giving him international exposure and to start teaching him the intricacies of the art of tatau.

In 2004, I passed on the traditional blessing of the art of tatau to Peter, as my father had done to me. Currently, Peter has surpassed all other tatau artists that I know of in terms of quick learning and creativity. In a few more years working together, he has the potential to be better than me.

Other countries that I have visited for tattooing expos and conventions are Spain (Madrid), Tahiti, Australia, USA (including Hawaii), Palau and American Samoa. I would love to travel to Borneo and some parts of Asia if I am ever presented with the opportunity.

I have plans to resign from full-time tattooing when Junior (my youngest son) is just as good as Peter.

Peter Sulu Ape

Peter Sulu Ape


Su'a Peter Suluape, Master Tattooist, is the son of renowned Samoan traditional tattoo artist, Su'a Suluape Petelo Alaiva'a. At the young age of 8 he was introduced to the world of tatau by assisting with his father's work as a stretcher and at 15 he began assisting his father in the crafting of traditional tools. Peter received his own tatau "pe'a" for his 19th birthday from his father. This process completely changed his outlook on life and as a result he decided that he would take on tattooing as his sole career path prior to which he had ambitions to become a teacher. Immediately after his 21st birthday, he made his own very first tools - 'au mogo and 'au sogi'aso - and began practicing on any brave and willing relative. Less than a month later, his father sent him to New Zealand to practice tatau there and gain some knowledge and experience away from the island shores. During his stay in New Zealand, he felt a void that was brought on by not having yet received the traditional and "official" blessing of the art of tatau from his father. After 4 years he visited Samoa and was bestowed this honor. He returned to New Zealand to continue tatau for 2 years and in 2007 decided that it was time to return home to help his father look after the aiga ("extended family") and to learn more about the art from him and in July 2007 he did just that. Peter, now 30, has represented the Suluape family and Samoa at various International Tattoo Conventions in Berlin, Tahiti, New Zealand and the USA including the 2009 BTSOE in Las Vegas hosted by Mario Barth. While he specializes in traditional Samoan tatau tools and techniques, he also uses machines for some of his other artistic work. He currently resides at Motootua, Samoa with his partner Tasha and their 4 sons with their first daughter due in April 2010.

Tatau Work

Peter Suluape Tatau Peter Suluape Tatau Peter Suluape Tatau    

Rinus Loes

Rinus Loes Tattoo

Rinus Loes will be joining the show this year from Fine Line Tattoo in the Netherlands.

Sponsored by:

Sponsored by Tahiti Tatau