The world just has been blessed with two important tattoo documentaries, both coming from the Pacific. First is Jean-Philippe Joaquim’s (2014) Tatau – La Culture d’un Art (52 minutes), focusing on the history, meaning, and survival of tattoo in Tahiti and the Marquesas Islands. Through memorable interviews with elders, contemporary tattoo artists, and scholars, J-P documents the origins of Polynesian tattoo, it’s subsequent banishment by invading missionary forces, and the long and difficult road leading to the tattoo revival of the 1980s. “What I aimed to expose in Tatau is the history of the conquest of a name and a function in a society over time. Today, tattoo bearers carry something sacred on their bodies that is part of themselves, because it expresses their love of their culture and it will never die. And even if they no longer live in Polynesia, they are always bound to their homeland through tatau.”
Keone Nunes: Ancestral Ink (27 minutes) is a production of Hawai’i’s ‘Oiwi TV, a social enterprise that aims to create meaningful impact for Native Hawaiians and Hawai’i by reestablishing the Hawaiian worldview in daily life through media. As part of its Na Loea: The Masters series, Ancestral Ink is the story of traditional Hawaiian Kakau (tattoo) artist, Keone Nunes, and the journey of cultural re-discovery inherent in kakau uhi (tattooing).
As in Tahiti and the Marquesas, traditional tattooing in Hawai’i was a traditional practice that was nearly lost, but Keone’s perseverance to learn, practice and teach this craft has been a critical determiner of its survival and resurgence in the Hawaiian community today.
I have had the privilege of knowing Keone for a decade. I should note here that many people are not aware of Nunes’ work to help revitalize Indigenous tattooing traditions in California, something he has been doing for nearly 15 years. To read more about this story, pick-up a copy of the book Tattoo Traditions of Native North America: Ancient and Contemporary Expressions of Identity (2014) for more details.