Born out of Polynesia, the ancient form of tattooing known as Kakau, is as sacred to the Hawaiian people as hula, lei making and surfing. Tattoos served several purposes in Hawaii but was mainly used to establish someone’s place in the social hierarchy. Although anyone could receive a tattoo they were often reserved for the highest ranking members of society.
While the art is still held dear to Hawaiian people the ancient form almost completely disappeared from the islands. One man, Keone Nunes, is doing his part to make sure it is never forgotten. Proudly born Hawaiian, Keone's passion pushed him to travel to Samoa in 1990 to learn the craft himself. Now Keone practices Kakau on a daily basis and even crafts his own tools, using hippopotamus bones as needles.
Although he tattoos on a regular basis, Keone will not tattoo just anyone. He requires his recipients to research their family lineage, pray, fast and abstain from intoxicants. Nunes decides where the tattoo will be places and what it will look like so it is important that the person is getting the tattoo for the right reasons. As Keone sees it, the tattoo is there to hold you accountable for your actions, to your community and to your ancestors.