Posts Tagged ‘hawi’



I did this piece over the course of two days last week and had a blast! The client was a gentleman from Hilo who was looking for something to speak of his time in the military, his ties to his ancestors and also to show familial ties. It was also important that the tattoo incorporate protection as well as warrior motifs.

He came to me already having researched his family name and discovered that he had an ancestor that was a kumu lua (teacher in the art of Hawaiian hand to hand combat) who had taught skills to ali’i on Kauai during the time of Kamehameha I. He was also a pilot in the Vietnam war and also flew search and rescue with the fire department here in West Hawaii and also created the protocols for the now defunct marijuana eradication program, Green Harvest.

He wanted to tell his story of a warrior, of being descended from warriors and also to pay homage to his family. This piece was an awesome undertaking as I tried to combine all of these elements to create a cohesive piece. I had a blast working with the client and enjoyed immensely they time we spent over the two days that it took to complete.
rodrigues_2bd_LR rodrigues_1BD copy

Here is the breakdown of the symbols used:

a) maka [eye], this paka contains an eye; one looking forward, the other looking backward to protect from harm in either direction.

b) koru [unfurling fern head], symbolizing growth, life, breath, this gives intention to the piece behind it ‘c’.

c) na niho [teeth], there are 3 large niho, followed by 3 sets of 3 niho, the larger represent his 3 daughters and each set of 3 represent their respective children.

d) unahi [fish scales] love of the sea and for swiftness.

e) manu [bird] this theme is repeated throughout the piece and is a reference to his time as an airplane/helicopter pilot.

f) pepehipu [hammered tapa cloth] this is an armor analog for protection, it is inset with a row of niho at the end that is meant to protect the tattoo from harm.

g) ama kopeka/ahi [fire] this keeps bad spirits away and also acts to illuminate the path of the symbol behind it ‘i’.

h) pili niho [joined teeth] two joined teeth representing the union of him and his wife.

i) manu [bird] this theme is repeated throughout the piece and is a reference to his time as an airplane/helicopter pilot.

j)  lei niho [garland of teeth] there are 2 rows, top and bottom, of teeth, each representing a year of marriage, 50 total, plus one to symbolize many more to come.

k) manu [bird] this theme is repeated throughout the piece and is a reference to his time as an airplane/helicopter pilot.

l) hoka [rays of the sun, rafter motif] this sort of symbol was one of many found carved or painted upon the rafter of a home or dwelling, it represents courage.

m) malu [protection] overlapping diamond shapes are meant to protect as armor.

n) lei-o-mano [string of shark teeth] this club-like weapon was used in hand to hand combat and in this instance is used to indicate his ancestral ties with a kumu lua that taught fighting techniques to ali’i on Kauai during the era of Kamehameha I.

o) ikeike [cyclophyllum barbatum] this hearty flowering shrub of the coffee family was known for its resistance, fortitude and toughness, its wood was also used to make weapons and tools.

p) a’aka hala/lauhala [Pandanus weave] this symbolizes the woven fronds of the hala tree and symbolizes family unity and armor.

q) la’au [club] this symbol represents a club used for combat and is a reference to part of his family name and ancestral past as kumu lua.

r) maka [eye], this paka contains an eye; one looking forward, the other looking backward to protect from harm in either direction.

symbols s,t,u,v,w are considered as one image, and that is the Spirit of War (SoW), which is a direct analog to his ancestor that was a kumu lua. It forms a head in profile, of the SoW.

s) pahiko a tuivi [fish net] this symbol makes up the mouth of the SoW and is intended to catch sin or protect from sin.

t) niho mano [shark teeth] this represents the first of his ‘aumakua, the shark, and makes up the part of the head portion of SoW.

u) naheka kai [sea snake] this represents his second aumakua, the sea snake, the triangle and two dots represent  the pattern on the snake’s skin.

v) hulu pu’eo [owl feathers] this is his third aumakua, the owl.

w) mata hoata [all seeing eye] this makes pup the face of the Sow, it also has an ama kopeka, or flame on the top of its head.

x) ani ata [sky, heavens] this represents his ancestors as well as heaven and the horizon.

y) a’aka hala/lauhala [Pandanus weave] this symbolizes the woven fronds of the hala tree and symbolizes family unity and armor.

Mahalo for your time!


I had the chance to use the prototype ta that I made last week, today. I really enjoy using it. It does take much more time than a modern machine, but the work is gratifying on a different level. It took a few strokes to get accustomed to the balance, and the way the skin grabs the needles was interesting, but all in all, I really felt good about it.

This niho took about an hour. I think that with time I will be able to get faster, but it may come at the expense of the patient. In this case, she didn’t experience any more pain than she does during tattoo with a machine.

I realized that I also need to make some minor modifications to the ta itself, and am now considering a design with an asymmetric handle and curved shaft, that would place the striking surface on the apex of the curve. I also need to add an anchor point for the thread that I now use to hold the ink reservoir in place on the needle shaft. I will add those changes to the next evolution of ta which I am currently working on.


I’ve been so busy lately that I haven’t had a chance to post any breakdowns of the Polynesian tattoos that I have been doing. This is a piece that I recently did on a girl that is going to be attending UH to study marine biology, whales (kohola) in particular.

She wanted something that represented her love of the animal that also reflected Polynesian sensibilities. When she contacted me initially via email she said that she wanted the overall design to follow the Maori koru. The koru is a representation of an unfurling fern, imparted with the meaning of new beginnings, new life and the eternal cycle of life; I thought that basis extremely appropriate.

I thought that representing the spirit of the animal would be the best way to convey this piece so I started with (beginning at the tail) the mata hoata (brilliant eye) which is used to characterize the embodiment of the whale spirit. By placing a mata hoata at the beginning and end of the piece I mean to encapsulate the front and back of the whale itself. Much of Marquesan art and tattoo involves the repeated placement of symbols as a way of conveying dimensionality (for lack of a better word) to the piece. This ensured that the artwork would be ‘covered’ or ‘aware’, from all angles.

To further the strength of the piece and add to the divinity of the whale spirit invoked, I placed etua at the base of the first mata hoata to further drive the point of the manifestation of the whale spirit. Etua are god-lings or representation of whatever divinity is being invoked, in this case, the whale.

Two strength symbols, poka’a are used to add power to the two symbols above.

Ka’ake, the upraised arm, conveys strength as well, reflecting the power of the creature and the intent of the tattoo. The niho placed above the last mata hoata, is meant to protect the tattoo itself.

Peace and aloha!

Well, the fruits of my extensive labor on the subject of Ana’ole Polynesian tattoo is finally ready to be seen! My book, 158 pages with over 140 illustrations and definitions is now available on I’ve spent the past 4 years refining my style of Polynesian tattoo and the last six months compiling it all into a book. Because of the enormous detail that I put into this project, I can say for certain that it almost killed me! No, not really, but it was a pain in the ass, especially the production end which was a nightmare. It really was all my fault since I chose to lay the book out in Adobe Illustrator and not InDesign, for no other reason than I like to make things hard on myself. What this means is that essentially every single page was an individual file, which I then had to import into Acrobat to create a master .PDF (the only file format that my publisher would accept). If any of you know anything about graphic production you will understand my stupidity. In any event, I only had to perform 3 rounds of edits and two proofs. I hope that my next book (what? did I just type that?) will go smoother.

I am directing all traffic through my site, for those who want to order a copy.

Aloha and peace!

This gentleman walked into my shop and uttered the words that are music to a tattoo artists ears.
I had never before met this person and when he walked in last Thursday and began poking around my studio, I just assumed that he was simply browsing. Because of what he was wearing (a chefs coat) I couldn’t see any visible tattoos and figured that he didn’t have much work.
He looked at my books and asked me some questions about my availability as he had a small window of time to have anything done. As it turned out he was leaving in 5 days and of those five, he had one day to have anything done. He then told me that he had two full sleeves and the only open spaces left were his legs and back, the latter of which he was saving for a future piece. That was when I asked him what he wanted to get and he said those magic words, “Honestly, whatever you want to do is fine with me.”
Most people don’t know that these are the words that will often get you the best tattoo, since relinquishing control and letting the artist ‘do his/her thing’ ensures that the person doing the art will throw the best of their abilities into the piece. Of course you want to be sure that you trust the person and that you like his/her work.  I can count on one hand the amount of my regular clientele who walk in and give me such free reign, so it goes without saying that I was completely caught by surprise to hear a total stranger utter such things to me.
He told me that he wanted it to be sizable and that he wanted it to be ana’ole, those were his two criteria, the rest was up to me.
I started with the basics and asked him what brought him to Hawi in the first place. He replied that he was doing a short internship at The Bamboo restaurant, learning some of the culinary secrets from the largest and most popular eatery in town. He then told me how much he had fallen in love with the island and that he someday hoped he could move here (he is from Wisconsin). He told me that he loved going up to Mauna Kea and that his favorite beach was Waipio. He added that his favorite animals were the hammerhead shark and the octopus.
So with that information I came up with this piece which took 6.5 hours.
Beginning at the bottom I put the Waipio Valley. There are three waves breaking upon the beach signifying good fortune. Above that is a maka nui or all-seeing-eye, a symbol that steals ones enemies spirit in battle and is a warrior symbol. Above that is a paka with two tentacles (which belong to the octopus in the third paka above). A hammerhead shark sits above that paka. On its head are 8 hibiscus each representing a respective Hawaiian island. There are FS and waves on the sharks back as well. Above the shark is an octopus with one of its tentacles resting on the sharks head, a sign of affection, not of conflict, to convey the harmony between his two beloved sea creatures.
Moving upward above the octopus in the sun shining down on a snow covered Mauna Kea peak. A gust of wind blows in from the east, representing the trade winds and the fact that he keeps coming back to the Hawaii. All in all this piece was to express his love of the island that he hopes to one day make his home.


equipment used: 5RL/9RL/15M

I started this tattoo last month and it needs another hour or so before it is finished but I decided to post it anyway.

This client has been in before and is furthering his collection of Ana’ole Poly by adding a full sleeve. He is an avid waterman–paddles canoe and is a freediver as well– so he chose to go with an ocean-minded theme that reflected his love of the sea. I added other symbols that complemented his initial idea and this is what resulted.

Before I get into the explanations I want to say that one day I will learn to take a proper picture. I don’t know why I have no trouble shooting back up for Anna when she needs a second shooter at say, a wedding, but when it comes to shooting my own work, I screw the pooch. Oh well, I will get better!

Looking at the first picture, beginning from the left and moving to the right, you will first see the inside of his arm as if he were facing you head on with his palm turned toward you. Each consecutive picture moves around his arm with the last picture being the rear shot of his arm.

Starting from his wrist (and the image furthest to the left), the symbols progress as such:

There is a column of lightning that wraps around his wrist followed by a vine of maile with 4 leaves inset with momi (pearls) reflecting a FS. Inset into these two vines are the tips of the maile vines themselves.
From the side view (pic 3 from left) there are rain drops which segue into the lighting from that angle.
On the underside of his forearm (pics 4,5) are six wind-blown waves. Together all of these symbols create the rain on the ocean accompanied by lightning, suggesting power and perpetual change as well as joy, good fortune and growth. Rain is one of those symbols with balanced meanings with both positive and negative connotations.

Just below the inside elbow joint or ditch, are a trio of all seeing eyes which are surrounded by an unfurling palm frond (signifying growth) themselves crowned by five hawk feathers (hulu i’o) the combined ornament of all three symbols also carry the FS.
These compound symbols represent insight, protection from adversaries, nobility and growth.

Underneath these symbols are a row of shark teeth (niho mano) containing FS.

(Note: FS= Fibonacci Sequence, refer to past Ana’ole posts on this blog)

On the outside of his arm in the same general space (in the same pauku as the rain) are three waves (nalu) accompanied by two mini blade shaped paka which contain a total of three stars which symbolize strength, inspiration and hope. Below this pauku is the image of Pele (which I need to still finish).

Moving upward into the inside elbow crease is a symbol called Pohaku wa wahi wa’a, which was a stone hammer used to smash the hulls of enemy canoes. Ancient Hawaiian’s would sneak up on an enemy encampment in the dark of the night and smash their canoe hulls with this tool, and then slip away into the darkness. Since this person paddles canoe then I thought this image appropriate. Set into the blade of his axe-like weapon are a row on shark teeth (niho mano), three waves (nalu), and a spiral of ocean water.

Above this symbol lies another row of shark teeth reflecting a FS.

On his bicep is the god of the sea Kanaloa. He is adorned with water, waves and a small he’e (octopus) that pokes out from the bottom of his jaw.

The final symbol is located on his tricep and is an unfurling fiddle head fern set under the image of the sun. In the sun’s rays are FS as well. This part of the tattoo still needs a little work and is the part that I need to finish.

Total time:


Equipment used:

Dragonfly, Rotary Works (machines)


One (ink)


Sunday, May 18, 2008 7:35 AM HST

Many people find that Hawi offers a perfect blend of sunshine, cool trade winds and a laid-back lifestyle. Driving down Akoni Pule Highway, meticulously manicured lawns front rustic, plantation-style homes. Along with a mixed plate of businesses, there are churches and schools.

There is a sense of entering a special place that has somehow managed to retain the quaint charm and small town atmosphere, despite the influx of people moving in from the mainland or other parts of the state.

Hawi is in many ways a time capsule — an artifact of the way Hawaii used to be. When looking for a place where everyone in town knows one another, where there is no mail delivery service and most stores close at 6 p.m., then Hawi is where you want to go.

But if looking for work, it is best to look elsewhere.

Almost all of the businesses, at least the ones that can be seen lining both sides of the street in downtown Hawi, are owner operated. Most stores are manned, day in and day out, by their respective owners.

Such is the case with Maria Short, proprietor of Short – Sweet Bakery and Cafe in the Kohala Trade Center. Although she employs a staff of three, she still finds herself in the shop 50 to 60 hours a week.

“We were blessed from the outset of having a strong clientele base and unlike most restaurants who experience a two to three year stint getting out of the red, we were fortunate enough to start off in the black,” Short said.

She attributes most of that to the fact that her husband, Dean, does a lot of the construction and maintenance work himself. His help was key to the bakery’s initial renovation and kept building costs to a minimum.

Click Photo to Enlarge

Kainani Bello works the checkout stand at Takata Store in Hawi. – Photo By Brad Ballesteros | Special To West Hawaii Today

Then there is Takata Store, arguably one of the largest and most successful businesses in Hawi. It employs between 35 to 38 people, a majority of them full time. Jobs range from stocking and bagging to running the registers. Many of the employees have been there for a long time, some from when the grocery store was located in the building that is now the home of the Bamboo Restaurant.

Teri Takata, operations manager, said the reason why there is such a low turnover is that once people get hired, they are considered part of the Takata ohana. Offering people jobs that are secure and giving full-time employees medical benefits and profit sharing, as well as keeping the atmosphere positive, has proven to be the recipe for keeping employees around for a while.

“(The job) needs to be fun. When the workers are enjoying themselves, it gets reflected in their attitude and their work,” Takata said.

Some people prefer that philosophy to what’s offered by working at one of the hotels, which some say are notoriously lacking in regards to flexibility and worker satisfaction, not to mention the commute.

Takata said some people are willing to take a cut in pay from working at one of the hotels if it means having a job closer to home with good benefits and a pleasant working environment. Currently, all of the people on staff live in Hawi or one of the nearby towns.

Click Photo to Enlarge

Pookie Ah Sing works in the produce department of Takata Store. Here she fills bags with boiled peanuts. – Photo By Brad Ballesteros | Special To West Hawaii Today

For younger people looking for a first job, Takata Store is one of just a few places to find work. Shige’s service station and the Kohala Coffee Mill are other steady options.

If not planning to work in one of the above mentioned industries or opening a private business, jobs in Hawi are hard to come by. Even then, it may not be enough.

Pamela Gorman is a young mother who decided to quit her job at a local coffee shop to start Bizzy Beez child care service out of her home. She remodeled the downstairs of her house, obtained the proper licensing and is currently supervising four children. But with the rising cost of living, she has found that working a part-time job at the Kings’ Shops in Waikoloa was needed to supplement her income.

“It’s hard to find work in Hawi. Most of the places have workers that have been there forever, so there aren’t too many options,” she said when asked why she didn’t look for work locally.

Cindy Medeiros works for Kohala Elementary and Middle schools as a custodian and cashier. She averages more than 30 hours per week and, together with her husband’s income, said her family lives fairly well. Although she confesses with the rising cost of living, it’s still not enough. She has no time to work an additional job and the convenience of working in town far outweighs the need to find work elsewhere.

“I’m not driving to Waikoloa or Kona. No way,” she said.

Could it be that Hawi is becoming a bedroom community?

Not likely, for the fact that it already is one. Since the plantations closed, and the hotels began to pop up, people have been driving to where the jobs are. The fortunate few who get to live and work there consider themselves lucky.

Vernon Emeliano, head chef of the Bamboo Restaurant, also runs a yard service as a second source of income. Prior to running the kitchen, he worked two jobs down at one of the hotels, sleeping in his car between shifts. Although he now makes two to three times less than he did working as a valet, he wouldn’t have it any other way. He lives across the street from the restaurant. His commute is measured in steps, not miles.

“I’m blessed to live here,” he said.

Click Photo to Enlarge

Meat cutter for Takata Store, Hana Akana, says he got his job after graduating from Kohala High School in 2000. – Photo By Brad Ballesteros | Special To West Hawaii Today