Polynesian tribal tattoo is one of the most requested tattoo design. The simplicity of the blocked shapes makes it a classic design. There is also a lot of credit that goes to its history. Polynesian is a place where the art of tattooing was a critical part of their culture.

 Polynesian Tribal Tattoo: Background

The Polynesian is the area that is in between Hawaii, New Zealand and Easter Island. There are several island groups and societies that comprise the Polynesian area including the Samoa, Tonga, French Polynesia, and Cook Islands. All of the societies that lived in these islands practice the art of tattooing. There are certain differences in terms of the details of the tattoos, designing and actual procedure between islands but the essence remains the same.

The Polynesian tattoos symbolize one’s status in society, achievements, milestones in life, and even lineage. Since everyone has at least one of those, almost everyone is given a tattoo. All tattoos are given by the elders in the society. They cannot be asked for. The first tattoo is usually given when a boy reaches puberty.

Polynesian Tribal Tattoo: History

It was Mendana, an explorer for Spain who discovered Polynesia. He initially named it Marquises Islands. It was also the first sighting of the Polynesian tattoos. The recordings of the culture became more detailed when Samuel Wallis and Bougainville talked about it in their records in greater detail. They described how people from the island tattooed their entire body including the butt. Their first called it ‘Tattow.’Clearly, the tradition began way before foreign explorers discovered the island.

Polynesian Tribal Tattoo: Methods

The needle they used in the early days is made of bone or shell of turtles. They created a makeshift handle from loose wood found in the forest. They put this needle in a mixture of candlenut, water, and oil. The then tap the needle against the skin using a makeshift hammer. The sharp end of the needle allows for the ink to penetrate the skin. As the needle is tapped, the skin breaks which creates the opening for the ink to come in.

Polynesian Tribal Tattoo: Important Details

Only shamans are allowed to give tattoos. They are also the ones who create the design. Since each person has a unique story, unique lineage, different achievements, and other details, it is said that no two tattoos are exactly alike. Each tattoo designs is custom made because it tells the story of the person getting the tattoo.

Shamans get special training on tattooing. The training goes beyond the technical aspect. Tattooing is a ritual that goes on for several days. They start with cleansing which includes staying away from food, sex, and other forms of contact with the opposite gender.

Polynesian Tribal Tattoo: Symbolisms

Below are some of the symbolisms used by Polynesians in their tattoos:

  • Tiki – highest God
  • Shell – fortune, money, power
  • Shark / Shark’s Teeth – protection
  • Gecko – death
  • Tutles – life, baby

There are more symbols. Usually, the Shaman is the one who comes up with those. Polynesian Tribal Tattoo is a tradition that everyone respects.


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