Hawai‘i Island Inks Up for Tattoo Festival

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Hawai‘i Island will celebrate the art of ink coming this October.

The first Traditional Tattoo Festival, sponsored by the Kohala Institute, will be held in the Kohala District Oct. 25 through Oct. 28, 2019.

The four-day event features demonstrations by master indigenous tattoo artists from Pacific and Arctic cultures, a free opening evening of celebration and a free, all-day cultural fair with traditional arts demonstrations, according to a Kohala Institute press release. There will also be offerings of music and food alongside an admission-free tattoo documentaries film festival. The event will offer a ticketed two-day conference designed for traditional tattoo enthusiasts and practitioners alike.

Grants from the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority Community Enrichment Program and Hawai’i Council for the Humanities helped to make the event a reality. The Kohala Institute has billed the Traditional Tattoo Festival as a celebration of indigenous arts, vision and cultural resilience. The festival, with its diverse panel of international master artists, highlights ancient arts traditions shared by indigenous communities worldwide, the release continued.

Master practitioners and master artists participating include Keone Nunes of Hawai‘i, Lane Wilcken of the Philippines, Holly Nordlum of Alaska, Cudjuy Patridjes of Taiwan and Sarah Whalen Lunn of Alaska. Lars Krutak, tattoo anthropologist who hosted the Tattoo Hunter documentary series on the Discovery Channel, will share his experience of traveling the world to research and experience varied art forms of body modification.


Nunes, who is from Wai`anae, O`ahu, has been pivotal in reintroducing the art of the traditional Hawaiian tattoo, called kakau or tatau, the release stated. His approach to this traditional practice is that of the sacred—one of spirit and transformation, the release continued.

“Kakau gives mana (spiritual power) to a person,” Nunes said. “The tools (I use) are conduits and the experience is connected to the ancestors. This gathering is extension of spirit. All who join us will be able to receive mana and transform.”

The Traditional Tattoo Festival begins with an opening celebration at 6 p.m. Friday, Oct. 25, at the Blue Dragon Tavern & Cosmic Musiquarium across from Kawaihae Harbor. Guests will enjoy live music and local food with the opportunity to meet the festival’s invited master tattoo artists.

On Saturday, a free local fair from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Kohala Village HUB in Hawi will feature traditional tattoo demonstrations, arts workshops, food trucks, dancing with live music and a film festival of tattoo documentaries from throughout the world. Designed for the entire ‘ohana, this fair will also showcase kapa, lauhala and wood carving demonstrations, the release said.


A two-day Traditional Tattoo Festival symposium will be held Sunday and Monday at the GRACE Center, Kohala Institute, Kapa‘au. Master practitioners will lead live demos and share techniques, as well as their mana‘o during talks that will include time for questions and discussion. The symposium will also offer storytelling, fireside ‘awa ritual and locally-sourced meals.

Cost of the full conference package before Sept. 15, including opening night ceremony, meals, a tote and temporary tattoos along with two days conference entrance, is $275. The package will run for $375 thereafter. Overnight accommodations are additional and available on site at the GRACE Center, as well as through nearby locales including the Kohala Village Inn, Hawi.

A conference day rate is also available—$30 per day or $50 for both days, not including meals, symposium registration, tote and overnight accommodation.

The Traditional Tattoo Festival is a long-held vision and dream of Joël Tan, event organizer and manager of the GRACE Center at Kohala Institute.


“The festival focuses on inclusivity,” Tan said. “We hope to dissolve colonial divisions and reaffirm interrelatedness between indigenous peoples. Given generations of oppression and cultural suppression across indigenous cultures, we now have a significant need to preserve and share traditional and ancient knowledge.”

Nunes agreed.

“This is history,” Nunes said. “We now live during a time when Hawaiian people and those of indigenous cultures will experience a renaissance of culture and life, the emergence of even greater spirit. The time has arrived for every person to flow within the currents of wisdom and spirit.”

For registration and a detailed schedule of events, visit www.TraditionalTattooFestivalHI.com or call (808) 889-5151.

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