Che Ka'eo Pilago
Che Kā'eo Pilago may be first and foremost a highly respected and gifted tattoo artist, but he is also an athlete, as well as deeply involved in Polynesian cultural practices. “I want to perpetuate the culture,” he says.
His athleticism isn’t surprising – he traces his ancestry to Kekuhaupi'o, the lua (Hawaiian martial arts) master who was a close advisor to Kamehameha I as well as his teacher in the skills of combat.
Che's genealogy takes pride of place at his shop
“ Kuʻialua is my family’s style of fighting,” Che says, though he also practices Submission Fighting (Jiu Jitsu) and won the World Master Championship in Nov 2020.
He was spent years as a competitive swimmer and surfer. (He was the 2009 Hawaii State Champion Longboard Master)
But when he chose a career, his love of Hawaiian and Polynesian culture won out.
He was born into a family of cultural practitioners – his father is a long-time champion of Hawaiian cultural practice, is deeply involved with the Hokule’a Polynesian Voyaging Society, and is a skilled navigator, carver, cordage master, and tattoo artist.
Che wanted to contribute to Hawaii in similar ways.
One of these efforts was building a canoe in the ancient way, using adze to shave the wood, and creating the sail from lauhala. “We sailed it to Oahu,” he says. “It was the first time that had been done in 200 years.”
Another way of perpetuating the culture, of course, is through tattooing. Che learned tattooing by watching his father and working with him from a very young age, and started inking – without his father’s knowledge – at 12. In 2014, he opened Ka’eo Hawaii, his tattoo shop, in Kona.
His style typically combines components of all his Polynesian ancestors – he is Hawaiian, Samoan, Marquesan, and Spanish-Filipino.
Che and his friend Darius supported Che’s cousin Po’oino in inking the Polynesian tattoo of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. “I helped with some of the art, supported him, and drank a lot of alcohol,” Che laughs.
Che created the tattoo art for the Nakoa bifold wallet Tiki.
Get in touch with Che by calling him at at (808) 443-1452 to make an appointment at his tattoo shop Ka’eo Hawaii