Polynesia is defined as a small amount of land spread across around 70 million square miles in the Pacific Ocean. Known as the Polynesian Triangle, islands like Hawaii, New Zealand, Easter Island, and Somoa (not technically in the triangle) are included in this area. In this area was born one of the most intricate styles of tattooing. Polynesian tribal tattoos are different depending on the island you’re from. Below is a short synopsis on the different kinds of Polynesian tribal tattoos and where they originated.
Polynesian tattooing, before the arrival of Europeans in the South Pacific was the most skillful and complex tattooing at the time. There was no writing in the culture so Polynesians used this art to express who a person was including genealogy, sexual maturity, status, and rank. The meanings of these tattoos all depend on who the work is on. They essentially tell a life story.
Polynesian Hawaiian Tattoos
In Hawaii, the tattoos are a bit different from other Polynesian tattoos in that they have a more personal meaning. Today, Hawaiian flowers, abstract tribals, and turtles are very popular. Specifically, one of the most popular tattoo designs in Hawaii is the hibiscus flower. To the women of Hawaii, the Hawaiian hibiscus flower is very symbolic and has a great deal of meaning. It is also the state flower of Hawaii.
Polynesian Samoan Tattoos
In Samoa, these tattoos (or tatau) are very big and tell of social status and the rank of who wears it. They are an initiation in becoming a man. Until a young man’s tattooing is complete, they’re still considered boys in the culture. Women are also tattooed. Not as much as the men but much more than women in other areas.
Polynesian Maori Tattoos
Maori Polynesian tattoos were born in the native land of New Zealand to the indigenous Maori people. The Maori tattoo or Ta Moko is one of the most important parts of the Maori culture. The meanings behind these tattoos are to show tribal history, family history, rank, and other identifying factors. Men and women had different styles of this tattoo but the theme is these tattoos carry a great deal of weight throughout the culture. Today, many other people outside the Maori culture are getting these kinds of tattoos much to the chagrin of the native people.
Polynesian tattoos have a rich history and have become one of the most popular styles of tattooing in the world. The intricacies and detail of these tattoos create beautiful stories that tell about the life and family of the person tattooed. It is understandable why others outside of the culture would imitate this kind of tattoo.