Meet the Artists Behind the Art
The tattoo art on NĀ KOA leather gear is created exclusively for us by tattoo artists who are deeply immersed in the ancient art and symbolism of Polynesian tribal tattoos. (Read here why "tribal" is the wrong term, and why we use it nevertheless)
The artists come from all corners of the Pacific Islands - Aotearoa (New Zealand), Hawaii, Samoa and Tahiti, and draw on their own traditions as well as personal artistic style in their art.
Every one of them is a practicing tattoo artist, and tattooing clients is their main livelihood. They are extremely good at what they are doing, and we are so glad to have them part of the NĀ KOA ohana. Everything created is designed, packaged and shipped straight from Hawaii.
Sulu'ape Akiu "Q" Sale
Sulu'ape Akiu "Q" Sale is known everywhere as Q (that's how his first name sounds when you drop the A)
He is both a true artist as well as an entrepreneur at heart. He's also a perfectionist, who even makes his own tattoo machines because nothing else will do.
Born in Hawaii, Q grew up in American Samoa in a family of artists on his father's side. On his mother's side, he is related to the Sulu'ape family (Sua Sulu'ape Alaiva'a Petelo calls him his nephew, and Q considers "the old man" his biggest artistic influence). More
Braddah Wills Kaai
Wills has three major passions - his family, tattooing, and being a waterman on the North Shore of Oahu where he grew up.
Born and raised on the North Shore of Oahu, Wills draws on his native Hawaiian heritage and culture to create contemporary Polynesian style tattoos for his clients.
He sees his tattooing as an opportunity to learn more about his culture and his culture’s beliefs, and to help perpetuate the culture. Wills gets special pleasure out of explaining the components of the tattoo to his clients, so they can understand their tattoo and its meanings well. More
Che Kā'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 Kekuhaupio, the lua master (Hawaiian martial arts) who was guard and advisor to Kamehameha I as well as his teacher in the skills of combat. More
Eugene is one of the most popular Polynesian tattoo artists in Las Vegas, but he grew up in American Samoa, and learned tattooing on Maui.
His art is most influenced by the traditional Samoan motifs, but he also incorporates other Polynesian motifs. The result is a fiercely beautiful pan-Polynesian style with a distinct Samoan flavor. More
When Hano is not tattooing, he plays with big knives, in pursuit of his other big passion, fire dancing.
Hano Fernandez' clients describe him as a happy man, always ready with a joke and a smile. He grew up on Maui, and has Tahitian, Hawaiian, and Cherokee ancestry among others. Hano apprenticed with Samson Harp at Pacific Rootz Tattoo and still works there. More
Katerina Mauri Moko
Kathy is a Maori ta moko (tattoo) artist from Rotorua. Her ancestral village in Rotorua is still an active Maori village, with one of the richest concentrations of Maori culture in all of New Zealand.
From ages 8 till 29, she expressed her heritage by performing kapa haka (A kapa haka performance involves singing, rhythmic dance and the ferocious looking haka movements.) More
Now an award winning tattoo artist, Kauika was on a dangerous path before he found his calling as a Hawaiian tattoo artist at the age of 15. “I started hanging out with the wrong crowd,” he says.
At 15, he learned tattooing with prison-style homemade equipment, from the older brother of a friend. Word about his artistry got out, and he quickly found himself tattooing friends. More
Marlo Lualemana's start as a tattoo artist was unorthodox. She drew a custom tattoo design for her Samoan husband who More
In addition to tattooing, Megan is also an active practitioner of Hawaiian culture, including carving. "I am madly in love with tattooing," she says, and tattooing has taken her to conventions in Aotearoa (New Zealand), Europe and of course the U.S. mainland.
Born and raised in Maui, Megan Jones now works on Oahu. She learned her craft from Samson Harp, working at Samson's Pacific Rootz Tattoo. She also counts Tricia Allen as an important mentor and influence in her life. More
Samson Harp got his first tattoo at the age of 9. At 12, he built his own tattoo machines from scrap pieces and started tattooing his friends.
Today, Samson is the highly respected owner of Pacific Rootz Tatoo in Maui. As a kanaka maoli (of Hawaiian lineage), his allegiance is to the cultural significance of Hawaiian and modern Polynesian tattoo art evolved naturally.
In addition to machine work, he is one of only a handful of artists around the world who use the traditional kakau
Sulu'ape Pili Mo'o
Mo'o, as he's known to his friends, is one of a very small group of artists who have been apprenticed by the world famous Samoan Tatau Master Sua Sulu'ape Paulo II known as "The master of the Masters".
Sua Sulu'ape Paulo II bestowed on Mo'o the responsibility to continue the international awareness of Samoan tatau that the Master had opened. It became Mo'o's duty to accept the invitations of tattoo conventions as much as he could More
Sulu'ape Si'i Liufau
Si'i is the founder and owner of A-Town Tattoo in Garden Grove, CA. Meeting Su’a Sulu’ape Alaiva’a Petelo, the head of one of the two legendary families of tatau masters, changed Si'i's life.
His service to - and learning from - Sua Alaiva'a for seven years culminated in receiving the title of Sulu'ape, which Si'i calls the "pinnacle moment" More
Teva Lowy is well versed in Hawaiian tattoo styles if a client requests it, but his natural style is a mixture of Tahitian and Marquesan.
Teva was born in Hawaii from Tahitian and Seychelles parents, but his art is firmly rooted in Tahiti. He learned tattooing from his friend Teni (aka “Gringo”), one of the most well-known Tahitian tattoo artists, along with his Marquesan cousins. More
Tricia Allen wrote the book on Polynesian Tattooing. Literally. She's a prolific tattoo artist, but also the author of two of the most important books about Polynesians and Hawaiian tattoo. Indeed, she is one of only a handful of people who have directly contributed to the revival of traditional tattooing throughout the Pacific Islands.
She is a blond haole woman who has tattooed over 800 members of the Polynesian community (and over 11000 people in total). More
Xavier St. Amand
Born in Guadeloupe, Xavier St. Amand studied Tahitian and Marquesas tattoo art under the internationally renowned Tahitian tattoo artist More