Tuesday, August 27, 2013


Sample showing the Polynesian symbol of turtle and its variations.
Turtle can be the most important and popular element in Polynesian culture. It’s connected to many meanings and the most common ones are long life (eternity), wellness, fertility, union, family and harmony. It also symbolizes the navigator.
Turtle plays an essential role in Polynesian culture. The sea is regarded as the source of food and Polynesian people believe that it’s also the world beyond, in which they will rest after death. And because turtles can freely move between the sea and lands, Polynesian people believe that they will bring them to their destination, the rest place.
Turtle are often designed with many complex patterns and symbols to express plenty of meanings. We will list one complex turtle design below.
Two “enatas” combined are one form of turtle. Other forms are turtle shells combined together, like the ones represented in the picture below the header.
Below are several samples that include turtles.

Polynesian Tattoo Symbols and Meanings - Turtle Application Sample
Polynesian tattoo photo sample 1 which represents a turtle.
Photo sample 2 of Polynesian forearm tattoo which includes a turtle .


Sample showing the Polynesian symbol of sea shells and turtle shells and their variations.
In Polynesian tattoo designs, shells are very common in many designs, especially turtle shells. Turtle shell is a symbolization of turtle, which is a very important sea creature in all the cultures of Polynesian triangle. It has more meanings than other symbols. Some complex turtle designs could have quite a lot of meanings, according to its elements embedded in. Basically, turtle shells symbolize longevity, wellness, fertility and peace. For more turtle’s meanings you can wait for our next post. :-)
Other shell symbols are mainly sea shells. They often have many variations and stylizations. Seashells are a main source of works of art. Sea shells often symbolize shield, protection and intimacy. Bivalve shells symbolize couples and marriage. Compared to other Polynesian symbols, sea shells are not commonly seen in many tattoo designs.
Below are several design and photo samples of turtle shells and sea shells.

Polynesian Tattoo Design - Turtle Shell Sample
(From Tattootribes)
Polynesian tattoo photo sample 1 with turtle shells.
Polynesian tattoo photo sample 2 with turtle shells.
Polynesian Tattoo Design - Sea Shells Sample

Polynesian Tattoo Symbols & Meanings – Ocean

Sample showing the Polynesian ocean symbol and its variations.
Ocean symbols are very common among Polynesian tattoo designs. They are usually used to not only express specific meanings but also fill some blank blocks in order to shape complete patterns. Polynesian people regard the ocean as their final destination where they go when passed away. So sometimes the ocean is a symbol of death, or the world beyond. Besides, the ocean is also regarded as their source of food and can represent life, fertility and persistence. Ocean waves are used to symbolize the other world beyond too, which is a homeland where all ancestors live, where they’ll eventually be. The picture above shows its basic pattern and variations and a few application samples will listed below.
Polynesian tattoo design sample with lizards, shark teeth and ocean symbols.
Polynesian tattoo photo sample with ipu, ocean and turtle shells.
Polynesian tattoo photo sample with ocean symbols embedded in.

Human Symbols – Enata

Picture showing Polynesian tattoo symbol "enata" and its variations and combinations.
“Enata” is a typical motif in Polynesian tattoo designs to symbolize humans and gods. It originates from Marquesas language. It’s commonly used for representing life experiences, birth, rank in society, etc. It can be also used by combination to represent relationships, such as marriage, family, relatives and friends. Actions can be also represented, for example, a combination of enatas and a creature means defending this dangerous creature. A reversed enata is also used for symbolizing an enemy. The picture in this article shows a basic enata and its commonly seen variations and combinations. In Polynesian tattoo designs, you’ll commonly see a semi-circle of enatas, like the two semi-circles in the lower right corner of the picture, which means the sky, guarding all the Polynesians and their children.
Below are some Polynesian tattoo samples of the use of symbol enata:
Picture showing an enata sample used in a Polynesian tattoo design.
Picture 2 showing a combinations of enatas embedded in a Polynesian tattoo design.
Picture 3 showing an enata couple used in a Polynesian tattoo design.


Sample showing the Polynesian sun symbol and its variations.
In Polynesian tattoo designs, the sun often goes with other symbols to express specific meanings. Many rounded Polynesian tattoo designs include the sun’s meanings. In Polynesian culture the sun often stands for riches, brilliance, grandness and leadership. The sun’s periodic rising is regarded as eternity, giving consistent source, which is similar with other cultures. The sun’s rising is connected to rebirth and the sunset does not symbolize death, but a passageway to the world beyond.
The meanings of Polynesian tattoo designs which include the sun can vary from design to design, according to the usage of symbols that constitute the sun’s edge. Rays with different symbols express associated meanings.
There are quite a lot of creative Polynesian sun designs from skillful tattoo artists, which are not limited to the form mentioned above. Some application samples of the sun symbol are listed below:
Polynesian Tattoo Design - Sun Sample
Polynesian tattoo photo sample with sun, tiki, enata and shell symbols.
Polynesian tattoo photo sample which shows an excellent sun design.

Fish – Shark Teeth

Picture showing the Polynesian shark teeth symbol and its variations.
Shark teeth is another fish symbol which is very popular among Polynesian tattoo fans.  Nearly over 50% Polynesian tattoo designs have shark teeth symbols embedded in. It’s also called “niho mano” in Polynesian language.
Shark teeth usually represents shelter or coverage, guidance, power, ferocity, adaptability, etc. In Polynesian legend, sharks also represent the god of Polynesian people. It has lots of variations and combinations, like the ones showed in the pictures above.
Below are 3 samples of design and photos that display the application of shark teeth symbols in Polynesian tattoo.

Polynesian tattoo design sample with tiki and shark teeth.
Polynesian tattoo photo sample with shark teeth symbols embedded in.
Polynesian tattoo photo sample show the application of shark teeth symbols.

Lizard (or Gecko)

Picture showing a Polynesian tattoo symbol, lizard,  and its variations.
In Polynesian culture, lizards and geckos are regarded as a form of appearance of gods by people, with a name called moko (which is also the name of facial tattooing in Maori culture). It’s a very important part in Polynesian beliefs. Because they are symbolization of Polynesian gods, and also regarded as ancestors of Polynesian people, so they look quite similar to “enata”, the symbol of man. They are kind of creature who can talk to gods and watch the hidden world, bringing fortune to a person who has it in his tattoo and delivering death enemies.
In Maori branch of Polynesian culture, lizard are used for guarding evils and illness. Lizard in other cultures, for example, Australian Aboriginal culture, is a symbol of regrowth, surviving from disasters.
You can find many lizard symbols embedded in Polynesian tattoo designs. A few samples below will show you how tattoo masters embed the lizard symbol in a tattoo design.
A sample of lizard symbol applied in a tattoo design.
A sample of Polynesian lizard symbol applied to a manta tattoo.
A sample showing a lizard symbol embedde in a Hammerhead Shark Tattoo.

Spear Heads

Picture showing Polynesian tattoo symbols of spear heads and its variations.
The Polynesian tattoo symbols of spear heads can be found in almost every Polynesian tattoo design. It’s designed to express courage and fight. It’s also used to represent warrior, sharp items, and sting of animals and rays. Spear heads are usually used in combination with other symbols to express certain meanings. For example, one line of spear heads and one line of enatas upside down along its side can express the meaning of defeating enemies. Like the picture above, it has many variations with arrows repeating.
Below are some samples of the use of Spear Heads in Polynesian tattoo designs:
Picture showing a sample of spear heads used in a Polynesian tattoo design.
Picture 2 showing a sample of spear heads used in a Polynesian half sleeve tattoo.
Mobile cover showing a sample of spear heads used in a Polynesian tattoo design.

Tattoo and Culture

Let's take a closer look at the cultural significance of these tattoos, in the different islands of the Pacific Ocean.

Cook Island Tattoos
The tattoos in the Cook Island included markings associating the wearer to his or her tribe.

Tahitian Tattoos
In Tahiti, tattoos were inked on the basis of social standing and ranking. Only tribe members belonging to the upper class were tattooed. These tattoos were inked all over the body, and sometimes on the face.

Marquesan Tattoos
The art of tattooing is a very important aspect in the culture of this island. Tattoos were worn to enhance physical appearance, signify the passage of life, and to show the ranking of a person in the tribe or society.

Hawaiian Tattoos
Hawaiian tattoos were etched for a person's identification or simply as a fashionable work of art on the wearer's body. The tattoos were believed to protect the wearer from mishaps. These tattoos were also inked to honor the dead, who were close to the wearer.

Maori Tattoos
The Maori tattoos of New Zealand, have distinctive spiral designs, which signify strength, courage, social status, and passion. The tattoos contain markings and reveal the ranking of a person, and also signify the wearer's passage of life.

Samoan Tattoos
A Samoan tattoo, is like a documentation, telling the story of the person who sports the tattoo. It contains rank, age, and social standing. These tattoos are large and complicated. They are adorned by both men and women.

Easter Island Tattoos
Tattoos worn by the people of this island have religious significance. It is believed that these tattoos make the skin blessed, so that the wearer can communicate with God.

Tonga Tattoos
Tonga tattoos, are very similar to Samoan tattoos, telling the life story of the wearer and showing his ranking in society and his age.


The art of tattoos was considered a sacred art in Polynesian culture. A tattoo was inked in a ceremony with music (drum beats) and tribal dancing. A person who wanted the tattoo had to follow a series of rituals, both before and after inking of the tattoo. Earlier, tattoos were done using crude equipment like bird and animal bones, turtle shells, bamboos and the likes. These tattoos took a long time to heal, but yet people got them done. They symbolized courage, power,and ranking in society.

The age of eligibility to get a tattoo, was 12 years, as this age is considered a transition from childhood to adulthood. Every achievement was felicitated with a tattoo. The more number of achievements, the more would be the tattoos. In Polynesian culture, having several tattoos on the body was a matter of prestige. These tattoos were not only made on men, but also on the womenfolk of the tribes. However, the parts of the body for tattooing women was limited to the arms, chin, lips, and palms.

Polynesian tattoos are a beautiful piece of art. But, before you get a Polynesian tattoo done, please research as the tattoos have different meanings in different islands due to their diverse cultures. A tattoo should be unique and it should reflect your personality and the message you want to portray. Remember to care for your tattoo, once you get it done. A tattoo that has been looked after well always looks fresh and beautiful.

source : http://www.buzzle.com/articles/polynesian-tattoo-meanings.html


  1. Im@ge said...:

    Thanks for the post!

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