Along with the Celts, Maori, Native Americans and those of Borneo, Polynesians are some of the most popular tribal tattoos out there . It is a fundamental pillar in the art and history of tattooing.

It originates from Polynesia, a group of islands in the Pacific Ocean. The word “Polynesia” comes from the Greek and means “multiple islands”, and that is why the set of Pacific islands is taken with that name. The islands within the triangles that form the islands of Hawaii, New Zealand and Easter Island are known as Polynesia. These islands comprise lots of ancient clans, with particular codes, beliefs and habits ; even so, they share a language and certain traits. One of them is the tattoo, although each clan uses it for different purposes.

polynesian history

For Polynesians, tattoos are a way of life. It is not just about body art and not decoration; They indicate many things, from family history , spiritual beliefs and social class .

In some clans, the most tattooed warriors are therefore considered the bravest and the most attractive. There are many types of Polynesian tattoos, but the best known and the most traditional are the Etua and Enata styles .

The Etua tattoo has very religious and spiritual connotations, associated with magical symbols and the protection of the gods. The Enata tattoo is the one that identifies the social status of the bearer, indicating the roots of his family, his occupation, the island of origin and position in the tribe.

As a result of globalization, tattoos have undergone interbreeding with other “modern” designs, such as Maori-style koi fish or animals that do not live in the area.

Polynesian Tattoo Dictionary

Lizard – Also portrayed as a gecko , this tattoo design depicts a creature with the power to communicate with the gods. A lizard tattoo design is believed to bring good fortune to the wearer.

Marquesan Cross – Based on the tortoise shell, this abstract tattoo design symbolizes the balance between the elements, as well as universal harmony.

Ocean : Polynesians believed that the ocean was their final destination, the place where they would die. Thus, the ocean came to symbolize death and the world beyond. Since these people depended so much on water as a source of nutrition, it also represents the abundance of fertility.

Shark teeth : also known as ” niho mano “, the shark tooth is a popular Polynesian symbol. The shark was believed to be the god of the Polynesian people. As such, the shark’s tooth has come to represent guidance, shelter, and power.

Shells – Both turtle shells and seashells are important Polynesian symbols. In general, they represent longevity, well-being, fertility, and peace.

Spearheads – These geometric designs are an expression of courage in battle. A line of spearheads in the same direction represents the defeat of the enemy.

Sun : As the most important element in Polynesian society, the sun represents wealth, brilliance, and rebirth.

Tiki : This human figure represents the Polynesian demi-gods. These were sublimated ancestors after death, and it was believed that they played a protective role.

Life as a Polynesian was a life deeply connected to the natural world, and especially to water. Polynesian tattoo designs reflect what was important to their culture, depicting all the parts of nature that were central to their lives, as well as the spiritual connections between them.