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Understanding Art in American Samoa

If you have never been to American Samoa, you may have questions about what kinds of traditional art is made here!

The artists at our organization are experts in the main traditional art-forms of American Samoa, so much of our work falls into these three categories.


Siapo is the art of making designs on barkcloth. Barkcloth is used in many different cultures around the world (check out this book if you want to learn more!), but in American Samoa it is called “u’a.”

Before foreign fabrics began to be imported to American Samoa, painted tapa cloth was used for clothing, curtains, and other purposes. The bark is collected from the u’a (the paper mulberry tree) and is scraped and beaten until it becomes a thin stretch of cloth. For Siapo art, this cloth can be stretched, wrapped, and layered around a wooden board, smoothed down, and then designs can be added.

Using the paogo (the seed from the pandanas tree) and natural dyes (black, brown, red, and yellow), the siapo artist creates a design from a collection of patterns that have been passed down for generations and generations.

Reggie working with u'a that will become siapo art.


The modern English word for tattoo comes from the Samoan word “tatau.” This art form is very sacred to the Samoan people.

The Tufuga ta Tatau (master tattoo artist) trains for many years (our co-founder Su’a Uilisone Fitiao trained for seven years). The tufuga holds a position of honor in Samoan society, and many people look to him to receive the pe’a or malu as a rite of passage.

Samoan tatau is something that can be shared with people of all backgrounds, as long as it is done by a trained tufuga with traditional tapping tools (either made of boar’s tusk or stainless steel tips).

Su'a Uilisone tattooing with traditional tapping tools.


Wood-carving has been an essential and highly-valued skill in American Samoa for generations. Wood-carvers use their skills to help provide shelter, transportation, and art for the people of the island.

The upeti is carved from wood and is used to mark Siapo patterns if the artist is not using a mamanu (freehand) technique.

Which Are You Most Interested In?

Are you interested in learning more? Head over to our Contact page and fill out the form! We will add you to our email list and you will get information about our programs as we launch them.

This summer we had our first Siapo Workshop for youth, but we will have offerings in Wood-Carving in the future!

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