Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Quality of Life Improvement 19: An authentic kākau by kahuna ka uhi Keone Nunes

Advertiser Staff Writer

Tap-tap, tap-tap-tap. With each rhythmic echo of the wood, the thin, jagged comb-like edge of a boar's tusk dipped in ink pierces the skin of Daniel Reed's leg. Blood rises through the ink. But Reed, a 25-year-old former University of Hawai'i football player who has been researching his family genealogy, never winces. He lies on the lauhala mat in a small room in Nānākuli. Only now, after extensive conversations with Keone Nunes, is Reed physically and emotionally prepared for the 10-hour process.

Every tap of the mōlī (traditional tattooing needle) is permanent. "If you're not careful, it's easy for make a mistake on this design," said Nunes, the only traditional kākau (tattoo) artist in Hawaiʻi. What would he do? He laughed. "You don't make a mistake."

Modern tattoos are applied with electric machines. But Nunes employs traditional techniques on a few select people each year. The imprint is so deep that skeletons of ancient Hawaiians have been found with tattoo marks on bone. These days, many people with Polynesian ancestry have begun to value tattooing more as they see it play a role in reviving cultural pride. Now that rebirth has attracted a documentary film crew to the Pacific. In the story the production will tell, Nunes plays a key role.

"To pick up the traditional tools and know what to do with them is a great honor," said Nunes, who during the week works for the state Department of Health. Those who receive the tattoos feel the same way.

"With every tap of the hahau (rounded tapa beater or mallet used in traditional tattoo application), with every burning sensation that goes down, you're learning this lesson about perpetual growth," said Kyle Nakanelua, a Maui resident who was the first person Nunes tattooed in the traditional style. And the pain? "You just suck it up," he said. "Keone won't do you if you have anything (to relieve the pain). Through the pain you grow."

Nunes and Nakanelua are featured in the video production by Pacific Islanders in Communications and KPBS public television and radio in San Diego. "Skin Stories" explores the cultural significance and social implications of tattooing in Hawaiʻi, New Zealand, Samoa, San Diego and Los Angeles. Carlyn Tani, executive director of PIC, said they hope the one-hour documentary will air on PBS in early 2002. But as co-producer and veteran filmmaker Emiko Omori said, the experience of making "Skin Stories" was so rich and varied, where it airs will not change the lasting effect it had on those involved.

For Omori, the alteration was also physical. On a brief stop in Honolulu on her way home to San Francisco, she dropped by the PIC headquarters dressed in a tie-dyed T-shirt, Hawaiian print shorts and slippers, with her long white hair contained behind two large barrettes. On her right wrist she wore a colorful—and lasting—souvenir from her travels.

"I was thinking of something on my wrist," she said, laughing, "about half this size." Then she met Gordon Hatfield, a moko ("tattoo" in Maori) artist in New Zealand and one of the people interviewed for "Skin Stories." One day after shooting, she recalled, Hatfield said, "'Well, we've got some time here. Put your arm down.' He started drawing. It got kind of big. Then he turned my hand over and it got bigger." She revealed a hammerhead shark on one side, artfully blended into a manta ray on the other. "I love it. He chose it for me."

Omori explained that her interest in tattooing dates back to the 1970s, when she received her first design. She stood, turned around and pulled her clothing aside. Her back and buttocks revealed a Japanese myth of a pearl-diver who went to the bottom of the ocean, into the kingdom of the sea dragon, to recover a pearl. The woman obtains it by committing hara kiri and placing the pearl in her open belly, then floating the surface. When asked how long the tattoo took to complete, Omori said, "We worked on it several years, off and on."

Self-described as "late middle age," Omori served as co-producer and director on this project, and has worked as a camera shooter in the past. Her most recent effort was "Rabbit in the Moon," a documentary about her family's experience in the internment camps during World War II. It has aired repeatedly on Hawai'i Public Television.

"Skin Stories" is an executive production. This means PIC chose the topic, then assigned producers to the project. Several years ago, PIC put together a list of potential story ideas. "This consistently rose to the top as something that would have national interest," Tani said. "And it was something the rest of the country probably has no idea about, and would be extremely interested in given the huge popularity of tattoos today." Omori seemed the obvious choice to co-produce. "She has a personal connection to tattoo," added Tani, "and as a filmmaker she's unique in her interest and ability to mentor other people."

Providing opportunities for emerging Pacific Island filmmakers is one of PIC's goals. The other, said Tani, is to "bring greater awareness to a national audience about who we are as a people and what we are facing as cultures. What's happening right now is a great tension between preserving cultural traditions and allowing in change that will keep the culture alive. How do you navigate between those two in a way that allows you to move forward as a people without losing where you are coming from?"

Tattooing, in this case, Omori said, is the "hook." But once you entice viewers, they "will learn things they were not expecting to learn."

What they will discover is that the art of tattoo is far from an accessory worn by certain subcultures. There is history. Reverence. Identity. Cultural preservation.

Co-producer and editor Lisa Altieri said she was most impressed with "the designs and the spirituality involved with the process." In Hawaiʻi, "we were seeing something reborn that that almost disappeared," Altieri said in a phone interview from the temporary edit bay in San Francisco. "That was really strong."

Altieri, who lives in Honolulu and is part Hawaiian, said their limited research prevented them from making general conclusions about the significance tattoos have for Pacific Islanders. But the messages from those interviewed were clear. "With the Maori people that we talked to, the strongest impression I got was that it's about identity," she said. "They're making a statement about being proud to be Maori; they're no longer going to allow their culture to be repressed. It also has very personal significance to each person in terms of their heritage and their genealogy.

Traditional tattoo artist Keone Nunes taps away on the leg of Daniel Reed of Waimānalo.

"With the Samoans," she said, "It's not so much a reclamation. It's always been a part of their culture; it never died out.

"In Hawaiʻi … it was more a personal expression of reclaiming the Hawaiian culture for themselves," Altieri continued. In fact, a few people they interviewed were covering up modern designs with traditional patterns. "It may not be that they're turning away from western culture, but now they're including Hawaiian culture."

In the documentary, Nunes remembered that about four years ago Nakanelua "had a design, and he wanted me to put it on, and I said, 'Why?' And he said, 'What you mean, Why?'" What Nunes meant was, "What is the purpose of this? Why is it so important for you at this time?"

Nakanelua said, "He told me that I should do my family research and learn the language. I did that and went back to (Nunes) and he said, 'OK, now you're on the right track.' Two or three years later, I was finally ready in his eyes."

Nakanelua's alaniho (Hawaiian motif that starts at the ankle and rises up the leg) is ʻamaʻu, or fern, what he calls a "very old, traditional pattern." This, he said in a phone interview from the Kahului airport fire station on Maui, where he is a fire captain, is "definitely a Hawaiian tattoo."

Initially, Nakanelua's desire for a tattoo "was pure ego." He said, "That's the way everything starts. Generally something on the arm and on the chest. But with the Hawaiian mindset, you go to the leg, which is your foundation. So maybe you like flex your arm, but you gotta stand up first. That's Keone's manaʻo: foundation.

"You have to earn the right to wear that particular symbol, because the people that wore it before us had a certain standard and had a kuleana and that's why they were given the mark," Nakanelua continued. "And that's what you become consciously aware of. Now there's an obligation and standards, so your behavior has to change. And that's when it becomes spiritual.

"The spirit within the design is now moving you—if you consciously accept it. If not, then it's merely a flash patch." If it's just decoration, he said, "then it really does nothing for you, and you do nothing for it."

When asked if he would tattoo someone who requested a certain design just because he liked it, Nunes replied unequivocally: "No." The western belief is that you pick the design. But in Polynesian culture, he explained, "the person getting tattooed often times doesn't have much say.

"You must trust the person (giving you the tattoo) to know the culture and give you something appropriate." Indeed, Nunes wears Maori designs he did not choose. Before he bestows a tattoo, he confers privately and uniquely with the individual.

Nakanelua, 42, said that if "Skin Stories" airs to a national audience, he hopes "those that don't have the marks yet will take a more serious look before they put it on." With non-Hawaiians, he "hopes they would look at the traditional designs and not just take" someone's family markings. Everyone, he believes, should stop and think, and ask, "Does my wearing this serve the best interest for all concerned?"

During a break from tattooing Reed, Nunes commented on the people who wear his art: "This is just one step that hopefully will accelerate their quest for understanding. I expect them to continue whatever journey they're on in a positive way. To me, it's a very important part of the culture. And it shouldn't be taken lightly."

Before shooting, Omori admitted there were "aspects of tattooing I think many people—myself included—wrote off. I didn't give them the weight." Now she sees that a tattoo enables "you to become a representative of your people."
(article source:

Keone Nunes practices the art of kākau in Nānākuli. No physical business address is provided, but "If a traditional Hawaiian tattoo is right for you, you’ll know where to find him." He can be reached via e-mail.

Monday, 3 May 2010

Quality of Life Improvement 18: The new Hawaiian Airlines long-range fleet

Hawaiian Airlines' first Airbus A330-200 long-range airliner arrived in Honolulu today, and because of Hawaiʻi's dependence on air-travel, we consider this event to be quite important, despite the scant regard the subject receives from the general public and the media.

The wide-body, 294-seat A330 touched down at Honolulu International Airport at 10:49 a.m. after a 7,963 mile delivery flight from the Airbus factory at Toulouse-Blagnac Airport in France via Seattle–Tacoma International Airport.

The Airbus, christened Makaliʻi—the Hawaiian name for the constellation Pleiades, one of the star clusters most important to ancient Polynesian navigators—was welcomed to its new home by hula, lei and a gathering of Hawaiian Airlines employees.

Among the employees assembled on the tarmac was Mark Dunkerley, Hawaiian's president and CEO who said, "What a special moment for all of us at Hawaiian, to see more than three years' planning and coordination come to fruition. This first A330 heralds a new era for Hawaiian, one of growth and new services for our customers." 

The new services of which Mr. Dunkerly speaks include touch-screen entertainment monitors in each seat in all classes which will feature audio- and video-on-demand. As for growth, our informants tell us that routes to the East Coast and Midwest of the United States are currently being considered together with flights to Asia—Seoul and Beijing, in specific, in addition to Hawaiian's already-announced intention to serve Tokyo's Haneda Airport (東京国際空港). We also occasionally hear fantastical stories of Hawaiian Airlines routes to Europe and, as proud as it would make us to see Pualani at Heathrow or Frankfurt or Roissy, we consider it the remotest of possibilities.

We do have concerns, however, about the announced 294 passenger capacity of Hawaiian's A330-200s. A seat map hasn't been released publicly, but such a seating arrangement will make Hawaiian's A330s among the most densely configured in the industry. In comparison, the A330-200s of Air France seat 219 passengers; those of Delta Air Lines, 243; while those of German low-cost carrier, Air Berlin, seat 295 in pinched circumstances. JetStar Airways, the rough and ready younger sibling of Australia's Qantas Airways, manages to shoehorn 303 seats into their A330s. We expect the Hawaiian Airlines Airbuses to have a configuration similar to that of the JetStar aircraft, and we'll reserve judgement until we have concrete information, but if you would like to experience JetStar right now, remember that the airline offers up to five flights weekly from Honolulu to Sydney.

An additional three A330s that are expected to join the Hawaiian Airlines fleet this year, and the airline has signed a purchase agreement with Airbus to acquire seven more A330s from 2011 and six A350XWB-800 (Extra Wide-Body) aircraft starting in 2017, as well as purchase rights for an additional five A330s and six A350s.

Hawaiian's new A330, Makaliʻi, is scheduled to enter commercial service on Friday, June 4, as Flight HA2, departing Honolulu at 1:15 p.m. for Los Angeles. 

Sunday, 2 May 2010

Quality of Life Improvement 17: "Forever Young"

In the 1980s, "Forever Young" never appealed to us much. It was the music that our older relations liked, it was sappy and it was performed by musicians with hair that looked like proof of mental illness to us. By the 1990s, the song was long gone from our memory.

In 2006, an almost unspeakable tragedy occurred in Arctic Norway: our iPod literally froze to death in temperatures that sunk below -20°F and gave up its ghost.

On the long journey back to the Western Hemisphere we were given no choice but to listen to SAS' audio program Pure Vinyl, with ridiculous headphones (we still took them), and that's when we heard "Forever Young" consciously for the first time in 20 years.

Maybe it's aged well since 1984, when Alphaville first recorded it. Or maybe we've aged well, and from our perspective the lyrics actually make some sense, and the hair and haze of Westdeutschen Kitsch in the music video are to us sentimental and comforting now.

Laura Branigan also recorded "Forever Young" in 1985. The album for which it was recorded, "Hold Me," was a commercial failure at the time, but it was in the mid-1980s that Laura Branigan began her tradition of ending every one of her live shows with an encore of "Forever Young."

Interestingly, "Hold Me" has been out of print for many years, despite the fact that it is now considered to be one of the best albums from one of the most underrated stars of the 1980s. The album's cover artwork is unsettling, which only adds to the charm, and we have been led to believe that copies of "Hold Me" regularly sell for hundreds of dollars on eBay.

Laura Branigan will truly be forever young, to us and to everyone—she died unexpectedly of a cerebral aneurysm at her home on Long Island, New York, in 2004.

Saturday, 1 May 2010

Quality of Life Improvement 16: The Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection

We've always had a predilection for maps—actually, anything to do with our physical existence on this planet. We spent most of our youth lost in a world of airline timetables, route maps, bethymetric charts, architectural design drawings, anatomical drawings and speculative evolutionary diagrams of Hominidae phylogeny based on the interpretation of skeletal remains and the fossil record.

Though it should go without saying, we were hopelessly uncool adolescents.

Our parents encouraged us to broaden our interests and to be like our older siblings, to do the normal things as they did, like surf or play football or have unsafe sex while experimenting with drugs. We answered that we'd be happy to go on a hike to gather wildflowers for use in fragrant potpourris. We'd would have been happy to bake hjertevafler for our Mormon cousins/distant neighbors/father's secretaries. We'd even whip the crème fraîche and carefully gather the fruit to make the preserves that could be enjoyed with the waffles ourselves. If that isn't enough, we could draw a stylish label for the Mason jar of preserves—no, we could design some stylish packaging for every element of a thoughtful gift-basket which you could then give to …

Though we were committed to our awkwardness, there were meagre consolations to our parents in these our "special" talents. By "special," they meant the talents of future homosexualists. If they needed any more evidence, it came in the form of our Christmas wish-list, which every year contained a plea for a subscription to Martha Stewart Living and a Nilfisk or Dyson vacuum.

Our families warmed to our advice about design, laundry and baking, not to mention that we often came in handy by knowing all the lyrics to every song by ABBA, and eventually, even our geography skills gained purchase within our family.

On a family road-trip in Italy that is forever seared in our memory, our father insisted on driving our rented Fiat up a steep, narrow one-way street in the medieval hill town of Montepulciano—the wrong way, against the correct flow of traffic. Then, as cars approached in the intended direction of travel, our father turned off the one-way street, around the next corner, hoping that this time he had found an appropriate thoroughfare. Unfortunately, the thoroughfare was an ancient, wide marble stairway leading precipitously down and out of the inner city. Unsurprisingly, we were reading a volume on Renaissance architecture which contained a selection of maps of Montepulciano. Both the day and the Fiat were saved.

The Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection is an unusually diverse treasury of maps, arranged geographically and thematically, at The University of Texas at Austin, and access to the collection is remotely available through a website maintained by the University of Texas. We here at The Hawaiian Sybarite are embarrassed to admit how many hours we've spent devouring the Perry-Castañeda collection but like a true addict, we don't want to be alone in our addiction; We would like to turn you on to our cartographic habit.