Polynesian Tattoos | Dan & Micki Kaufman

Inked Up - The Lowdown on Polynesian Tattoos

Zegrahm Contributor|January 3, 2017|Blog Post

For at least 2,000 years, Polynesians have decorated their bodies with tattoos. Known variously as tatau, moku, patutiki , and uki, tattooing served as a form of communication among peoples across Oceania. The body artwork identified which island group one came from, as well as their genealogy, social status, and individual accomplishments. It was also used to gain protection and strength from the gods.

Tattooing was performed by a highly skilled and respected master or tufuga, who would determine which designs would be tattooed and when. The process—which, given the rudimentary tools, was both painstaking and painful—often involved certain spiritual practices, including fasting.

In the 18th century, Christian missionaries banned Polynesian tattoos as barbaric (and too erotic). Two hundred years later, the art form was revived, although many of the patterns and their meanings have been lost. The more popular designs to survive include:

Tiki

This humanlike semi-God serves as a guardian or protector. His facial elements can be drawn separately, e.g. the outline of his nose signifies the ability to sniff out danger.

Enata

These stick figures, usually shown holding hands in a row or semi-circle, are used to indicate family, marriage, and friendships, as well as protection from the ancestors.

Turtle

Turtle shells symbolize longevity, fertility, well-being, and harmony. Turtles are excellent navigators and easily move from land to sea, the final resting place in Polynesian religions, and have a sacred role in bringing lasting tranquility and guiding one safely home.

Sun

A sun tattoo denotes leadership, prosperity, and one’s position in society. The sun is the eternal source, constantly rising and setting, and thus is emblematic of life’s constant cycle of death and rebirth.

Spear Head

A common element in Polynesian tattoos, spear heads are a symbol of courage and strength, calling forth the bold warrior within.

Shark Teeth

Another popular design that signifies strength, fierceness, and adaptability. 

 

For more information, visit Tahiti to Easter Island

Related Blog Posts

  • Milford Sound, New Zealand
    Blog Post

    20 Intriguing Christmas Traditions Around the World

    November 20, 2017 | Blog Post

    Christmas has become an almost ubiquitous celebration found all around the world. Nearly every country—even those not traditionally steeped in Christianity—acknowledges the holiday in some fashion.

    Read More

    Gorillas of the Congo
    Blog Post

    How to Plan a Trip: Tips from an Expert Travel Itinerary Planner

    November 15, 2017 | Blog Post

    Jon Nicholson, Zegrahm’s Director of Operations & Itinerary Planning, was becoming an expert on how to plan a trip before he was even old enough to drive.

    Read More

    Zebras at Sunset
    Blog Post

    Why Overland Adventures Rock

    November 13, 2017 | Blog Post

    The best travel adventures do not happen in a flash of instant gratification. Instead, they are the long, meandering journeys that give us more immersive, interactive experiences to savor. Sure, jumbo jets might get you to your destination faster; but once you arrive, I believe that overland adventures are the key to truly exploring the heart and soul of a place.

    Read More

  • Island Sky
    Blog Post

    What Are Expedition Cruises? Proof That Not All Cruises Are Created Equal

    November 10, 2017 | Blog Post

    Cruises have gotten a bad rap lately, and some would argue that’s justifiably so.

    Read More

    Grimsey Island
    Blog Post

    Tips for Surviving a Long Layover

    November 7, 2017 | Blog Post

    Ah, the dreaded long layover… We all love the convenience of direct flights to our destination. But there are times when long layovers are simply unavoidable, especially when you’re traveling internationally.

    Read More

    Australia's Kimberley
    Blog Post

    The Nature Conservancy in Australia: Fighting Fire in the Outback

    October 31, 2017 | Blog Post

    Australia’s scenic landscapes have inspired travelers for countless generations. It’s a wild and beautiful land with a diverse array of ecosystems, ranging from lush rainforests and technicolor reefs to the red sands of the Outback and rocky outcrops like Uluru and the Kimberley.

    Read More

  • Raja Ampat, Indonesia
    Blog Post

    25 Fascinating Facts About Coral Reefs Around the World

    September 15, 2017 | Blog Post

    If you’ve spent any time snorkeling or scuba diving in places like Australia, the Galápagos Islands, or

    Read More

    Island Sky
    Blog Post

    The World's Best Small-Ship Cruises

    August 24, 2017 | Blog Post

    The cruise industry tends to favor a “bigger is better” approach, with behemoth 5,000 to 6,000-guest ships becoming the new norm.

    Read More

    Australia's Kimberley
    Blog Post

    Australia's Kimberley: Tales from The Nature Conservancy

    August 8, 2017 | Blog Post

    This blog originally appeared on The Nature Conservancy.

    Read More

  • Sudbury Cay, Great Barrier Reef, Australia
    Blog Post

    Is the Great Barrier Reef Dead? Why Now is the Best Time to Visit

    August 2, 2017 | Blog Post

    Considered one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is our planet’s largest and most vital reef system. It’s comprised of over 2,900 individual reefs and 1,050 islands, which stretch out over 1,400 miles long.

    Read More

    Samoa & Tonga
    Blog Post

    Samoa vs. American Samoa - Two Sides of Paradise

    July 27, 2017 | Blog Post

    As a people, Samoans share a common language, a warm, generous spirit, a love of tattoos, and a 3,000-year-old cultural code. Fa’a Samoa, the Samoan Way, emphasizes loyalty to family, respect for one’s elders, and a commitment to serving the community, which is considered all-important. But one thing Samoans no longer share? The same time zone.

    Read More

    Antarctic Sunset
    Blog Post

    The Best Places for Stargazing Around the World

    July 25, 2017 | Blog Post

    On August 21, the moon will pass in front of the sun and the sky will turn completely dark in the middle of the day. Total solar eclipses like this occur approximately once every 18 months, but they’re usually only visible from less than half a percent of the Earth’s surface. This will be the first total solar eclipse visible in the United States since 1979.

    Read More