Polynesian Tattoos


In the Polynesian culture there is no writing and tattoos were used to express ones identity and personality. Tattoos were majorly used to indicate hierarchy status in the society, for example sexual maturity, one’s rank in the society and genealogy. Tattooing was done at adolescence to indicate the passage from childhood to adulthood. All most everybody in the ancient Polynesian culture was tattooed. Polynesian tattooing was done by dipping into a prepared black dye that was made from turtle shell and bone. The instrument was placed on the skin and was struck with a mallet this result to the dye being in planted on the skin. Women mostly hands, arms, feet, lips, wrists and ears were tattooed in an organized way on those part. Men on the other hand tattoos were subjected to almost all the body parts.

History of Polynesian tattoo

The Polynesians perceived the human body as a form of ritual container that contained substances that related to darkness, death and realms of gods this made artistic creation to be considered sacred. Considered as the most intricate and skilful tattooing in the ancient world. Polynesian tattooing existed even before the arrival of European in the south pacific and it developed into a highly refined art in Tonga and Samoa. Tattooing was conducted by a religious person in the Tonga community while an artist in Samoa. About 200AD when the Samoa and Tonga settled in Marquesas the Polynesian culture evolved in a unique myths, languages, art, and tattoo style. At around 1769 that’s when captain cook naturalist described the Polynesian tattoos that led to crew members acquire and it spread very fast among in the British navy. The sailors learned the techniques that led to establishment of the tattoo parlors along the European coastal line. Today Polynesian tattoo is the only form of art that was largely adopted across the westerners.

Polynesian tattoo today

Today in most places in the French Polynesia one can get tattooed. Currently the most appreciated designs include the Tiki, the gecko, the shark, the turtle, the dolphin, the ray and many other symbolic designs. Some still consider tattooing a fashion especially the Polynesian tattooing style but in many parts of Polynesia still tattoo is a tradition that marks a memory of the past and the general connection with the natural universe. Today the Polynesian tattoos have been categorized in symbols that represent different meaning, this has resulted in artists focusing on the symbolism, the aesthetic side or even both.