Collection of Carmen Nyssen.

Bert Grimm showing off his Domingo Galang Tattoos. Collection of Carmen Nyssen.

Domingo Galang
By Carmen Nyssen

Born: January 27, 1884 Krayjah, Manila, Philippines
Died: June 4, 1926 Honolulu, Oahu, HI
Burial: South King Street Catholic Cemetery, Honolulu, Oahu, HI

Of the numerous tattoo artists Bert Grimm crossed paths with over his seven decade career, one he spoke of repeatedly was an obscure Honolulu tattooer named Domingo Galang.

In relaying his experiences, Bert was always evasive about when and how he ended up so far from the mainland (the story will be revealed in the upcoming Bert Grimm book), yet he unreservedly praised Galang as a talented artist who taught him a few shading techniques.

While there’s scant evidence of Galang’s tattooing ability, Bert’s claims probably weren’t far off. Galang’s consistent and sole business listing in Honolulu City Directories for the better part of ten years indicates he reigned as the city’s foremost tattoo artist for the duration of his career.


Galang’s Tattoo Career

A Philippines native, Domingo Galang arrived in Hawaii on January 23, 1910 aboard the Pacific Mail Steamship, likely a recruit of the Hawaiian Sugar Planter’s Association (HSPA). For several years after, he labored in sugar cane fields on the island of Maui, where in 1910, he married Keahi Kahele.

After Keahi’s untimely death in 1913, he relocated to Honolulu. Here, he married his second wife, Hattie Puaua, began a family, and around 1916, opened his first tattoo shop at 272 N. King Street in the heart of Downtown Honolulu.

The timing of his new undertaking was well played. United States involvement in World War I, in April of 1917, triggered a mass assemblage of strategically placed troops in the area. During this era, hundreds of on-leave soldiers and sailors —stationed on two Army bases, a Navy base, and an Air Force base —poured into the city and into Galang’s tattoo shop eager to have an arm, chest, or back etched with an indelible souvenir.


Jack Gould: Tattooed by Galang?

Harold Greenleaf “Jack” Gould, a U.S. Marine Corps private covered neck to feet in ornately executed designs, appears to have been one such serviceman.

According to a July 17, 1921 Denver Post article, Gould commenced his tattoo collecting mission when he enlisted in 1915 and thereafter gathered designs from tattooers around the world. An Our Navy Magazine picture caption indicates that his back piece had been completed by October of 1917; as noted in the February 1918 edition of Mid-Pacific Magazine, it was applied “during several patient months in Honolulu.”

Though Galang isn’t named in print as the tattoo artist responsible for Jack Gould’s back tattoo, as the chief island tattooer he no doubt had a hand in it. Not to mention, he seems to have been closely associated with Gould.

Jack Gould

Mid-Pacific Magazine, Vol XV, Feb 1918. Pg. 386. Print.


Gould in Galang’s Tattoo Shop

In 1918, Galang made a roundtrip jaunt to and from San Francisco. While a departure ship manifest hasn’t been found, listed with him on a March 1918 return manifest is Gould and Gould’s soon-to-be wife Alma. Notably, Gould’s address is recorded as 272 N. King Street, Galang’s shop in Honolulu.

galang

Perhaps not by coincidence, Both Galang and Gould died of tuberculosis. In fact, when Gould registered for the World War I draft on February 25, 1918, a month before his trip with Galang, he claimed “chronic tuberculosis” as exemption from further service. He died June 29, 1936, ten years after Galang.


Galang’s Tattoo Legacy

Galang’s tattoo business flourished even after the war’s end. By 1920, he had four partners:
Arcadio Callado
Aragon Crisanto
Louis B. Omega
Melencio Pelayo

Additional partners in following years were:
Pablo Adlawan
Joaquin Reyes
Salvador Lascan
And his nephew Valentine Galang

How well Galang’s shop fared by the time of his death in 1926 isn’t known; probate documents of the First Circuit Court of Hawaii report a small estate worth a mere $410.74. But his tattoo empire didn’t expire with him.

By 1921, he’d moved his shop down the street to 963 Iwilei Road, where Valentine set up an adjoining massage parlor. Upon his death, Valentine assumed ownership of the tattoo operation and reestablished on King Street. Several local Filipino tattoo artists worked in the shop, and as we know from Ed Hardy’s Sailor Jerry Collins: American Tattoo Master, so did a young Sailor Jerry in the early 1930s.

Galang’s Tattoo Family

Valentine also passed the art on to his wife’s brother, Bob Miller. The legacy continued with Bob’s sons, namely Al Miller and Eugene Miller, who were pre-teens when they learned to tattoo. During World War II, Eugene was billed as the youngest tattoo artist in the world.

After the war, Valentine went on to specialize in cosmetic merchandise. Eugene Miller also quit tattooing. Bob and Al, however, moved to San Diego and spent the rest of their careers working at Tahiti Felix’s Master Tattoo Studio.


For further history, be sure to read the Buzzworthy Tattoo History post about Domingo Galang visiting Southern California tattoo artists

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