Popularity of traditional Polynesian tattoos increasing

Technique takes center stage at tattoo expo

 UPDATED 11:05 PM HST Aug 02, 2013
Tattoo
HONOLULU -

The Pacific Ink and Art Expo is back in town for a second year.

If you're into tats, the Neal Blaisdell Exhibition Hall was the place to be Friday, and coming into the spotlight is old-school art from Polynesia.

On one side, Samoan tatau. Hawaiian kakau on the other.

"The traditional Polynesian tattoos all have significance," said Pauhi master tattooist Keone Nunes. "Every line has a meaning, every line has a name."

Artists say they choose the design for each individual -- designs that are different across cultures but same in their messages.

Nunes said, "It's more less something that we feel that will be helpful for you for the rest of your life."

This attitude they say is increasing the demand for traditional Polynesian tattoos.

Sulu'ape Tatau master tattooist Petelo Alaiva'a Su'asulu'ape said, "They want to have something that has a meaning rather than getting a picture of a dog."

Instead, they get a picture that really is worth a thousand words.

When talking about his tradition Polynesian tattoo, Kona resident Ehitu Keeling said, "A lot of it is just pretty much my ancestry and just my heritage."

While traditional Polynesian tattoos focus on cultural values, modern Polynesian tattoos focus on aesthetic values.

"Modern Polynesian is art, definitely," Nunes said.

Still, modern Polynesian tattoo artists say you need to do your homework.

808 Tattoo artist Megan Jones said, "The most important thing about being a tattooist is being respectful, right? And respecting others as art and their culture. If you are doing contemporary Polynesian, at least, you know, study. Take the time out to do your research, find out where the patterns are from, read about the culture, be involved."

The Pacific Ink and Art Expo continues Saturday from noon to 10 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 8 p.m. at the Neal Blaisdell Exhibition Hall.

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