Issue 13.3: June/July 2010

Kakau of the Sea

Story by Sheila Sarhangi

Photo by Dana Edmunds


It can take years before Keone Nunes will agree to kakau (tattoo) a person. “The purpose is not to decorate the body but to embed the individual with mana, or spirit,” he says. “Oftentimes I’m the one who makes the final choice of what goes on the body.” Nunes tattoos in the ancient Polynesian way, “tapping” ink onto the skin using hand tools. It’s quite special then, that he agreed to design rashguards for C4 Waterman, the company cofounded by stand up paddling pioneers Todd Bradley and Brian Keaulana. Nunes’ Polynesian designs carry meaning. Triangles may represent rites of passage. Black squares—pikopiko he‘e or octopus tentacles—suggest the ability to retain knowledge. Traditionally kakau would be given for specific reasons, like protection or to honor the ancestors, but you won’t be breaking kapu to wear one of these: Nunes has tweaked the designs so that they’re noa, free from restrictions. Since they were introduced last fall, both the men’s and women’s styles have become almost too popular. “They’re hand-cut, so we don’t make a thousand at a time,” says Bradley. “It’s been a challenge keeping up with demand.”