Sulu’ape Si’isi’ialafia Liufau – Si’i to his friends – is the most avid Fisherman we know. Every week, he spends several days out on the ocean fishing. Check his social media and you’ll often find him posing with a huge fish he’s caught that day.
But don’t interpret that to mean that he’s not working hard as an artist.
He’s is the founder and owner of A-Town Tattoo in Garden Grove, CA, and one of the very few artists who can give you a traditional Samoan tattoo, working with ‘au – the traditional hand tools – in the mainland United States (or even Hawaii).
The fact that he is a much-sought-after tattoo artist speaks to his grit and determination (something he also expresses in the tattoo he created for a NA KOA wallet).
Like many tattoo artists, Si’i started out tattooing himself with a homemade tattoo machine, then tattooed friends who asked him to, and eventually got a job in a tattoo shop, doing portraits, lettering. color pieces, as well as black and grey, work modern style tattoos.
His American Samoan family and Samoan friends started asking him for Samoan tattoos and he got serious about Polynesian tattoos, and learning all he could about them- the techniques, the motifs, their placement, and their meaning in the Samoan culture.
But what changed his life was meeting Su’a Sulu’ape Alaiva’a Petelo, the head of one of the two legendary families of tatau masters, in 2008.
He asked Su’a Alaiva’a for a tattoo on his forearm, so that he could observe and learn. He eventually also got tattoos from other members of the Sulu’ape family, including his malofie (pe’a).
That was the start of 7 years of service to Su’a Alaiva’a, and learning about tatau from the legendary master.
Si’i’s tutelage culminated in being given the title Sulu’ape in 2015. The Sulu’ape title elevated Si’i to the rank of an orator chief. It also comes with the responsibility of keeping the tatau tradition alive, as well as evolving it into the future.
Si’i and his work were featured in the International exhibit TATAU Marks of Polynesia, and the accompanying exhibition catalog and documentary.
Samoan proverb – O le ala i le pule o le tautua – The road to leadership is through service