Photography by Andrew Brusso
Since ancient times, Hawaiian hand-poked tattooing has been a facet of the native culture that not only adorns the skin but protects, heals and guides the wearer, as well as perpetuating and honoring his or her family line. Because of the spiritual and cultural importance of traditional tattooing, acquiring one is a long and thoughtful process involving genealogy, deep reflection, prayer and familial consent. And yet despite the crucial role that this process has played in the history of the Hawaiian people, as of forty years ago, it was barely being practiced.
Hawaiian Keone Nunes had grown up exposed to family members who still spoke the native language and elders who still remembered the tribal practices of their past. Although as a young man he thought that his knowledge of indigenous culture was something everyone knew, he soon realized that he held in his mind a treasure trove of national customs that were on the brink of being lost forever. With a strong sense that his heritage must be perpetuated, Nunes sought to learn all he could about traditional tattooing, to practice it and pass on his expertise.
Even as a child he was learning about his culture, but it wasn’t until adulthood that he chose to become steeped in it. After one financially draining year of school in the continental U.S., Nunes returned to Hawaii. While other young men hit the nightclubs, he would sit at the feet of his elders, soaking up their first-hand remembrances.
Read the rest of this amazing feature in the June/July issue of Skin&Ink…on sale now!