Chaminade Silversword

The student news site of Chaminade University of Honolulu

Chaminade Silversword

Chaminade Silversword

Traditional Hawaiian tattoo artist strikes back at Chaminade with a tap

Keone Nunes, a well-known traditional Hawaiian tattoo artist, presented a talk about his way of applying traditional tattoos on Monday, Sept. 30, at the Ching Conference Center. From the fall of 2008, Nunes came over to Chaminade and presented the same topic. About 90 students attended the past event. Back by popular demand, the attendance for Nunes second apperance peaked to 102 students, and 87 of them were freshman.


To get a tattoo by Nunes, there is a certain process. First of all, Hawaiian ethnicity has to be in someone’s bloodline. Once the client arrives, choosing a design is not there call to make. Nunes chooses because each of his designs are shown differently and all them comes from his head when he taps away. Once he taps, equality and concentration is key because that’s the moment when inspiration begins to stream through his mind for the creation of the design.

Since tattoo guns are what people use for imprinting the design today, Nunes uses traditional tools that he makes by hand. In addition, it’s more time-efficient than modern tattooing. Most of the tools are made of wood, which are more challenging to use compare to modern tattooing tools. A Moli is the tool he uses. It look likes a brush with little needles that are made of tusks from a hippo. Pa‘u Ink is what he usually uses which is always black ink. On the contrary, traditional tattoos would not work for color inks because it never happened back in ancient times.

“The pigments don’t last in the skin,” he said.

It’s common for some people to have allergic reactions with color inks, such as red, blue and green. Color inks and pigments of the skin creates a tension together.

Due to all the experience over the years, it took him 45 minutes to tap a design for one of his clients.  Lastly, Nunes uses UV lights and O zone gases for sterilization since every other tattoo artists use autoclaves.


In 1996, Nunes started tattooing under his teacher from Samoa. In 2001, he received a Samoan family title in honor of his late teacher. Nunes expresses much passion in his designs because traditional tattoos explains of one ancestry line.

“What you feel is what your ancestors feel,” Nunes said.

The origins of tattoos come from each regions of the Pacific Rim. Thus, the tradition is born from one island to another. From the Polynesian region, Hawaiian tattoo artists have been inspired from the Samoans. The designs of Samoa are the bridge of between the other islands through tattooing.

“Every single island has a connection of Samoa,” Nunes said.

From the Micronesian region, the tradition has been known for though an abundance of the miniscule islands. Nunes stated that the tradition is on a brink to extinction. The reason why is because the current generation ignores the exploitation of the traditional ways. That aside, the bridge of the Micronesian region still connects with the other bridges of traditional tattooing. A traditional tattoo is worth a thousand stories back in the day, showing more than just art and craftsmanship these tattoos reveals the identity of one and one’s family.