SU'A UILISONE FITIAO, MASTER TATAU ARTIST
Co-founder and Chairman of the Board
While in grade school, I learned the traditional form of painting called Siapo from the late Mary Pritchard in the 1970’s. She was a big inspiration to me and helped to sculpt my path to where I am in
Art today now being a Tufuga ta Tatau, a traditional Samoan Tattoo master. I earned the title of Su’a,
(the title given to a master tattooist), after working with Su’a Lafaele Sulu'ape for almost seven years as
his apprentice. In Samoa, the traditional tatau is a sacred art form; it plays a big role in our culture. This
art form cannot be earned in an academic setting or by taking courses or studying out of books. This title
of master is achieved by working alongside a master Tufuga ta Tatau, engaging in all aspects of the art
form , which includes making the tools, pulling the skin of the person being tattooed, studying the
patterns of the Pe’a and Malu (the traditional words for a man or woman's Samoan tattoo) as they are
incised into the skin, and then getting a traditional Samoan tattoo, to empathize with the pain. Because
this form of Art is deeply tied to ceremony and cultural practices, it is not performed in a tattoo parlor. It
is handled with respect, where the tattoo master is invited into the homes of chiefs who ask for the
traditional tattoo to be given their sons and daughters. Cultural protocol accompany these requests, and
the art form has remained an integral part of Samoan culture. It is a testament of our heritage, and
extends deep into our history.
I have been Tufuga ta Tatau for over 20 years.
And now that the Covid19 Pandemic has come into our world, the request from people to schedule
getting a traditional Pe'a or Malu both locally and off-island has dwindled.
To be called to serve my culture in this prestigious way has slowed down immensely.
This change has diverted me to return back to the essential art form I began with that essentially led me
to become a tattoo master: Barkcloth painting, Siapo. It has become the focus of my work while I wait
with anticipation that a call to tattoo the traditional Pe'a and malu will be soon.
My current work is mainly Siapo mamanu, freehand style of bark cloth painting. I prefer to use only the
Lama black and O'a Brown dyes in my work. I was given the blessing from the head of the Sulu'ape Clan
back in the 1990s to combine the tatau patterns with siapo patterns. This combination of patterns
continues to ground me in my cultural practice of making art.
REGINA MEREDITH FITIAO, MFA, SIAPO ARTIST
Co-founder and Executive Director
As a 4th generation Samoan Siapo maker, the handmade bark cloth, natural dyes, and the ancestral
motifs make the connections I feel are necessary in maintaining my vision of life, culture and society in
today’s world. The beating of the paper mulberry bast and the preparing of other trees for dyes, I find
Siapo dictates a core value in me in which the designing starts with the process of making from the
source. The utilization of ancestral motifs, the Siapo mamanu (freehand style of painting Tapa) reveals
integral forms of visual thought that are timeless.
For example, a motif symbolizing a leaf is essentially a powerful icon referencing leaves used in making
the sails for our canoes. Curved lines refer to navigation with the stars, and mimic the dome shape of
our traditional houses. Motifs from the earth such as worms and centipedes not only define the insects
themselves, but define the richness of our soil to grow our food. Siapo bark cloth painting has played an
important role in my journey as an artist, mainly because it has had the ability to maintain its integrity
while remaining steadfast in our modern day. I am ever grateful to my master the late Auntie Mary
Pritchard who taught me Samoan Siapo.
The current Covid19 pandemic has turned our world upside down. The acts of social distancing,
restricted mobility, and mask wearing is new and at times hard to bear, and strange. My thoughts have
been to manage this "new" with something ancient; the taking of an ancestral material used for
ceremony in some of our most prestigious events and apply it to a form of protection and safety : a
Ole Olaga i le Taimi Nei: Living in the NOW is my focus, making a series of masks made of the
aforementioned materials. I live in American Samoa, a U.S. territory south of Hawaii approximately
2300 miles. Presently our island is Covid19 free. Its a blessing but also a painful reality mainly because
while our borders are closed from the outside world, we have many family and friends living in places
where Covid19 exists. It's heartbreaking to hear news of the current situation and the daily ebb and flow
of the pandemic. For me, to make each mask made of hand beaten bark gives me a sense of
encouragement; that I am creating something to protect others from danger the best way I know how.
Each Siapo mask is intentionally different in pattern placement. Each Siapo mask is numbered. Each
Siapo mask is made with thoughts and prayers of mana --spiritual energy. So far 133 Siapo masks have
been made since March 2020. I am still making them.
EMO, SERVICE DOG
Mascot and Muse
His entire name is GUILLERMO which stands for William, but he is affectionately known as Emo!
Hawaii-born but raised his entire life in Pago Pago. He started his career in the service of his human Reggie in 2009.
His schooling includes recently graduating from the Servicedog Training School International with 120 hours of specific obedience know how! He's one smart Papillon!
Emo also has star quality, after debuting in the the local smash hit "Seki ia Oe" and later co-starring in the first commercial for the Territorial Bank of American Samoa.
His travels have included visiting Upolu, Savaii, Hawaii, Washington D.C. and New York City, just to name a few.
You can catch up with Emo on our Instagram story or whenever you see Reggie around the island--Emo is never far away!