As you probably guessed, there is more than just one Hawaiian tattoo meaning. Don’t worry, though, because we will cover all of the most popular meanings on this page. We’ll go over the origins of many Hawaiian tattoos as well as some of the designs that can be added to the tattoos to give them a bit more meaning.
The Hawaiian tattoo goes back many years and there is a lot of symbolism attached to these images. If you were new at getting tattoos and wanted to get a Hawaiian tattoo, you might get a little overwhelmed at the prospect of deciding which one is good for you.
There are so many options out there with a great deal of meaning so our goal in writing this for you is to help ease you into the world of Hawaiian tattoos and the meaning behind these tattoos so you can make a more informed decision.
By the end of this post, you should feel far more comfortable about the idea of picking out your own Hawaiian tattoo because you will see many options and learn about the different meanings behind the images. If you do end up getting your Hawaiian tattoo, shoot it over to us because we’d love to see it.
About Hawaiian Tattoos
The Hawaiian tattoo is one of the oldest types of tattoos out there, but it has gained a lot of popularity outside of the Hawaiian Islands in recent years. The reason for that is that the majority of the designs look great on the skin regardless of tone. If you are thinking about getting a Hawaiian tattoo, check out some of the meanings below to see which one(s) makes sense for you.
The Hawaiian Islands were inhabited by Polynesian people hundreds of years before they were claimed by the United States. The mythology of these people is rich, storied, and full of iconography. The images of these myths are rendered using a combination of geometric shapes and swirls that resemble the land and waves. Tattooing is a custom that has been practiced within Hawaiian culture for thousands of years and has made use of these images.
These significant symbols are created intricately or can be designed very simply, using only a few lines. This comes down to the owner’s tastes. A simple design might work better for those who want a subtle tattoo, though that tattoo could hold significant meaning. Others might want a more detailed Hawaiian tattoo that has multiple images and two or more colors.
Traditionally, the tattoos of the Native Hawaiians were done in black only but color has been added to the images in modern times, particularly those of beautiful flowers. Even though each Hawaiian tattoo has a meaning, the flowers can add even more. They can be flowers that are only found in one place in Hawaii, or they could just be flowers that have their own meanings. This is one example of a Hawaiian tattoo holding multiple meanings, making it more unique to the individual.
Hawaiian Tattoo Placement
Because the Polynesian style is so prevalent in Hawaiian body art, there are some rules or beliefs on where these should be placed. It plays an important role and the placement can impact the meaning of the tattoo.
Human beings are said to be the children or descendants of Papa, which is Earth, and Rangi, which is heaven. These two forces were once united and it is the human’s quest to reunite these two forces according to Polynesian lore. The top part of the body is connected to heaven and the spirit world while the bottom half of your body is connected to the Earth and the world.
The head is a point of contact where Rangi is reached. This is represented by traits of knowledge, intuition, spirituality and wisdom
The upper trunk area from the chest down to the navel has traits of reconciliation, sincerity, honor and generosity. It is right in the middle of Papa and Rangi and in order for there to be harmony, there should be balance between these two areas.
The lower trunk goes from the navel down to the thighs. This area of the human body is connected to courage, sexuality, procreation, life’s energy and independence. The thighs represent a strong marriage in particular while the stomach is the area of the body that is symbolically representation of the cutting of the umbilical cord.
In Polynesian society, independence is extremely valued but the idea of individualism is not as accepted. You should always be independent but family should always be a big part of life. This doesn’t just mean your immediate family but those all around you including your friends, neighbors and anyone that is close. They all play an important role.
The shoulders and upper arms are connected with bravery and strength and many warriors and chiefs will have tattoos there.
Hawaiian Flower Tattoo
The orchid and hibiscus flowers are both native to Hawaii and are often incorporated in Hawaiian-themed pieces. The orchid often represents strength and beauty, while the hibiscus is seen as a feminine flower representing perfection. Believe it or not, even these Hawaiian tattoos can be black only, but many people decide to color in the flowers while leaving the rest of the tattoo black.
Sea Turtle Tattoo
One animal that you will often see included in a Hawaiian tattoo is the sea turtle. The sea turtle is a common symbol of prosperity and fertility, two very different meanings but ones that can be combined for the right person. The sea turtle is also associated with ancestry and the spirits of the ancestors’ world.
The shark is another commonly revered symbol that emphasizes spiritual protection. When included in a Hawaiian tattoo, the owner can either use it for their own spiritual protection or it might symbolize their protection over their family and friends. The shark is most commonly found in men, but it’s not uncommon for a woman to have a shark somewhere in their Hawaiian tattoo.
Shells, waves, and simple shapes like circles are other common symbols among traditional Hawaiian tattoos. Shells were often used as currency as well as other tools and portrayed ancient prosperity. Waves and circles are common images used to symbolize longevity and the oneness of nature. These designs can all be found in the same Hawaiian tattoo, or owners might decide to choose one or two that fit their personalities.
The Tiki, a humanoid-like figure, is a representation of the first man and therefore the Hawaiian creation myth. He is a common image in Hawaiian mythology, having given way to the rest of humanity. Even those who are not into mythology might get the Tiki included in their tattoo simply because it is now a classic representation of Hawaiian culture. Even non-Hawaiians have come to love the look of the Tiki, so they might get it included in their tat even if it doesn’t hold significant meaning to them.
Marquesan Cross Tattoo
The Marquesan cross is another common symbol found in almost all Hawaiian tribal tattoos. The original inhabitants of Hawaii were thought to have come from the Marquesan islands near Hawaii. The cross is a combination of four waving lines that intersect one another. It is an image of balance and harmony, as the lines are all symmetrical.
The rainbow is a strong symbol in Hawaii and therefore, makes for a popular tattoo when getting a Hawaiian-themed tattoo. There are different meanings to the rainbow. One of these is to represent the path that the Hawaiian Gods would take when they came to Earth. It is also said the rainbow is a path for the dead to follow into the afterlife. The rainbow tattoo is also a symbol of transformation. It can also represent abundant lives for those who are able to connect to the spirit world.
As you can see, there are a few different things we can say about the rainbow tattoo meaning in terms of Hawaiian lore. It is the mascot and symbol of the University of Hawaii.
You can probably tell there is an ocean theme in many of these tattoos and that is because the Hawaiians have a deep connection to the sea. The Makau is a pendant made of a fish hook and it was used to find food many years ago. Hawaiians would craft these fishhooks out of many materials including stone, coral, bones and wood to name a few. You can either have this fishhook put on a pendant for you or get a Makau tattoo. The Makau tattoo represents good luck, prosperity and strength.
Guardian Spirits Tattoo
Guardian spirits are very important to Hawaiian culture and they come in animal or natural form. They are also known as “Aumakua”, or in other words, a spirit guide. A spirit guide is a family an ancestor who has passed away and taken the form of something else to come back and help guide you through life. You will often see many locals with one or all of their guardian spirits tattooed on their bodies.
The gecko, owl and shark are very popular images to see tattooed as a guardian spirit. The shark is said to be a protector while the owl is one of the oldest symbols and is said to have flown over the Hawaiian lands before the land was even settled. Finally, the gecko is said to be the guardian of homes and is able to communicate with the Gods
The circle is an image that is often seen in Hawaiian jewelry, petroglyphs and artwork. The Hawaiian people believe that a circle that is closed off is a symbol of having a seamless life. It is a life that has no end or beginning so that circle of life is prevalent. It is said the circle is connected to the stars and planets and therefore it contains sacred knowledge. The Koru is a fern that symbolizes purity and new life and when coupled with the circle, the artwork symbolizes love, the beginning of the circle of life or new life.
Hawaiian tattoos convey a relaxed and easy-going attitude as well as a dedication to family and tradition. The tribal imagery immediately communicates a connection with the ocean and island life, which are things that plenty of people would love to express through their tattoos.
All of these things should make it obvious why Hawaiian tattoos have been so popular for so long. They look great on the skin, There are so many designs to choose from, and they range from the simple to the extremely detailed.
Whatever symbols you choose, make sure you find an artist who is experienced in this kind of tattooing. Take your time because you will have this tattoo for a long time.