Polynesia consists of thousands of scattered islands over the Pacific Ocean. Tattooing was like a ritual, a holy practice for Polynesians. We use pen and paper to describe our ideas, but they were different from others, and they made use of tattoos for these. For them, it was like a mark of identity and personality. Their master will decide on designs by considering their family, religion, caste, gender, the rank of the person in the society, etc.
The pain, while tattooing is extreme, also the risk of death during ingestion, is too high. But people who deny or left tattooing without completing were considered cowards till their lifetime. This was strictly banned later. But as part of the Renaissance, many lost arts were revived as a result of the work of scholars, visual artists, researchers, tattoo artists.
Some get tattoos to look pretty. For some it’s a way to express whom they are. People also tattoo as a memorial for someone. Polynesian tattoos mainly consist of symbols which have a deeper meaning. All symbols in Polynesian tattoos are based on elements such as wind, water, earth, and fire. We can see the images of flowers, birds, daggers, animals, human in most of the designs and such that symbolize different things. Thus, there are different designs too.
Shells in such designs represent peace and fertility. There are two shell designs, seashells and turtle shells. Seashells symbolize protection and intimacy whereas turtle shells signify peace and wellness. They consider turtles as a creature that will bring them to the sea. Nowadays more people choose symbols which symbolize peace for their tattoos. So, these two designs are recommended as best for them. For the Polynesian sea is the source of food and their final destination that is the place they will rest after death. The symbols of bivalves represent the union or marriage of couples.
Another design recommended is shark teeth. This symbol represents power and courage. A variation in this symbol that is multiple rows of shark teeth has a different meaning. It signifies adaptability and bravery. In Polynesian lore, sharks are considered as gods. Sea-faring Polynesians mostly use these design as they believe this will protect them from shark attacks.
Spearhead represent the power, courage, and dominance of the individual. Spearhead make people look more tribal. As this is a symbol of weapon, it says the person can defeat his rivals.
Tiki symbol can be seen in many ancient temples; it is also used in tattooing. This is considered as protection by Polynesian people. This Hawaiian tattooing symbol depicts human figures with their eyes closed. Tikis are ancestors that drove out bad energy. This may be the reason why this symbol is considered as a symbol of safety and protection.
The Sun, the ultimate, never-ending source of energy is also a familiar figure in tattoos. Like other symbols, sun designs can be interpreted in many ways. It symbolizes grandness and riches. As Sun is a never-ending source, it also means eternity. Sun is the main star around which other planets revolve in our solar system. Thus, it represents leadership, brilliance. The rising of sun symbolizes rebirth. The falling sun can describe the fall of negative or harmful energy. Sun is worshiped by many communities often now.
Ocean symbolizes death for Polynesian community. The pattern which represents the final destination consists of geometric blank blocks that are used to complete other models in the tattoo. However, oceans are also considered as a source of food, fertility, the homeland of their ancestors.
For people who wish to tattoo simply for beauty rather than considering deeper meaning can use any designs, they want to. Texts are also used instead of symbols.