Do you use a machine or old style tools?
I tattoo with machine for several reasons.
Most people today want real precision in their
designs that isn't possible with bone tools.
With the bone tools you get a very simple, bold
look. Also, traditional tools can be a
health risk if not handled properly, whereas
everything I use is disposable. If someone
wants a tattoo done with traditional tools, I
would recommend Su'a Sulu'ape Aisea Toetu'u at
Soul Signature in Honolulu. He has developed a
way of hafting stainless steel disposable
needles onto traditional tools, so it is
perfectly safe and gives a slightly cleaner,
sharper looking line. Aisea's website is
How does one go about getting an appointment
It's fairly easy, check the schedule and
appointments link on my home page and ideally,
give me a call. If you are SURE you want an
appointment sometime within my next few trips,
then you'll want to get your deposit sent in. I
do consultations free, either by phone or I
person. I talk far faster than I type and
there's a lot of information to communicate
initially to a first-time client, so e-mail can
be restrictive. Once I get a sense for what
you're looking for, I'll email you sample
photographs of tattoos I've already done, just
to get a better sense of what you really like
stylistically. We'll discuss meanings on the
phone, as it is too complex to e-mail. Once we
narrow down the style and the meaning that you
want, then I can start drawing for you and
sending sketches via e-mail. Typically after
this process involves three to five phone calls
and five to eight e-mails. When your art is done
& we know how long we need for your appointment
block, then we should be ready to look at
scheduling your actual appointment date & time.
I give preference in scheduling according to the
date of deposit, so signing up early is a good
What about meaning? Do all Polynesian
tattoos have different meanings? And is
there a good website or a book with a list of
Meanings are complicated. In ancient times most
of the symbols had meanings, but not all of
those are known today. It varies from island
group to island group as to how much information
was recorded before the demise of the art. In
some cases, like the Marquesas, meanings are
pretty well known. In other cases, we know very
little. The same symbol would not necessarily
carry the same meaning from one island group to
the next. As for an easily available source or
list of meanings, no there isn't, and if you see
one, be skeptical! BEWARE OF TATTOO
DICTIONARIES! Meanings are complicated
enough that the interpretation may vary from one
family to the next or from one valley to the
next. They are NOT universal, by any means.
Even within a single island group, such as
Hawaii, not everybody will interpret the same
symbol the same way. It's only through
reading all of the original documents
(most of which are the journals of the early
explorers and first visitors to the islands) can
we get an inkling of what the designs might have
meant in ancient times. Or in some cases,
talking to elders IF the knowledge was retained
over the years. Most symbols found their origins
in nature-- they are visual translations from
our surrounding environment. Now, most of those
elements also carry a deeper significance, like
the Samoan canoe that is represented in the pe'a
signifies the individual's maturity and ability
to carry his responsibility of his family and
village. A canoe however, might have very
different meanings in another island groups, or
might not have been used at all!
How does go about choosing a design that has
The first step (and perhaps the hardest) is to
narrow down what you want to convey and what you
want your tattoo to mean. I suggest creating a
list and identify what is important enough for
you to wear on your body for life. Some of
these points might translate and some of them
will not. As a general rule, abstracts, concepts
might not. Also, if something wasn't a prevalent
feature in Polynesian culture, it would not be
represented. For example, independence was not
something viewed in a positive light. Polynesian
cultures were community oriented so they
wouldn't have valued or symbolized independence.
And physical elements not found in Polynesian
cultures will not be represented, such as an
eagle. Now, there is nothing wrong with taking
non-Polynesian designs and representing them in
a Polynesian-influenced style. This is done
fairly frequently, but is not truly a Polynesian
tattoo. But perhaps this is appropriate as
we are modern people faced with a myriad of
outside influences. Your best bet is to find an
artist that has lived in the islands and truly
studied the art (including the older documents)
and working with them to create something
meaningful for you.
How much of what we see today is truly
traditional—I mean that it's the same design
with the same meaning worn in ancient times?
Very little. Most of what is done today is
a modern interpretation of the older styles,
incorporating both old symbols with modern or
borrowed ones. Tahitian tattooing today, or
example, is drastically different than Tahitian
tattoos of ancient times. In early times, they
were much like the designs seen in a Samoan
woman's malu. Today what I a call the
pan-Polynesian style is by far the most popular.
This is a blend of elements from a number of the
island cultures recombined into modern designs
which are heavily influenced by the older
styles. Remember, we are modern people!
Wearing modern designs is not inappropriate.
Do you do both ancient and modern styles?
Yes, I do both. Usually the decision as to what
is appropriate for a particular person to wear
depends on how deeply involved they are with a
given culture. For some cultural practitioners,
it is most appropriate that they wear the
designs of their ancestors, whereas for
outsiders, modern variations are often more
So do you only tattoo Polynesians?
No, I tattoo lots of folks from a wide range of
cultures and backgrounds.
But you only tattoo Polynesian designs?
95% of what I do is Polynesian, or
Polynesian-inspired. But I also do other Pacific
styles (Micronesian and Melanesian), NW Coast
designs, Celtic designs, sometimes even Kanji
characters. I only do black graphic
tattoos, though. No color and nothing realistic
(like a portrait).
Will you just create a design for a tattoo so I
can have an artist in my area apply it?
I work in Hawaii, San Francisco, Los Angeles and
North San Diego County and about 20% of my
clients fly in for their appointments. But
if you can't get to me, no, I don't do design
work for other tattooists. There are several
Polynesian tattooists who are excellent artists
and will often do this pending their schedule.
You can contact any one of them to discuss your
needs and work out a price which can be paid via
paypal and do the process online via email. For
a list of these artists see, UNDER
DEVELOPMENT—please check back .
Can you interpret or tell me the meaning of the
tattoo I already wear?
No, that's not my responsibility. Again,
meanings are complicated in this truly was the
responsibility of your tattooist at the time of
How can someone reach you? I see your
phone number, but not an e-mail.
Yes, I truly prefer the phone, if you are within
the US or Canada. If you are out of the US, you
can e-mail me at
Oftentimes when I am traveling I cannot check
e-mail regularly, then I return home to a huge
backlog. If you don't get a response,
check my schedule and please resend when you
know I'm home. Calling is usually better,
though. My home number in Hawai'i: (808)
734-8677 (please remember we are 2 hours earlier
than CA), or in CA: (510) 802-2155.