Roland Pacheco – Tattoo art from Hawaii

Few years back when I got my first tattoo, I started researching online for Polynesian tattoo meaning and I found a very interesting blog – Living in Lava Land . In the posts I found a lot of interesting facts for the Polynesian tattoo meanings and saw very interesting and nice tattoos in a variety of styles – Polynesian, Japanese, Black and Grey and a lot more done by the person behind the blog – Roland Pacheco. He is the owner of Xisle (exile) Custom Tattoo on the Big Island of Hawaii. His blog’s newsletter is one of the few I have ever subscribed for and it is always a pleasure to read about new stuff that Roland does.

After I came in Sweden, I started watching SpikeTV’s Ink Master and it was a pleasure to see Roland participating the show. It was very nice feeling to see someone you have been following for a long time appearing on TV and  I told myself why not write Roland and see if he is willing to do an interview for TattooVerse. Knowing  it is a long shot and I was so happy when he replied and said that he will do it.

There were a lot of questions I wanted to ask and in the next lines you will see the interesting answers from Roland on the ones I told will be interesting. It was a pleasure reading it several times and I guess that you will find it very interesting as well.


Who is Roland Pacheco – can you please introduce yourself.

I am a 6th generation Polynesian, living on the Big Island of Hawaii where I was born and raised. I have also lived for a while in California where I completed my education. I am very passionate about what I do. I live and breathe tattoo! I am also an author and have written two books on Polynesian tattoo and one work of fiction, set here in Hawaii.

I was asked to participate on SpikeTV’s Inkmaster reality show, season 4. It was a great experience and I made some life long friends. That being said, the show does not really represent reality nor does it promote the work of the artist. It has done wonderful things for my career though!


I know that beside tattoos you sing, draw and write. Would you like to share a bit more about these passions of yours?

When I lived in California, during my 20’s, I had dreams of being a rock star, lol. It was back in the 90’s and grunge was new on the scene so we fell into that category. Back then there wasn’t the immediate connectivity to content as there is now. We had to work hard to promote ourselves. We toured and put out several CD’s in the hopes of landing a recording contract. We played with Sublime, Agent Orange, The Swinging Udders to name a few. When we were finally offered a contract I realized that we were going to get screwed; all that hard work only to have it all taken away and then we would have to pay back a huge amount of money to the record company. We naively thought that they would just give us the money but that was not the case. In the end we broke up the band because of internal conflicts. It was a great time in my life but I honestly can’t fathom the thought of playing music again, it took too much from me.

Drawing and writing are two things that have always went hand in hand for me. I used to create my own comic books when I was a child. In order to become proficient in either subject, one needs to practice constantly. So, now I am at the stage where I can write and draw effortlessly, but it has taken the greater part of my life to get here.

If I am not mistaken, the word tattoo is coming from Samoan word “tatau”. Tattoos are huge part of Polynesian culture and they are a way to represent the person and his life and spirit. I know that you wrote some books on the Polynesian styles of tattooing so if you don’t mind, would you tell us a bit what tattoos mean for people that lives in this part of the world and furthermore for you. 

First, it is important to understand that the word ‘tatau’ is a Polynesian word, not a Samoan word. Samoa is part of Polynesia just as is Hawaii, Tahiti, New Zealand and Marquesas and the Polynesian language is similar throughout all of these regions.

The practice of tattoo throughout these areas were done for different reasons and some areas had more advanced tattoo and others had less. Some Polynesian cultures used tattoo as a way to create “difference”, in other words to distinguish ones self from someone else in the terms of social standing. Social hierarchy was a very important part of ancient life. It signified who had greater ‘power’ and who had ‘lesser’ power.

In some cases, such as with the Maori, tattoo was used to bewilder and intimidate. One could say that familial history and personal history/accomplishments were behind all Polynesian tattoo, to a greater or lesser degree. It was also used as a representation of the gods (the color of the ink is black, the gods resided in the “Po” or the world of darkness. We live in the world of light, or the “Ao”) in the world of the living. It is quite complex and the complete answer would take too much time, lol.

Now in modern times, people in Polynesia view tattoo as both aesthetic ventures as well as to adorn their bodies with the story of their ancestors. So not much has changed!

I believe that we need to remember where all of this comes from, all of the different Polynesian cultures created their own unique styles of tattoo, and as we move forward into the future it is our responsibility to protect the old knowledge so that it is not forgotten.


How did you get involved in tattoos world?

I have always had a thing for tattoos. I used to draw them on my friends when I was a child and my father had many tattoos. I have also had a very long career in art. I have worked as an illustrator, commercial artist, fine artist and animator. Art is something that is a part of my being, it is part of my soul.

Many people used to ask me why I wasn’t a tattoo artist. I guess back then I never thought about becoming one because it just seemed so unrealistic. Then one day, I was talking with a friend and he asked me why I wasn’t a tattoo artist. It was as if the gods of tattoo slapped my head at that moment, lol.

I realized that everything in my life had been leading me to this point but I was oblivious to it, until that moment. I looked at him and said, “Yeah? Why the hell am I not a tattoo artist?” And so it began.


Roland Pacheco


When did you started doing tattoos and for how long are you been doing it?

I have been tattooing for 10 years. I started back in 2005.


I know that usually beginning artists are becoming apprentices. How did this worked for you?

I am self taught. Everything from playing music, to using computer layout and animation programs, I have taught myself. I am just that way, I guess. I learn faster if I have to figure it out for myself. Luckily, I picked up tattooing quite quickly.

That being said, I had a lot to learn and I still do. I don’t ever want to think that I know everything; once that happens I will stop tattooing.


Polynesian tattoos are your specialty. What else do you like and enjoy doing? Inspiration? What inspires you?

I enjoy many forms of tattoo. Japanese, black and grey, realism, abstract, impressionism, trash polka, bio mechanical. I love to do them all.

That being said, I do not enjoy Celtic because it is so articulate and repetitive, lol.

I am inspired by life, by the beauty that surrounds me here in Hawaii. I am inspired and driven to do my best and to not follow the crowd. I like to do things that are unorthodox and I appreciate clients that have an open mind.


Long before there was a tattoo machines, people were using hand poke techniques to create their art. Do you practice this and can you tell us a bit more about it as process and tools used?

tattoo-9I do use traditional hand tools, the ta and ku’au. Many Polynesian hand tools are made of wood and the needles are made from bone or shell or sometimes teeth. It takes a great deal of time to carve needles from bone, etc. Also, the needles can only be used once because of contamination.

I made modern tools from aluminum that use modern needles. This way I can sterilize the tools after each use and simply dispose of the needles.

The process is very time consuming. It takes a very long time to create a good sized piece. In ancient Polynesia the process to cover the entire body in tattoo could take 40 or more years!


Every artist has his code and rules on what can and what can’t. What are the NO’s for you – anything you wont do as tattoo or client request?

My personal approach is that I won’t tattoo anyone that I don’t get along with. I screen people before I even talk about what tattoo they want. I don’t do this for the money. I am not wealthy but I will not do tattoo simply for the money. I need to feel a connection. The tattoo process is reciprocal; it is an exchange of energy. If someone has bad energy I will not work on them.

I talk a lot of people out of getting tattooed because they have bad ideas, lol. I will tell them to go home and think harder on their request. If they come back in a week and still want the tattoo I will do it. Many come back and thank me for talking them out of their bad idea!


What kind of people are looking you to get tattoos?

I have clients come to me from all over the world. People contact me via my website or blog. I am very fortunate to have an educated client base, that want to have a meaningful tattoo. Very often, people contact me after they have been tattooed to tell me that the tattoo has changed their lives. I know it may seem silly, but I have had many clients tell me that their tattoo has opened them up to experiencing things on a whole new level. It is like therapy only more so. I put my heart and soul into my work and I think my clients understand that. Like I said, the process is an exchange of energies; what I leave on the skin contains my mana as well.

When did you got your first tattoo?

I was 18. I didn’t know what I wanted only that I wanted a tattoo. It is of the Lamborghini bull because I am a taurus and I love cars! That being said, think hard before you get a tattoo, you might live to regret it.


I know that polynesian tattoos are all about meaning and are done for a reason. What was yours (if not too personal)

My personal work, I have done myself. My hand and forearm contain various gods: Kanaloa, god of the sea and underworld, Kane god of creation, Ku god of war, Pele goddess of fire and Hi’iaka goddess of lightning. It is to celebrate the beauty of creation and shows respect to the land, the sea and elements. It is also meant to protect me from danger.


What was the last one you had. Who did it?

I had a cardinal bird placed on my neck. In Hawaii we believe in certain animals that are sacred spirits; in my case it is the red cardinal bird. The name for the spirit is, amakua. It is my duty to protect this animal and in return the animal will look out for me. This tattoo was done by a dear friend of mine – Jose Morales from Black Cat tattoo parlor on Oahu.



Any future plans to decorate yourself?

Yes! I have much space available. I just need the time lol!


What do you do in your free time? Surf? Spearfishing? 🙂

I spearfish. I don’t surf much anymore. I also like to work on cars and motorcycles. I am in the process of restoring a 1988 BMW 325is E30.


Every tattoo artist has stories about tattoos. Would you share your personal favorite?

I once tattooed someone that wanted a bunch of strange symbols that were all very disconnected from one another on his body, in the form of a rosary. The symbols hung off of the chain like charms. They were odd: a bird, a statue, a pattern, things that made no sense.

He was a very quite person and I did not want to ask him what it all meant because it seemed all very personal to him. But after a while I couldn’t resist. He told me that the tattoo was meant to be an atonement for his past sins. When I asked him what he did for a living he hesitated. He then said he did contract work for the government.

That was all I needed to know.


What’s next? What are your future plans? Any interesting projects you will do or events you will participate at?

I am working on a video series for YouTube talking about Polynesian tattoo. My PR manager is working on getting my art into clothing stores and skateboards. I am also looking forward to doing more conventions here in the states. I really have a lot going on so I need to concentrate on the things that are more realistic and move forward from there.

I have also helped launch a new product with Eikon, called Electrasyn. It is skin cleanser that will be available world wide.


If you could, would you choose the same path of personal/career development or you’d prefer to do something else?

Yes. I have no regrest. If my family were wealthy I would wish to be a MotoGP racer!


What advice you would give to the people that are looking to get their first tattoo?

Think long and hard about what you want to get. Understand that as time passes, what you consider cool now will likely change. Research your artist and never assume that anyone knows anything just because they work as a professional. Get tattooed at a shop, not in someone’s kitchen!


And my personal favorite 🙂 If you could go back in time 10/15 years what advice you would give yourself.

I have always followed my heart and my convictions. Even it meant disaster. Luckily, I have not had bad fortune and have had much hard earned success. If I were to tell myself anything it would be to never doubt myself, always look ahead. There are a lot of unhappy people out there that want nothing more than to make everyone else miserable. Do not let them get in the way. Never give up and never give in. Be true to yourself; never try to be something you are not.