“Tattoo Tourism: Where Ink and Travel Meet” (Lonely Planet)

Here’s a great article – about two of my favorite things – that showed up on my Facebook News Feed!

Tattoo Tourism: Where Ink and Travel Meet

Eric R., Hiking Tour Guide, 34 Years (Hanapepe, Kauai)

I’m at a point in my life where I absolutely treasure quality people…and I know when I meet one instantaneously. Eric R. is one of my favorites…authentic, hard-working, cool, funny, sweet (in a manly way ;)), honest, and so much more. He knows exactly who he is and has created a life where he can express it wholeheartedly with passion. I do believe I was meant to meet him…besides the Universe, I have Google to thank! I was planning my latest trip to Kauai (last May) and was determined to find a “non-haole tourist” hike to go on. I Googled to see what was out there and, after bypassing all the hokey-sounding ones, I found Eric’s site (www.hikekauaiwithme.com). I emailed him with my request (a moderate hike with no Mid-Western tourists or whining kids!)…and he responded almost immediately. Within minutes I had two half-day hikes scheduled. It was clear he knew the island inside and out, so I put myself into his very capable hands only concerning myself with packing the right hiking gear.

It only took minutes to feel like I was hiking with a buddy (so much so that I almost forgot to pay him!). Of course, I eyed his tattoos immediately and coerced him into an interview. ­čśë I snapped most of the pictures on the top of Kahili Mountain, right after the rain stopped and the blustery winds blew away the white-out (I was wet and a tad chilled and the sun was now shining brightly, so it’s not my best work…life is not perfect, but it’s exciting!). I was so distracted by the consummate Kauai experience on top of the mountain (and in the lychee orchard at its base) that I completely forgot to interview him when we got back to the cars! In authentic male style, Eric emailed concise answers to all of my questions…

I am so thankful for Facebook, which has allowed me to keep a lifeline to my island through one of my newest friends. The best part…I was able to be a small part of his recent journey to the Phillipines where he became engaged to his finance! I’m so looking forward to my next hike this August…

WHAT IS THE FIRST WORD THAT COMES TO MIND WHEN I SAY TATTOO?

Expression

WHEN DID YOU GET YOUR FIRST TATTOO?

I was 22.

WHAT MADE YOU WANT TO GET A TATTOO?

The first one was mostly because I could.

WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST TATTOO?

A Los Angeles Dodgers hat on top of a globe (i.e, Dodgers are on top of the world!).

HOW DID YOU PICK THE DESIGN?

I discussed it with an artist and the brainchild was formed.

HOW DID YOU DECIDE WHERE YOU WERE GOING TO PUT IT?

To me, the arms are the best spot for a tattoo. I decided on my upper arm because it was most visible.

WHO DID IT?

Some dude in Portland, Oregon.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE HIM AND HOW DID YOU KNOW HE WAS THE RIGHT ONE?

I just went into a tattoo parlor that a friend recommended and used the artist that was available.

AND HOW DID YOU PICK THE DESIGN OF YOUR SECOND TATTOO?

It was my favorite band’s logo – the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

HOW DID YOU DECIDE WHERE YOU WERE GOING TO PUT THIS ONE?

I liked the idea of having one on my inner wrist.

WHO DID IT?

An artist in Ft. Worth, Texas. I used the first artist that became available at a shop that I found down the street from my house.

AND YOUR THIRD TATTOO…HOW DID YOU PICK THAT DESIGN?

My favorite number is 10 and I used it in a design to look like a ring. The same artist that did my Chili Peppers tattoo did this one.

HOW DID YOU PICK THE DESIGN & LOCATION OF YOUR FOURTH TATTOO?

I drew a design that was representative of my lifestyle – palm trees on an island at sunset that states “No bad days!” Again, upper arm is one of my choice spots…very visible to me and others.

WHO DID IT?

An artist in Portland, Oregon. I returned to the same shop that did my first tattoo, but I used a different artist this time (one that was available).

AND YOUR FIFTH TATTOO?

I wanted something that represented the beauty of Hawaii. The hibiscus is so Hawaii and I didn’t feel like it was too “girly” by doing it in black. ­čÖé

YOUR SIXTH TATTOO?

My buddy and I decided to think of two words that perfectly represented what was important to us in our lives…”Love & Leisure” (on a compass). I always wanted one on my forearm and this was the time.┬áThe same shop that did the previous two in Portland did this one.

OK, NOW FOR YOUR SEVENTH…

That’s the hiker on my arm. This is a silhouette of me doing what I do best. I had the artist use a picture of me.

AND, YOUR LAST (EIGHTH) TATTOO!

The island of Kauai on my chest…pretty self explanatory, my favorite place in the world over my heart. Kauai is very dear to me…

WHICH TATTOO IS MOST MEANINGFUL TO YOU?

The most meaningful is the picture of myself hiking because it’s an actual shot of me doing what I love most.

HAVE YOU EVER REGRETTED GETTING ANY OF YOUR TATTOOS?

Never. I always love what I finally choose after much thought.

DO YOU HAVE PLANS TO GET MORE?

If I get any more, it will most likely have to do with my fiance. She will love that! ­čÖé

“Tattoo History” by S. Gilbert (Part 2)

Okay, so some of you know me and some of you don’t. I hope the ones that do would categorize me as “open-minded”, but not “out there”. I’d like to assure the ones that don’t, that this is the case. Now, you can read on…

I got my tattoo last December. I will always remember the moment that I stood in front of my bathroom mirror and studied it for the first time…the strangest feeling immediately and completely overwhelmed me. It’s hard to put into words, but it was similar to that feeling you get when you come home after being away for awhile or when you are reconnected to someone who you have been separated from for far too long. It was a blend of familiarity, relief and happiness. I remember hearing inside my head “Finally!” and knowing to my core that my tattoo was supposed to be on my body. I was pretty taken aback…this was coming from somewhere deep in my subconscious. I instantly remembered what happened while recently reading James Michener’s book Hawaii…I had an intense connection to the Tahitian tribe (the ancestors of the native Hawaiians). When Michener wrote about┬áthe way they lived, their spirituality, and their belief system, I marveled at how it was exactly the way I think and I have absolutely no cultural connection with anything Polynesian. There were other things too…all my life, I’ve known that the way I feel when I hear tribal-style drumming is far from “normal”. It moves me…transports me to another place. I have to dance. And, the way I feel when I’m in Kauai has nothing to do with being a tourist…it’s like I belong in a place like this. (I remember having this exact same feeling on my honeymoon in Tahiti 20 years ago, but I shoved it down to a place I kept hidden until recently.) When I put all these things together – here’s where you have to remember that I’m not “out there”! – I began to wonder if my soul had been recycled at some point in time. Was it possible that it had previously resided on some remote Polynesian island? Well, if it did, it was having a damn good time dancing to those tribal drums next to the ocean! I had never even thought about reincarnation before (I was too busy being a suburban mom), but I do believe I’m going to be doing some investigating…

Now you know why Chapter 2 – “Polynesia” – in Tattoo History was of particular interest to me…

According to Wikipedia, Polynesia “is a subregion of Oceania,┬ácomprising a large grouping of over 1,000 islands┬áscattered over the central and southern Pacific Ocean.” It includes, but is not limited to, Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, Tahiti, the Marquesas, Easter Island, and Hawaii. The ancient Polynesians were far from savages…they were deeply spiritual, navigated unbelievable distances using the stars as their guide, and were sophisticated artists.

When I started reading, I was disappointed – but not surprised – to find out that very little is known about tattooing in Polynesia and what little is known is from the perspective of the Europeans, not the natives. I have never wanted one of my three wishes – to time travel backward (never forward) – to be granted so badly! It’s not a surprise that Steve Gilbert – and many others – proclaim Polynesian tattooing as “the most intricate and skillful tattooing in the ancient world.” Sophisticated geometric designs were started during young adulthood (younger than today’s young adults) and expanded throughout a lifetime until they covered a person’s entire body. Both men and women were tattooed, but for different reasons and with different designs.

Why were the Polynesians so advanced in the arts? The theory is that in addition to desire and ability, they had time. Lots and lots of it. Because life was easy for them living in “Paradise” – no struggles for food and geographical protection from predators, enemies and disease – they could devote themselves to art. According to SG, “Everything they made was decorated: canoes, bowls, war clubs and tools. Even their bodies were punctured with elaborate designs.” I can definitely relate…

How did they do it – and as well as today’s tattoo artists who benefit from technology? They started with a bone, which was chiseled into a “comb-like series of pointed teeth” and attached it to a wood handle. They mixed soot and water together to make black ink. Add a small mallet into the mix and they had all that they needed to create masterpieces. There are still Polynesian tattoo artists who will only tattoo using this ancient method.

Although some early European visitors were enlightened, most were missionaries who viewed tattooing as evil because it was an outward symbol of the Polynesians’ superstitious and savage religion. Later, European settlers viewed tattooing as a resistance to their ways so it was outlawed. Thank God for rebels! When James Cook returned to Europe, people saw members of his crew decorated with Polynesian tattoos and a fad was started. The first tattoo artists were former sailors who had observed the native artists, practiced it on the ships, and opened up shops when they got back home.

Since getting my tattoo, I wondered how such a beautiful – and widespread – ancient art became trivialized as rebellious and distasteful by mainstream society. Now, I get it…because it was a threat to Christianity and the “Western way”, which were perceived as superior to every other religion and culture. I also understand more of that feeling that washed over me when I first looked at my tattoo…in addition to being a possible connection to a recycled soul, I was appreciating that it was an outward sign that I don’t buy into this narrow-minded opinion. And, that I’m a bit of a rebel :)…

For those of you who are interested, here is a long excerpt from the book (p. 26-27)…it’s a first-hand account of Polynesians and tattooing written in 1813 by Georg H. von Langsdorff in Voyages and Travels in Various Parts of the World.

“The most remarkable and interesting manner which the South-sea islanders have of ornamenting their naked bodies consists in punctuation, or, as they call it, tattooing. This kind of decoration, so common among many nations of the earth, merits greater attention fron travelers than it has hitherto received. It is undoubtedly very striking, that nations perfectly remote from each other, who have no means of intercourse whatever, and according to what appears to us never could have had any, should yet be all agreed in this practice.

Among all the known nations of the earth, none has carried the art of tattooing to so high a degree of perfection as the inhabitants of Washington’s Islands [the Marquesas]. The regular designs with which the bodies of the men of Nukuhiva are punctured from heat to foot supplies in some sort the absence of clothing; for, under so warm a heaven, clothing would be insupportable to them. Many people here seek as much to obtain distinction by the symmetry and regularity with which they are tattooed, as among us by the elegant manner in which they are dressed; and although no real elevation is designated by the greater superiority of these decorations, yet as only persons of rank can afford to be at the expense attendant upon any refinement in the ornament, it does become in fact a badge of distinction.

The operation of tattooing is performed by certain persons, who gain their livelihood from it entirely, and I presume that those who perform it with the greatest dexterity, and evince the greatest degree of taste in the disposition of the ornaments, are as much south after as among us a particularly good tailor. This much, however, must be said, that the choice made is not a matter of equal indifference with them as it is with us; for if the punctured garment be spoiled in the making, the mischief is irreparable, and it must be worn with all its faults the whole life through.”

The rest of the excerpt is a fascinating account of the tattooing of the chief’s son and details of the local tattoo designs. This is a GREAT book…click on the link on the right to buy it (although I wish I got royalties, I do not!).