Polynesian Tattoos

Tahitian tattoo

Polynesian tattoos, have a broad range of styles and interpretations. These tribal tattoos have become increasingly popular among tattoo enthusiasts for their detail, history and meaning.

Types of Polynesian Tattoos

Polynesian tattoos cover a broad range of tattoo styles, including Hawaiian, Maori, Samoan, Marquesan and Tahitian. Each island in Polynesia has its own style, and while there may be similarities between the imagery used, interpretations of the styles vary. Remember that these tattoos, like so many other cultural markings, have very specific meanings; having lines placed to "look" Polynesian may in fact make an incorrect statement. If you want true Polynesian body art, make sure that your tattoo artist is knowledgeable about the placement and meaning of these designs. Otherwise, consider getting a Polynesian-inspired tattoo using some of the same techniques, colors and imagery, but imbued with your own sense of style.

Choosing a Polynesian Tat

Polynesian back tat
Turtle tattoo

Many Polynesian tattoos were based upon and inspired by nature. Typical designs include:

  • Animals
  • Flowers
  • Water
  • Landscapes
  • Canoes


Many of today's ideals do not translate to Polynesia's original tattoos and customs, but some do. Consider getting a tattoo that means:

  • Strength
  • Courage
  • Rank
  • Status


Each of the Polynesian Islands had its own particular style, as well as meaning behind each tattoo. Choose the style that you feel most closely aligns with your personal beliefs.


Maori tattoo

While you can certainly add color to your tattoo, the vast majority of these tattoos use black ink. The use of a single color like this creates crisp, detailed tattoos that keep the "tribal" style popular today. If you do choose to add color, do so sparingly and confine it to one additional color per design. Colors likely to be used in Polynesian-inspired tattoos include:

  • Red
  • Purple
  • Gray
  • Orange


While the vast majority of Polynesian-inspired tattoos created today are done by machine, it is still possible to get a hand-tapped tattoo as well. Hand-tapped tattoos use a needle created just for the person receiving the tattoo; many artists present the needle to the person receiving the tattoo once the procedure is over. Getting a hand-tapped tattoo provides a more authentic experience, but the process and result can be very different.

  • Two "stretchers" are used to hold the skin taut while the tapping is done.
  • A hand-tapped tattoo can take much longer to complete.
  • Hand-tapped tattoos may be less detailed and crisp in lines than machine tattoos.

Inspired Tattoos

Samoan arm band

A true Polynesian tattoo is drawn just for you based on the information you give to the tattoo artist. There are many modern, Polynesian-inspired tattoo designs, however, that make beautiful tattoos even without the personal significance. These designs include:

  • Daggers
  • Masks
  • Tikis
  • Stylized animals
  • Waves
  • Surfboards
  • Arm bands
  • Shoulder tattoos that conform to the shape of the joint
  • Abstract swirls, dots and lines

Get an Island Tattoo

Polynesian tattoos are some of the first ever recorded or reproduced. Whether you have an affinity for the islands, the designs themselves, or you want to pay homage to the history of tattoos, a Polynesian or Polynesian-inspired tattoo is a great way to show off your true island colors.

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Polynesian Tattoos