|Manulua Tattoo Association - Ni, Suʻa, Manu, & Lopeti|
The association members gathered before the trip to make traditional tools and put together tattooing supplies. Our main goal was to educate Tongan tattooist on the dangers of using unclean and non-sterile equipment, and to also continue instilling the knowledge of traditional Tongan tattoo practice within the kingdom.
|Traditional Tattoo Needles on Display at the |
Tonga National Museum
The first couple of days in Tonga were spent tracking down members of the health ministry and making radio announcements on the free workshop that was going to be offered. The group also worked furiously to secure a place to conduct the workshop. We saw an unbelievable amount of young people with tattoos all over their body. Many were deported Tongans from abroad, but still many more were Tongans from within the country. As we asked people where they got their tattoos, the answer was most often from someone local. We even learned that there were several tattoo shops that had opened, one in Houma, and the others in town. We went by the shops but they were all unmarked and usually disguised within a barber shop or some other type of venue. There were a lot of home grown tattooists practicing out of their own residence or traveling from home to home.
|Ni talking about sterilizing using a pressure cooker|
|Tatatau display at the training|
|The tradtional ceiling structure at the Tonga National Centre|
|Ni, Suʻa and Peti checking out the equipment|
Suʻa talked about the dangers of improper tattooing techniques and the harm it can cause when the artist doesnʻt use clean equipment. Equally important, Suʻa also talked about poor aftercare and what happens to a tattoo if the wearer does not take good care of it. There were many pictures that we used to visualize what an infection looked like and what a tattoo with poor aftercare looked like. The group showed much interest in this and everyone seemed to know of someone who had an infected tattoo. Some even said that they thought it was a natural part of the healing process! It was definitely an ʻA-Haʻ moment for all of us!
After we broke for lunch, the group resumed for the second half of the training. This section was geared more for the tattooists and doing some hands on work. We had asked the tattooists in the group to bring their equipment to the afternoon portion so that we can go over safe handling and universal precautions. Each tattooists had durable tattoo machines and equipment that was brought from outside the country. However, they were reusing needles and tubes, and it was apparent that gloves werenʻt being used regularly. Many indicated that ordering supplies on a regular basis was costly and difficult. The tattooist are mostly young and have a genuine love for art and their clients. But they just didnʻt grasp how diseases can spread through reused needles, tubes and ink. One group member said that he wishes he could get gloves, but that they are very expensive and most of his clients donʻt pay him enough to afford everything that goes into safe tattooing. We realized how our Western thinking of easy access and disposing of dirty equipment was not a reality for many Tongan artists. The closest suppliers of these goods were in Australia and New Zealand. Most have to rely on overseas family to bring equipment for them because computer access and having a credit card is not commonplace.
|Lopeti working with some of the artists on cleaning their equipment|
|Lopetiʻs Tattoo Demonstration|
|Suʻa explaining tattooing depth and motifs|
Our many thanks to the individuals who attended and contributed to putting this event together for us. We could not have done it without you. We are truly indebted to your love and support.