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The Hawaiian Tattoo

by P.F. Kwiatkowski, Illustrated by Tom O'o Meahau
64 pages, Halona, Inc. 1996

While tattoos are popular in many parts of the world, their renaissance in Hawai'i is related to South Pacific traditions that were popular in the islands until banned by missionaries.

The Hawaiian Tattoo, by P.F. Kwiatkow-ski, with illustrations by Tom O'o Mehau, explores the history of tattooing in Hawai'i and Polynesia. Techniques, designs and the relationship to spirits and states of fancy, grief and shame are described.

Even the Moloka'i victims, of what was once called leprosy, had their own tattoo designs. The one on this page, was designated as Ala Nui O Kamehameha and recorded in 1899 at Kalaupapa.

The book includes many archival photographs and drawings of tattooed Hawaiians and Tom Mehau's careful presentation of specific geometric designs from the Hawaiian school of tattoo. Mehau also presents his own illustrations of Hawaiians with tattoos. Many of them are styled after earlier works by documentarians who visited Hawai'i, including Jacques Arago, who visited Hawai'i 1819 and noted that Queen Ka'ahumanu's legs, the palm of her left hand and her tongue are very eleg-antly tatto-ed." He also noted that on O'ahu, men were tattooed with one side of their bodies completely black, as if burnt, and the other side without tattoo. These men were believed to be warriors.

Finger tattoos, wrist tattoos, palm, chest and leg tattoos are shown in detail through Mehau's meticulous drawings and the archival photos. The writing compares Hawaiian tattoos with those of Tahiti, Tonga and other South Pacific islands. Relationships to place in society and different tattoo designs are also discussed.