Tattoo Traditions of Polynesia
Home Schedule Gallery Newsletter Events FAQ About Tricia

Polynesian Flash
Artists: Aisea Toetu'u, Frederick 'Po'oino' Yrondl & Tricia Allen

HawaiiHawaiian Tattoo Flash

Hawaiian tattoo designs are much the same as those seen on kapa (barkcloth) and decorated ipu (gourds).  Literally they represent things in nature -- shark's teeth, woven pandanas, sea urchins or the bones of an eel.  All Hawaiian designs however, have kaona or hidden meaning, which is generally much deeper and personal.

Hawaiian Tattoo Flash


Aotearoa, meaning long white cloud, is the Maori name for New Zealand.  Maori tattoos, in ancient times, had specific reference to the individual or the person's family -- they would not be worn or used by any other.   For this reason, the patterns here are loosely based on traditional Maori design.   The most common is the curved koru, or tree fern and may symbolize growth.   The band patterns are based on the kowhaiwhai or rafter patterns from the marae or tribal meeting house.

Aotearoa New Zealand Flash

Aotearoa New Zealand Flash

Tahitian Flash


The tattoos done in Tahiti today are quite different than those of ancient times.  Before, in Tahiti certain tattoos were strictly required for women, whereas men's tattoos were largely optional.  Quite a bit was recorded of the social context of the tattoos -- that is who wore them and why, but very few of the actual designs were recorded.  Today, Tahitian artists have adopted the designs of the Marquesas Islands and created a modern stule, somewhat reminiscent of traditional Marquesan designs.

Tahitian Flash


In Fiji, traditionally only the women were tattooed with simple geometric designs just above the pubic hair and sometimes on the buttocks.  The patterns here are based on the designs that are painted on tapa or barkcloth.

Fiji Flash


Samoa is the only place in Polynesia that has kept the ancient technique of tattooing alive.  The men's tattoo, called a pe'a, began just above the waist and extended to just below the knees.  The women's malu covered the same area but was without the heavy black areas.  In ancient times, women's hands were tattooed as well.  The designs are based on the individual motifs found in both traditional tattoos and on siapo, or painted barkcloth.

Samoan Flash


The Tongan tattoo is rarely seen today; in fact we have only seen one illustration of the tattoo from ancient times.  The style was similar to the Samoan tattoo, and at one time, would have been worn by nearly all Tongan males.  The designs included here are based primarily on the designs from the painted barkcloth.

Tonga Flash

Tonga Flash

The above designs are samples from the
Tattoo Traditions of Polynesia
series of designs that are available from:

Unimax Supply Company
503 Broadway
New York, NY 10012

Copyright © 1999 - 2017 Tricia Allen