For thousands of years, tattooing was an integral part of Philippine culture. In fact, the first name the Spaniards gave our islands was “Las Islas de los Pintados” The islands of the Painted ones because nearly everyone was tattooed. Some of the oldest bone tattooing tools discovered in the Philippines are dated at close to 4000 years old.
However, due to Spanish colonization in 1521, this ancient practice has largely been exterminated and the vast majority of Filipinos still do not know we have a tattooing tradition. Recovering this practice has been difficult, especially when recreating the ancient bone tools of our ancestors.
In 1999 Su'a Suluape Paulo Suluape of Samoa, the head of one of the oldest tattooing families in the Pacific with a lineage that stretches back thousands of years, had a vision of restoring hand-tapped tattooing to the Pacific. He selected representatives from around the Pacific including the Philippines to teach this lost art. Unfortunately, Su'a Paulo died before he could pass on the knowledge to his chosen representative for the Philippines, Leo Zulueta.
Su'a Paulo's brother, Su'a Suluape Alaiva'a Petelo Suluape became the head of this tattooing family and I was fortunate enough to sit by his side and be mentored by him. Su'a Alaiva'a contributed a great deal to my creation of the book, “Filipino Tattoos Ancient to Modern” including writing one of the forewards for my book.
Another representative of the Suluape clan of practitioners, Su'a Suluape Keone Nunes, a Hawaiian student of Su'a Paulo, taught me how to recreate the old bone tools once found in the Philippine Islands. These two men fulfilled Su'a Paulo's vision of restoring the practice to the Philippines.
With the restoration of this technology and skill, our people both at home and abroad have been able to receive the tattoo rituals of the past, experiencing the same tools and rhythms their ancestors felt hundreds and even thousands of years ago.
This November, marks the 20th anniversary of Su'a Paulo's death, and the retirement of my first mentor, Su'a Suluape Alaiva'a. A grand celebration and festival will be held in their honor in Samoa. We owe a great debt of gratitude to the Suluape family and it is important that we honor those who gave us so much. Please help us raise funds for my apprentices and I to travel to Samoa, and express the deep appreciation and respect we have for the gifts the Suluape family has given us.
Maraming salamat sa inyong lahat.