The history of Traditional Polynesian tattoo

traditional polynesian tattoo

Polynesia was a group of islands in the central and southern Pacific Ocean. They used to share a common language, culture, and history including the age old tradition of tattooing. They were good sailors and used stars to calculate the time at night. Polynesian tattoos were considered honorable and the first tattoo a man got in Polynesia marked the rite of passage from boyhood to manhood. Since Polynesians weren’t big on writing, they passed on this art through generations as an alternate record of their culture and tradition. Tattoos in Polynesia also depicted social status in society and genealogy as well.
When the Christian missionaries arrived in Polynesia in the 1700’s, they strictly banned the art of tattooing. But since the 1980’s Polynesians revived the art as they take much pride in their rich culture and heritage, and for them, tattooing is a long standing tradition, they also started reviving many of their other lost arts. The Polynesian men and women got their buttocks and back of their thighs inked in thin black lines that represented different figures to them. The women also dyed their loins and buttocks blue in color. Tattooing was only performed by shamans who were old and experienced in this art, but no else was allowed to do so.
Traditional Polynesian tattoos depicted the life on the island, the island in question, the person’s history, social status, work, and activities. Some tattoos were drawn for protection purposes, and others represented their ancestors, shamans, and chiefs as well as gods. The more tattoos a person got, the more power, prestige, and strength he/she was believed to have. Elaborate tattoos were only for chiefs and warriors. If someone had no tattoos that person was looked down upon and not worth interacting with.

polynesian traditional tattoo
The first tattoo a girl received was at the age of twelve on her right hand, only then was she allowed to cook and prepare the dead. Women usually got less elaborate tattoos than men and were usually inked onto their arms, hands, feet, lips and chin, a chief’s wife was allowed to get a tattoo on her leg as well. Some of the most popular Polynesian tattoo designs were dolphins, sharks, their god Tiki, turtles, etc. Some of the popular designs have meanings associated with them are as follows:

  • Gecko – It was believed to hold supernatural powers and was feared by all Polynesians, it was thought to bring illness, bad luck and omen with it.
  • Sharks – It was believed to bring on protection against enemies, mostly fishermen and warriors got it.
  • Shells – It was believed to bring prosperity and wealth.
  • Turtles – It was believed to bring on a healthy long life and fertility.

Have you ever wanted a Polynesian tattoo?

Polynesian tattoo designs, inspired by and taken from the various cultures in Polynesians, are extremely popular today. These beautiful styles have been inked for centuries on the bodies of Polynesians, and often held symbolic significance. Today, tribal tattoos are popular on the mainland for stylistic reasons. Ranging from a beautiful and colorful dolphin to the stark black outlines of a Maori tribal tattoo, getting a tribal tattoo is a unique reflection of your identity and personality.

First, do your research before getting a tribal tattoo. Are you looking for a design with a particular meaning? Many animals and symbols have special meanings when inked as a tattoo. Centuries ago, every design held a specific meaning for its respective culture. Some designs are commonly found in some regions of the world, but not in others. For example, Maori tattoo design, consisting of complex spiral patterns, is not typically found anywhere other than New Zealand. Look into the symbolism of each tattoo to make sure that it fits your personality. If you are from one of the islands of Polynesia, consider choosing a design that reflects your cultural background.

There are many tribal tattoos found in the “flash” designs of many tattoo parlors, and these show up again and again. These tend to be chosen for their artistic aspects, not for the deeper meaning behind the design. While many of these are certainly very beautiful, you might see them around town on others. If this is a concern, you may want to opt for a custom design to match your unique style.


Now, do you want your tattoo in full color, or a classic black design? Throughout history, most tribal designs have been performed on islands with only black ink. The painful inking process played a major role in the symbolism of the tattoo itself. In fact, many islanders had facial tattoos, culturally regarded as proof of strength. In modern times, the symbolism of Polynesian tattoos has become more about the design than the method of tattooing. Modern tattoo designs, of course, also allow for a much wider range of colors.

After you’ve chosen a tattoo design, what now? Whether you’re getting an exotic tiki statue, a sleek blue dolphin, or a complex geometric pattern, the guidelines for getting your Polynesian tattoo are the same as for any other tattoo. Do your homework to choose a tattoo artist who specializes in the style you’re after. Some artists specialize in tribal styles, using mostly black ink, while others prefer to tattoo animals and other colorful designs.

On the day of the appointment, shower before visiting the tattoo artist – it’s much easier to work on clean skin. Do not drink alcohol beforehand, or you’ll be likely to bleed more during the session. Wear comfortable clothing, eat something before you go, and bring a distraction for yourself.

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The history of Traditional Polynesian tattoo

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