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Maori man with full moko tattoo
Maori man with full moko tattoo
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Skin Stories: The Art and Culture of Polynesian Tattoo

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Keone Nunes
Keone Nunes
Keone Nunes

Keone Nunes was not interested in tattooing at first, but he knew a lot about his Hawaiian culture. When he did get involved in tattooing, he therefore knew more than most about traditional designs.

With the help of Kandi Everett, Nunes got his first tattooing machine in 1991 and began to work. He noticed that the only people who were doing traditional tattoos were Samoans, who were protective of their art form, so Nunes learned techniques from that tradition of tattooing.

Nunes then returned to his roots and learned about ancient Hawaiian traditions and kakau. He's spoken with many kupuna about the art form, and learned many traditional designs. Hawaiian tattoos are asymmetrically placed on the body, and most every part of the body can be tattooed — but always asymmetrically. Nunes feels Hawaiian tattoo designs are bolder and larger than Maori or Samoan forms. He speculates this could be due to the fact that Hawaiian tattoos have more to do with individual identification than for ceremonial purposes.


Aisea Toetuôu
Aisea Toetuôu
Aisea Toetuôu

Aisea Toetuôu is from Tonga and is heartened by the fact that more and more Tongans are rediscovering their tradition of tattoo. The art form almost died out, but today more Tongans are getting traditional tattoos (as opposed to Western-style ones) and becoming tattoo artists.

Toetuôu first started tattooing with Polynesian artists and picked up many traditional techniques. Working with these artists lifted Toetuôu out of the gang and crime environment of his youth.

Toetuôu's father came to Hawai'i from Tonga to work as a tree trimmer, and set up a landscaping business. Toetuôu is also a landscape artist and many of the designs for his tattoos, such as shovels, mason trowels and machetes, are incorporated into his designs because they are a part of both his life and his father's life. Incorporating elements of one's own life into a tattoo art form a tradition of Polynesian tattoos.