Beautiful Polynesian Tattoo Design
“History of tattooing”
With the rich history behind Polynesian tattoo design, it is no surprise that many people have chosen to add a piece from this culture to their body art.
This tribal style has been around for centuries, evolving from the influences of the over 1000 islands in the central and south Pacific ocean.
The origins of the beautiful artwork called “tattooing” in the Western world can be traced to the early Polynesian tribes. The word tattoo actually originates from the Polynesian word “tatau” and the Tahitian word “tatu”.
In early Polynesian culture there was no written language, therefore status and identity were expressed by tattoos. History shows that nearly every person in Polynesian society was tattooed to some extent.
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Polynesian tattoo design was almost eradicated with the arrival of missionaries in the 19th century. In the last 60 years, however, there has been a renewed interest in the history and culture of the Polynesian people. When this revival began the traditional tools for tattooing were used.
While the materials vary from tribe to tribe, the basic tools are the same. A bone or tortoise shell comb with sharp needles and a tapping device to insert the needles dipped in ink under the skin. The pain involved in this process, which can last hours or days, is immense. To refuse the process or to show fear would label the person a pala'ai or coward.
“Your necklace may break, the fau tree may burst, but my tattooing is indestructible. It is an everlasting gem that you will take to your grave.” (Verse from a traditional tattoo artist's song)
This verse not only summarizes the purpose of tattooing in early cultures, it also gives a wonderful insight to why people are getting tattoos in our current culture. Tattoos are still used for many of the same reasons. To signify important life events, to give others an insight into our natures and personalities and to memorialize those we love and cherish.
One traditional symbol in Polynesian tattoo design has significant meaning and is still incorporated into many Samoan tattoos is a boat.
This is a boat that is placed above the overall design. This boat in early Samoan designs symbolized the ocean and the voyage that brought their ancestors to their current home. It was also used for those that sailed away from their homeland to distant shores.
There are many symbols used in traditional Polynesian tattoos and these symbols have many different meanings. Bold lines, swirls, loops, plants and animals have all been identified and interpreted as a part of these traditional tattoos. The design and location of each of these can have separate meanings and importance to the wearer.
Dwayne Johnson, aka “The Rock”, the wrestler and movie star, has a half sleeve traditional Samoan tattoo. In interviews Johnson has said it was a process spread over three sessions and 60 hours to complete the piece.
There are many elements of his tattoo that are a great example of the symbolism involved in Polynesian tattoo design , including coconut leaves, the sun, swirls, eyes, stones and many others.
When deciding on a piece in the Polynesian style, a person has practically unlimited choices of elements to incorporate. It is important to choose carefully to ensure your piece truly expresses your personality and style. With creativity, research and a good artist you can have a permanent expression of who you are, what you believe and how you got to where you are.
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