ApprenticeLife

My Samoan tatau...

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I sit here, sore, swollen, in a daze... but I have to share my story. I am an apprentice tattooer and have been in my apprenticeship since September of 2014. I have always had a deep respect for tattooing, but it has now been solidified even deeper. Last year at the Lady Luck Tattoo Convention, my teacher was asked to receive a traditional Samoan tatau by Sulu'ape Si'i Liufau of A-Town Tattoo. My teacher has known Si'i for about 10 years through the convention circle. We were sharing a booth with A-Town, so I was preparing for a pretty close view of the event. As they were preparing, Si'i came to me and told me that he only had his apprentice, Genesis, available to stretch skin for the tatau and they would need my help. I have a previous post describing the experience, so I won't elaborate further on it here, but it became one of the biggest honors of my life to be involved in that tatau on my teacher.

Fast forward to this past weekend: We were working the Lady Luck Convention again and had a pretty slow schedule of clients. My teacher intentionally did so, because he wanted to hopefully help stretch on a tatau. It is a huge honor to receive a tatau, but it is an equal honor to assist in one. Saturday night, we are all in the bar, relaxing and having a good time. It was a group of about 20 tattooers from all over the country. Talk of the process of tatau began and I took the opportunity to interject and publicly thank Si'i for asking me to assist on my teacher's tatau. I told him it was one of the biggest honors of my life and I would never forget it. He nodded to me and said, "What are you doing tomorrow?" I said, "No tattoos, just working our booth." He said, "I should give you tatau tomorrow." Without hesitation, I stuck my hand out and said yes. We shook on it and he went over to discuss it with his apprentice. They were making gestures around the lower thigh area and kinda laughing a little. I jokingly said, "You guys are laughing too much! You gonna fuck me up tomorrow?!" Si'i responded, "We're gonna try something new on you, Nate. You're not gonna like it... but you're gonna like it."

The next morning, I went over to the A-Town booth and Si'i had me remove my shoes and put on a sarong. Without discussion, he started shaving my knee area, all the way around. He drew on a couple reference lines, where he then called over my teacher and told him he would be assisting his apprentice with stretching of the skin. I've already written a lot, so I will skip along. It took 3 hours of, by far, hands down, the most painful tattooing I've ever received. Almost my entire knee, and all the way around back, through the ditch. At the end, I was congratulated. I didn't move. I didn't squirm. I made no sounds. Inside my head, it felt as though they were cutting my leg off, but I knew I had to show my respect and gratitude by being silent. It was incredible. To be a part of my teacher's tatau and for him to be a part of mine has bonded us even closer. We are both so humbled and blown away by it all. As he did a final cleaning of my leg, I asked Sulu'ape Si'i what I needed to pay him for this (I was actually kind of worried, because I'm a broke apprentice). He said, "Meaalofa. It's a gift for you. You earned my respect when you sat for hours and stretched for your teacher last year." He also said, "Now Nate, this tatau has the ending placement of a traditional Pe'a, so when a Samoan sees it coming out of your shorts, they are going to question you. When they do, you tell them it was a gift from Sulu'ape and if they have any more questions, they can come talk to me." I'm still in awe. I look at my leg now and it is so much more than a tattoo. It is history. It is honor. It is respect. I just wanted to share my story. Thanks to all that read it. Here are some pictures of the whole thing.post-53528-146168886142_thumb.jpg

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Currently residing in Scab City!! Back of the knee is brutal to heal. I'm house/pet sitting too, so this little French Bulldog puppy keeps scratching my knee. I'll post pics when healed. Thanks for checking out my story. I swear there's a needle stuck in the back of my knee! Haha

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As requested, here's an almost healed picture of my tatau. There were a couple spots that were pretty hard to heal, but I'm so stoked on the result. It's amazing that this was done with a couple of sticks and a huge row of needles. I have massive respect for the men that get a traditional Samoan Pe'a. I have no idea how they endure the whole process. post-53528-146168886278_thumb.jpg

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