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Su'a Sulu'ape FreeWind

Portrait of Su'a FreeWind by Dianne Mansfield.

Portrait of Su'a FreeWind by Dianne Mansfield.

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Su'a Sulu'ape FreeWind has an international reputation for his skill and artistry in tribal tattooing. Moreover, as a Samoan chief, he is sanctioned to perform traditional tatau using the sacred boar's tusk and mallet, or awl and sou-sou. His own tattoos include artwork from all over the world, including Borneo, Samoa, Tahiti and New Zealand as well as the United States.

Su'a FreeWind's passion for tattooing began early. Studying the traditions of his Native American and Mongolian ancestors, he learned that both cultures have a history of ritualistic beliefs or Shamanism. He feels the art of tattoo has helped him grow spiritually and made a huge impact on his personal journey in life.

In his early 20s, he began practicing machine tattooing. Leo Zulueta recognized his shared interest in tribal tattoos and took him under his wing, and together they traveled around the world attending tattoo conventions and studying tribal art. It was on one of these trips that FreeWind met Su'a Sulu'ape Petelo, an elder of the Su'a Sulu'ape family, one of the original families in Samoa to practice tatau. Su'a Petelo became FreeWind's teacher of traditional tattooing.

Soon after their meeting Su'a Petelo adopted FreeWind as his son. Su'a Petelo also gave him the family blessing, one of the highest honors in Samoan culture. This meant Su'a Petelo would pass on to him all he knows about tatau, including symbolism, toolmaking and ceremonies. Su'a FreeWind began his pe'a (the traditional Samoan men's bodysuit) with the most dangerous and painful spot, the blackening of the bellybutton, which is usually done at the end of the tattoo but in special cases done at the beginning as a test of leadership and strength.

Upon receiving the Su'a and Sulu'ape family names and being recognized as a matai, or chief, Su'a Sulu'ape FreeWind adopted his Samoan name as his legal name in his home country. The honor of using the Su'a and Sulu'ape titles is a daily reminder of the responsibility he owes his clients, community and Samoan family. Su'a FreeWind has made a lifelong obligation to preserve the ancient art form of tatau.

He has since mastered the art of Indonesian hand tattooing from the Iban and Dayak tribes. In recognition of his own Native American heritage, he has also researched and re-created Native American hand tattooing techniques. Black Wave Tattoo is the only shop in the world that offers both state-of-the-art machine tattooing, and these several different forms of traditional hand tattooing. Su'a FreeWind has won many international awards for his machine and traditional hand tattoos, and has been featured in documentaries and publications about tattooing.

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