03 AUG 2018: Well before tats became a fashion statement, or a regrettable error after an evening of overindulgence, the practice of traditional tattooing in Hawaii was a sacred ceremony. Here Keone Nunes reveals the protocol and the practice of traditional Hawaiian tattooing on the island of Oahu using original instruments.

Before he begins tattooing, Keone wakes up his tools for Kahekili, the god of tattooing.

He first does a prayer, and dips his tools into water to make them aware they will be doing sacred work. Although a simple ceremony, it’s embedded in thousands of years of culture.

Keone considers himself more of a practitioner than a tattooist. In the 90’s, he brought back the art of traditional tattooing to Hawaii.

It’s an art form he learned from Samoan kakau (tattoo) master, Sua Suluape Paolo, and it doesn’t use machinery. Traditional, handmade tools made of whale bone, wood, and fiber are used to tap natural ink into the skin. The designs Keone creates relate to genealogies, protection or aumakua (family gods), and the kuleana (responsibility) that goes with them.

When Sua Suluape Paolo presented him with traditional tools, Keone realized reintroducing traditional tattooing to Hawaii was a responsibility he couldn’t back away from.

When describing the connection between a tattooist and the person receiving a tattoo, Keone says that it’s not a one-way thing.

The work is done by two people that really trust one another, in order for the design to benefit them.

Just watch the video…

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