Hawaii tattoo ideas

Hawaii tattoo ideas DEFAULT

Tribal Hawaiian tattoo holds a special place among Polynesian people. Those who have seen the hit Disney movie Moana understand that how much the Polynesian people give importance to their tattoos. Among the vast variety of tattoo cultures in the Pacific, the Hawaiians are the most popular designs.

The traditional tattoo art from the Hawaii islands saw mainstream exposure in the late 70s and ever since then it is only expanding globally. The symbols from the Hawaiian culture sit perfectly well on the skin and these designs also have deep cultural meanings that make them even more popular choice.

The most popular Hawaiian designs are –
Gecko – This extremely beautiful lizard species is native to the pacific islands. Like all other Polynesians’ designs, the gecko is considered to be sacred and pure. The aboriginals of Hawaiian island used this symbol to ward off evil spirits.

Turtle – Turtle can live on both land and water. Therefore it symbolizes struggle and also long lie.
Tiki – He is considered the first Human being. The tattoo symbolizes that you can smell danger from far away due to your strong senses.
Shark – This tattoo symbolize danger, power and storm.
Shell – This tattoo was usually tried by the head of the tribe only. It represents unlimited wealth.
Orchids – The flowers represent love and sacred beauty.
Hawaiian Hibiscus – This tattoo has deep meaning. It represents that life is short so one should live it fully.
Here are 240+ Hawaiian tribal tattoo ideas for you to consider –

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Tribal Hawaiian

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Hawaiian Tattoos

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Tribal Hawaiian

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Hawaiian Tattoo Designs, Meanings, and History

Richard Hale is a tattoo enthusiast who studies and researches tattoo symbolism, meanings, and history.

Hawaiian-inspired designs are a mainstay in tattoo culture. As you will learn, there are a variety of different symbols and elements associated with the beautiful culture of Hawaii. Many people find these elements and symbols to be ideal for tattooing. Traditional Hawaiian tattoos come from the culture and heritage of tribes who have lived on the islands for generations, but there are also Hawaiian-inspired sailor tattoos that artists including Sailor Jerry introduced in the early 20th century.

In this article, we will review the history of Hawaiian tattoos. Also, we will discuss their meanings and view examples. In the end, we hope that you are able to find inspiration for your own tattoo.

Ancient Hawaiian Tattoos

When it comes to beautiful and symbolic tattoos from the Pacific, the Hawaiian tattoo style is a popular choice. Traditional styles used geometric patterns and symmetric designs in black ink to mark religious devotion, rites of passage, bravery in war, status, ranks, and heritage.

Western culture and the passage of time have since influenced these designs, introducing color and representational images of native elements such as tropical flowers, lizards, dolphins, shells, sharks, arrows, and turtles.In current tattoo designs, you will find a variety of these symbols associated with Hawaiian tattoos.

One of the most popular designs in Hawaii is the hibiscus flower tattoo. The flower is symbolic to the women of Hawaii, and is actually the state flower.

Ancient Hawaiians referred to the art of tattooing as "kakau." They would actually cut the skin open and pour tattoo ink, made mainly of ash and soot, inside the cut. Once the cut healed, the ash and soot would appear as a black pigment. During those times, black was the only color that was available, so all tattoos were done in traditional black ink. As you can imagine, this tattoo process was extremely painful.

Ancient Hawaiians practiced the same tattooing style that the Maori culture used. Men and women both would get tattoos. However, men would typically get more, covering their entire bodies with ink patterns, from head to toe.Every one of their tattoos would be symbolic and hold deep meaning. Together, they told the person's life story, including their rank and where they had been.Although women didn't get full-body tattoos, they had their fair share of them. These tattoos were just as symbolic as men's, and they were used for the same purposes.

Today, people still get ancient and modern-style Hawaiian tattoos for symbolic purposes. Some get the tattoos to represent the Hawaiian tradition and heritage. The designs can contain representations of elements from the past or present, as well as of a specific island or the state of Hawaii. Others get these tattoos simply for their beauty.

Designs, Symbols, and Meanings

The reason anyone chooses a specific tattoo is very personal, but the following is what common elements of Hawaiian tattoos typically represent.

  • Gecko: The gecko is a favorite design because the animal was believed to have supernatural powers. It's believed that it was feared by many, and the green gecko was thought to bring illness and bad fortune to whoever comes in contact with it.
  • Sharks: The shark is a powerful creature considered sacred by the ancients. As a tattoo, it is also a symbol of protection for the wearer.
  • Tiki: Tiki is believed to be the first human being, the mythical ancestor of humans. Tiki is able to smell danger because of its great sense of smell.
  • Shells: The shell is a symbol of prosperity and wealth. In ancient times, shells were often used as a form of currency.
  • Sea Turtle: The sea turtle is a symbol of long life. Sea turtles can live to be over a hundred years old. They also represent fertility.

Tropical flowers are also associated with Hawaiian tattoo designs and have symbolic meanings. Here are a few:

  • Orchid: The orchid is a beautiful native flower that represents love, beauty, luxury, and magnificence. Those who choose the orchid tattoo are thought to be unique, free-spirited, and mysterious.
  • Anthurium: The anthurium is a red flower symbolizing hospitality, kindness, and friendship.
  • Hibiscus: As previously mentioned, the hibiscus is one of the most popular flower designs. It is associated with the summer and fun. The hibiscus flower is fragile and has a short life. It comes in a variety of different colors such as red, blue, pink, orange, and yellow. It can represent delicate beauty.

Other common choices include:

  • Hula dancers: Hula is a dance that's part of Hawaii's cultural heritage.
  • Leis: These garlands of bright tropical flowers are often given to visitors.
  • Volcanoes: Volcanoes and other tropical landscape designs symbolize Hawaiian elements.

© 2012 Richard Ricky Hale


Keoki momoa on August 16, 2019:

Sup my braddah,

Just wanted to ask if you had any original sketches that I could check out or blast.

hoʻokahi mea hawaiʻi on February 16, 2018:

These tattoos arenʻt the traditional kind of tattoos. A lot of these designs if not all of them are more modern and only the black and white drawing was in fact the Ancient Hawaiian kākau uhi. This is watered down from western point of view. And the picture of the man isnʻt even Hawaiian or his tattoo traditional. None of it was actually. smh. Tattoos have a deeper meaning and none of it was touched at all....

Anna on November 30, 2017:

I live in Hawaii and sorry to bum all you out, but we dont really wear leis, Hawaiian shirts and hula skirts...

Connie on April 18, 2017:

I studied ancient art of tattooing and was under the impression that tattooing in the Pacific Islands started with women, especially in Maori culture. It was the women who got the tattoos, generally the lower half of the body elaborately tattooed, and when sailors from around the world saw them they copied the women. Your article said that women didn't have as many as men but I think that may be wrong. Ancient tattooing was on women first.

Gert on April 10, 2017:

These tattoos are very innapropiate, as they include sexual parts of bodies.

shawna schneider on November 30, 2016:

i thought my project would be boring but looking at it every one loves the tatoos

tikilee on December 05, 2013:

What does the Hawaiian Spears mean

Richard Ricky Hale (author) from West Virginia on May 22, 2012:

Lynette, you lucky dog you! I am waiting on a settlement and then I am going to go there. I have seen pictures and it is so beautiful there. That is a great idea, go there and get inked. I hate that you couldn't get in. Thanks for taking the time to check out this article and comment Lynette.

lynette on May 18, 2012:

Just returned from 5 glorious days in Maui, HI. Had my new ink picked out and couldn't get an appointment before i left. Was totally bummed. Gorgeous place and these tattoos in here are amazing. !

Richard Ricky Hale (author) from West Virginia on January 30, 2012:

Gypsy, thanks for another visit. Well it is a special shirt. I say frame it. It would make a great piece on the wall!

Richard Ricky Hale (author) from West Virginia on January 30, 2012:

Frank, what going on bro? Appreciate the visit as always. Your correct, art is art. Hawaiian art is beautiful.

Richard Ricky Hale (author) from West Virginia on January 30, 2012:

AE, thanks for dropping by:) Me as well. I would love to go there if only for a day. I hope I can go one day.

Richard Ricky Hale (author) from West Virginia on January 30, 2012:

Swanheartrunning, thank you for taking the time to come by and check it out. I thank you for that. Yes, it is the state flower of Hawaii. Such a beautiful flower.

Richard Ricky Hale (author) from West Virginia on January 30, 2012:

Alosin, thanks for dropping by my friend. Hawaiian tattoos are beautiful. Everything about Hawaii is beautiful! Rich tradition.

Gypsy Rose Lee from Daytona Beach, Florida on January 28, 2012:

Voted up. Love those colorful tattoos. Love Hawaiian shirts as well. You'll never believe this but I still have a Hawaiian shirt of my dad's who died in 1967 and I can't bear to part with it.

Frank Atanacio from Shelton on January 28, 2012:

thelyricwriter this is art even if it is on flesh up and awesome!!!!

Ruby Jean Richert from Southern Illinois on January 27, 2012:

The art work in these tattoos is amazing. I would love to visit Hawaii..Voted up and beautiful.

swanhartrunning from Illinois on January 27, 2012:

Didn't know the hibiscus was the state flower of Hawaii. What gorgeous tatoos!

Aurelio Locsin from Orange County, CA on January 26, 2012:

Wow I've never seen these exotic designs before, but then I've never been to Hawaii. Thanks for showing them. Voting this Up and Beautiful.

Sours: https://tatring.com
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Hawaiian tattoos are an amazing way to express one’s personality and identity. In ancient times, nearly everyone in Hawaii had some kind of tattoo on their body that indicated their status and rank in their society. These tattoos were mostly geometric patterns and done in black to mark a person’s religion, heritage, martyrdom, etc.

Over time, the influence of Western culture impacted the Hawaiian tattoo culture, which now includes tropical flowers, dolphins, lizards, crabs, and other regional elements. Modern Hawaiian tattoos are more colorful as compared to ancient Hawaiian tattoos. If you are looking for some inspiration on Hawaiian tattoo art, we have 25 amazing designs for you that you should definitely try out this year if you are planning on getting inked.

The History Of Hawaiian Tattoos

  • Hawaiians referred to the art of tattoos as ‘kakau.’ Both men and women in Hawaii would get body art done to mark specific moments in their life or beliefs.
  • Pahupahu was a form of body art done specifically by male warriors, where they covered one half of their body entirely with tattoos. Such tattoos would make the Hawaiian warriors stand apart from the others. Outcasts and slaves would also be permanently marked with tattoos on their faces.
  • Hawaiian tattoos were done with needles made out of the beaks and claws of birds. They were also often made out of sharp barbs that existed on the sides of the tails of certain fish, such as Palani, Kala, and Pualu. Sometimes, even the bones were split to form needles to create such body art.
  • Certain Hawaiian plants produced a highly acidic juice, which was used as ink to create a temporary tattoo, marking the death of a loved one, which would last anywhere between six months to a year. For creating permanent tattoos, an intense black ink would be made of the burned soot of the kukui nut.


Amazing Hawaiian Tattoo Designs For Women

1. Ancient Hawaiian Tattoo

Ancient Hawaiian tattoos are completely black and feature bold designs in geometric patterns, like triangles and swirls. These designs are great if you like large, statement pieces of art on your body.

[ Read: Most Impressive Forearm Tattoo Designs And Meanings ]

2. Hawaiian Hibiscus Tattoo

Hibiscus is the regional flower of Hawaii and is a usually preferred design by women because it adds a touch of femininity. You can get a hibiscus tattoo on your shoulder, chest, or even the leg.

[ Read: Most Popular Tattoo Designs And Their Meanings ]

3. Hawaiian Tribal Tattoos

Hawaiian tribal tattoos are similar to ancient Hawaiian tattoos, but they feature more swirly patterns and have intricate detailing, contrary to the bold patterns of traditional Hawaiian tattoos.

4. Hawaiian Floral Tattoo

This gorgeous floral piece of art shows the perfect beach landscape paired along with the classic Hawaiian hibiscus flower tattoo. A hint of Hawaiian wanderlust!

[ Read: Precautions After Getting A Tattoo ]

5. Small Hawaiian Tattoo

Traditional Hawaiian tattoos are huge and bold, but you can also get such small and artistic tattoos done if you are not a fan of big ones. We recommend getting one on your hands or near the ankles.

[ Read: Unique Small Tattoo Designs With Meanings ]

6. Hawaiian Sleeve Tattoo

Who said that only men could rock sleeve tattoos? This 3/4th Hawaiian tribal sleeve tattoo is beautifully done. You can tell the tattoo artist knows how to make tribal tattoos stand out as a form of modern body art.

7. The Hula Dancer Tattoo

The hula dance is a popular Polynesian folk dance that is loved by Hawaiians. We cannot think of a better ode to the Hawaiian culture than this gorgeous, colorful hula dancer tattoo.

8. The Hawaiian God (Lono) Tattoo

Lono is the Hawaiian deity of music and peace. This tattoo of Lono is an amazing representation of the Hawaiian culture of worshipping and tribal life.

9. The Hawaiian Animal Tattoo

The Polynesians and Hawaiians loved inking native flora and fauna on their body. This small yet aesthetic tattoo of a snake is perfect for those who love wildlife.

[ Read: Awesome Animal Tattoo Designs And Meanings ]

10. The Ohana Tattoo

Ohana means ‘family’ in the Hawaiian language. Numerous people get this word inked to show their love towards their family and pay tribute to them in the form of body art.

11. Hawaiian Band Tattoos

Tribal Hawaiian tattoos look wonderful as armbands or leg bands on women. This band tattoo has a black tribal design that looks great on the calf.

12. Black Ink Hawaiian Tattoo

If you want to go for the original Hawaiian style tattoo, stick to an all-black tribal design like the one above for the classic Polynesian aesthetics.

13. Crab Tattoo

Crab tattoos are very popular in Hawaiian culture as the state boasts of coastal shorelines where crabs are found in abundance. This geometric crab pattern looks extremely pleasing and is a symbol of sea adventures.

14. Floral Hawaiian Tattoo

This floral tattoo looks extremely elegant and can be sported on the ankle, forearm, neck, or the upper back.

15. Swirly Hawaiian Tattoo

Hawaiian tattoos have a lot of triangles and geometric shapes, and that is why this swirly tattoo design stand out from the rest. The design depicts the ocean waves in an intricate pattern.

16. Hawaiian Map Tattoo

If you love Hawaii and want a tattoo to pay tribute to its rich heritage, get the outline of the Hawaiian islands inked on your hand.

17. The Stunning Honu Tattoo

Honu refers to the Hawaiian green turtle that represents unity, faith, good luck, and wisdom. Get a tattoo of this turtle for good fortune.

18. The Fiery Shark

Sharks are considered powerful and sacred creatures in the Hawaiian culture. They also symbolize protection to the wearer.

19. The Hawaiian Gecko (Lizard) Tattoo

Gecko or lizard tattoos are an integral part of Hawaiian tattoo art and symbolize good fortune, mobility, and flexibility.

20. The Ferocious Hawaiian Dragon Tattoo

Dragon tattoos are quite popular in tattoo art and are an equally significant part of Hawaiian tribal tattoos. In the Hawaiian culture, the dragon represents a major source of life.

21. The Gorgeous Orchids Tattoo

Orchids symbolize love, luxury, beauty, and strength. This simple floral design looks both classy and elegant.

22. Tribal Hawaiian Back Tattoo

Hawaiian tribal tattoos look great on the back. This particular design has very delicate swirls and flows through the back naturally.

23. Tribal Leg Tattoo

This Hawaiian tattoo has tribal Polynesian swirl patterns and looks wonderful while being bold yet traditional.

24. Hawaiian Back Shoulder Tattoo

A Polynesian shoulder tattoo with a mix of ancient and modern elements looks wonderful. The flower at the front makes it look feminine yet bold.

25. Hawaiian Tribal Behind The Ear Tattoo

This tiny yet attractive tribal neck tattoo starts behind the ears and goes all the way up to the middle of the nape. The intricate and colorful design make it stand apart from the rest.

If you notice carefully, a lot of Hawaiian or Polynesian tattoos have a trope that is apparent in all the designs. Want to know the meaning behind those tattoo symbols? Read on to know more about Hawaiian symbols and meanings.

The Meanings Behind Hawaiian Tattoo Symbols

  • Geckos: Geckos play an important role in Hawaiian culture. These lizards were considered sacred and the reincarnation of ancestral spirits.
  • Sharks: Sharks represent protection, guidance, strength, and ferociousness. The triangular patterns in Hawaiian tattoo designs often represent shark teeth.
  • Tiki: Tiki refers to the depiction of various Hawaiian deities, each representing particular values of life. There are various deities, like Lono, Kane, Namaka, Papa, etc., that show up in tribal tattoo designs.
  • Shells: In ancient times, shells were used as a form of currency. They are also symbols of prosperity and abundance in Polynesian culture.
  • Sea Turtles: The green sea turtles of Honu are important creatures. Honu designs are used in tattoos to symbolize long life and fertility. They also represent the idea of united families.
  • Orchids: Orchids are colorful and exotic flowers that are native to the island of Hawaii. People with a free-spirited nature go for orchid tattoos as they represent beauty, luxury, and love.
  • Anthurium: Anthurium is a red flower that symbolizes hospitality, kindness, and friendship. This popular flower design is often seen in Hawaiian flower tattoos.
  • Hibiscus: As it is the state flower, hibiscus often makes an appearance in traditional Hawaiian tattoos. It symbolizes beauty and also summer (when it blooms).
  • Hula Dancers: Hula is the traditional folk dance in Hawaii, and Hula dancers are a part of Hawaii’s rich cultural heritage. They are seen with hibiscus flowers around their neck and a floral wreath on their head.
  • Leis: Leis is floral garland or wreath worn by the Hawaiians. It symbolizes affection, honor, and friendship among two individuals.
  • Volcanoes: Volcanoes are a symbol of the local deity, Pele, who is known as the goddess of fire and volcano and the creator of the Hawaiian islands.

You can get Hawaiian tattoos anywhere on your body – your neck, chest, shoulders, back, belly, or legs. There are a plethora of designs and patterns to choose from. From bold and colorful to delicate and monochrome designs, there is something for everyone. Once you choose a design, click here for tips you need to follow before and after getting a tattoo.

If you are looking to get inked in 2019, you must definitely take inspiration from these Hawaiian tattoo designs. Which of these designs did you like the most and are planning to get inked on your body?

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Jyotsana Rao is an engineering graduate from NIT, Nagpur, who discovered her love for writing during her undergraduate days. She is passionate about writing about everything related to beauty - makeup, fashion, hairstyles, skin care, or hair care. When this social media junkie isn't stalking the world of fashion and glamour, she loves spending her time traveling.

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170+ Tribal Tattoo Designs For Men With Meaning (2020) Polynesian \u0026 Hawaiian Symbols !

101 Awesome Hawaiian Tattoo Designs You Need To See!

Hawaiian tattoos are fantastic tattoo ideas, perfect for men who prefer meaningful tribal tattoos. You will have a lot of tattoos to choose from, and we are confident that you will find your perfect piece!

What Do Hawaiian Tattoos Represent?

Hawaiian tattoos symbolize bravery, heritage, and they are often linked to religious devotion. If you love modern tattoos, Hawaiian symbols may not be ideal for you.

Top 20 Hawaiian Tattoos

1. Black & White Hawaiian Tattoos 

Perfect for men who love black ink and sleeve tattoos.

2. Geometric Patterns Hawaiian Tattoo Design

Hawaiian tattoo designs can look simple, like this design.

3. Polynesian Tattoo Design Over Arm

Hawaiian culture often goes for a similar form of a traditional tattoo.

4. Tribal Hawaiian Turtle Animal Style Tattoo

Polynesian tattoo turtle is an amazing design that can cover your entire arm & shoulder.

5. Small Hawaiian Tattoos Flowers 

A flower is a part of a traditional Hawaiian tattoo design.

6. Polynesian Tattoo Leg With Tribal Traditional Symbols

Samoan tribal tattoo over the entire leg will demand some serious determination. If you prefer bold tattoos, you will enjoy similar Hawaiian tattoo designs.

7. Traditional Hawaiian Tattoos Over Chest In Black Ink

If you are the type of person who loves popular tattoos, you will enjoy a Hawaiian symbol over your entire chest.

8. Beautiful Mermaid Tattoo Hawaiian Style

If you are a fan of tattooing women, get this mermaid Hawaiian inspired tattoo.

9. Hawaiian Tribal Tattoos Over Wrist & Arm

Tattooing can be quick & easy. Just go for this simple Hawaiian black ink over your fist.

10. Samoan Tattoo Over The Entire Shoulder

If you love traditional tattoos, get this Hawaiian tribal tattoo on your shoulder.

11. Hawaii Tattoo Traditional Turtle Design

A smaller tattoo can be your go-to. A turtle is linked to the Hawaiian culture.

12. Sleeve Ancient Hawaiian Tattoo Designs

Tattooing your entire sleeve will take a lot of your time. If you want to get inked, make sure you choose the best tattoos.

13. Maori Tattoo Design Over Chest

People love to follow trends. If you are one of them and you are into Hawaiian beauty tattoos, this is it.

14. Tribal Tattoo Hawaii Style Over Leg

Get a simple and smaller Hawaiian tattoo over your calf if you love minimalistic designs.

15. Hawaiian Symbols With Lion & Hibiscus Flower

If you are a fan of animals, you will enjoy these Hawaiian inspired tattoos.

16. Polynesian Tattoos With Hawaiian Symbols

Keep an ‘’eye out’’ for some unusual tattoo ideas, such as this one.

17. Hawaiian Tattoos With Shark Print In Trible Art

A shark represents protection and a long life. If you prefer smaller tattoos, you will enjoy this one.

18. Hawaiian Tattoo Design In Black Ink

You can get some smaller orchid or floral ideas over your Hawaiian tattoo.

19. Tattoo Designs Hawaiian Island For Hawaiian Culture

Get similar tattoos if you want to have Hawaiian Island tattoed somewhere over your body.

20. Tongan Tattoo Over Entire Back

You can get a tattoo of your family over your entire back area. If you love bigger tattoos, this is it.

On That Note

Hawaiian tattoos or Samoan tattoos will suit anyone! If you need some intriguing Hawaiian tattoo designs, you will find your ideal perfect go-to solution in one out of these 20 tattoos.

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Polynesian Tattoo: History, Meanings and Traditional Designs

This article will give you an in-depth look into Polynesian Tattoo Art

  • What is Polynesian Tattoo Art?

  • The History of Polynesian Tattoo

  • The Process, Main Focus and Tradition

  • Designs, Symbols and Meanings

Source: The Polynesian Tattoo Handbook

The origins of Polynesian society

There is still debate over the definitive origins of Polynesian culture and that transfers also, to the notion of tattooing.

One thing that is certain is that the term Polynesian or Polynesia incorporates many tribes including Marquesans, Samoans, Niueans, Tongans, Cook Islanders, Hawaiians, Tahitians and Maori. All of these tribes are genetically linked to the indigenous peoples from parts of Southeast Asia.

Southeast Asia and in turn, Polynesia are sub-regions of Oceania, comprising of a large grouping of over 1000 islands scattered over the central and southern Pacific Ocean, within a triangle that encompasses New Zealand, Hawaii and Easter Island as it’s corners.

The people who inhabit the islands of Polynesia are termed Polynesians and they share many similar traits including language, culture and beliefs.

polynesian triangle

The Polynesian Triangle

However, Polynesian languages may actually vary slightly from each other, and in some cases they actually differ quite significantly. There are some words, which are basically the same throughout all Polynesian languages, reflecting the deepest core of all Polynesian cultures. Moana (ocean) and mana (spiritual force and energy) are two terms that transcend all Polynesian cultures.

These words are rather similar and this reflects how closely related Polynesian cultures are with the ocean, as they believe that the ocean guarantees life.

The Origins of Tattoo Art in Polynesia

Historically there was no writing in Polynesian culture so the Polynesian’s used tattoo art that was full of distinctive signs to express their identity and personality. Tattoos would indicate status in a hierarchical society as well as sexual maturity, genealogy and ones rank within the society. Nearly everyone in ancient Polynesian society was tattooed.

The Polynesian islands that were first first visited were the Marquesas Islands, which were found by European explorers and the Spanish navigator, Alvaro de Mendana de Neira, in 1595. However, the European navigators showed little interest due to the lack of valuable resources.

Captain James Cook (as mentioned in our comprehensive guide to Maori tattooing) was the first navigator trying to explore the aforementioned Polynesian triangle.

In 1771, when James Cook first returned to Tahiti and New Zealand from his first voyage, the word “tattoo” appeared in Europe. He narrated the behaviours of the Polynesian people in his voyage, which he called tattaw. He also brought a Tahitian named Ma’i to Europe and since then tattoo started to become rapidly famous, predominently because of the tattoos of Ma’i.

Another legend is that European sailors liked the Polynesian tattoos so much that they spread extremely fast in Europe because the sailors emblazoned the tattoos on their own bodies.

The actual tradition of Polynesian tattooing existed more than 2000 years ago, however in the 18th century the Old Testament strictly banned the operation. Since it’s renaissance in the 1980s, many lost arts were revived but it became very difficult to sterilise the wooden and bone tools that were used for the tattooing process so the Ministry of Health banned tattooing in French Polynesia in 1986.

The revival of the art and practice of tattooing, particularly in Tonga, in recent years is predominantly referred to as a result of the work of scholars, researchers, visual artists and tattoo artists.

Tonga and Samoa

It was in Tonga and Samoa that the Polynesian tattoo developed into a highly refined art. Tongan warriors were tattooed form the waist to the knees with a series of geometrical patterns, mostly consisting of repeated triangle motifs, bands and also areas of solid black.

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson proudly displays for his large, traditional Polynesian tattoo

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson proudly displays for his large, traditional Polynesian tattoo

Priests who had undergone a long period of training who followed strictly prescribed rituals and taboos that took place during the tattooing process. For the Tongan people, the tattoo carried profound social and cultural significance, as mentioned previously.

In ancient Samoa, tattooing also played a hugely important role in both reglious rituals and warfare. The tattoo artist held a hereditary and by the same vein, a very highly privileged position. He usually tattooed groups of six to eight (usually men) during a ceremony attended by friends and relatives. The Samoan warrior’s tattoo began at the waist and extended to just below the knee.

However, it was not unusual for Samoan women to be tattoo too. But the images were limited to things such as a series of delicate flower-like patterns (usually geometrical), on the hands and lower parts of the body.

Around 200AD voyageurs from Samoa and Tonga settled in the area of Marquesas. Over a period of more than 1000 years one of the most complex Polynesian cultures evolved – Marquesan.

Marquesan Art

Marquesan art and architecture were highly developed and Marquesan tattoo designs, which often covered the whole body, were the most elaborate in Polynesia.

Tools of the trade

Traditional Polynesian tattooing tools

Traditional Polynesian tattooing tools

Although many years have passed, the tools and techniques of Polynesian tattooing have changed very little. For a very traditional design the skill of tattoo art was usually handed down through generations. Each tattoo artist, or tufaga, was said to have learned the craft over many years of serving as an apprentice.

The advent of Christianity in Tonga witnessed the loss of several indigenous practices such as the practice of tattooing. Although the art of tattooing was retained in the nation if Samoa, it was completely erased in Tonga.

In Samoa, the tradition of applying the tattoo by hand has been unbroken for over 2000 years. Tools and techniques have hardly differed whatsoever. The skill is often passed from father to son, each artist learning the art after many years of serving as an apprentice.

A young artist in training often spent hours at a time, or even days, tapping designs into sand or bark-cloth using a special tattooing comb or au. Honouring their highly revered tradition, Samoan tattoo artists made this tool from sharpened boars teeth fastened together with a portion of the turtle shell and to a wooden handle.


james samuela tattooing traditional

James Samuela tattooing a man in the traditional Tahitian way in French Polynesia

The permanent marks left on someone after they have been tattooed would forever remember and commemorate their endurance and dedication to cultural traditions. The pain was extreme and the risk of death by infection was a huge concern for many people. However, to shy away from tattooing was to risk being labeled a coward or a pala’ai and to then be hated and insulted by the rest of the tribe or clan. The men who could not endure the pain and abandoned their tattooing were left incomplete, wearing their mark of shame throughout their life.

There were few men who refused the traditional pe’a, the intricate tattoo that covered their body from mid-torso to the knees. The artist would use a mallet to tap the teeth of the ink-laden comb into the man’s flesh, following only simple marks as guidelines.

A tattooing session typically lasted until dusk or until the men could no longer stand the pain and would resume the following day, unless the inflamed skin needed a few days to heal. The entire process could last up to three or even four months. Afterwards, the man’s family would help him to celebrate, despite the pain, by throwing a party and the tufuga smashed a water vessel at his feet, marking the end of the painful ordeal.

The healing process

This process usually took months. The tattooed skin would have to be washed in salt water, to keep infection at bay and then the body area had to be massaged to keep out impurities. Family and friends would assist in the healing process because even extremely simple tasks e.g. walking and sitting, could irritate the inflamed skin and cause great pain. Within six months, the distinctive designs would begin to appear on their skin but it would take almost a year to completely heal.

Placement on the body

Placement on the body plays a very important role in Polynesian tattooing. There are a few elements that are related to specific meanings based on where they are placed. So in short, their placement has an influence on the meaning of a Polynesian tattoo.

Humans are said to be descendants or children of Rangi (Heaven) and Papa (Earth), which were said to once be united. Man’s quest in Polynesian legend is to find that union again, so the body is seen as a link between Rangi and Papa. The upper part of the body is related to the spiritual world and heaven, whilst the lower part of the body is related to the world and to earth.

The placements of some elements on the body, such as genealogy tracks on the back of the arms, suggest that the back may be related to the past and the front to the future.

Gender-wise, left is usually associated with women and the right to men.

body parts

1. Head

The head is said to be the contact point to Rangi, and so is related to themes such as spirituality, knowledge, wisdom and intuition.

2. Higher trunk

This area is from just above the navel to the chest and is related to themes such as generosity, sincerity, honour and reconciliation. Some may have noticed that this area is placed directly between Rangi and Papa, in order to have harmony between them balance must exist in this area.

3. Lower trunk

This area goes from the thighs to the navel. This part of the body directly relates to life’s energy, courage, procreation, independence and sexuality. In particular, thighs relate to strength and marriage. The stomach or mid area, is where mana originates form and the navel represents independence due to the symbolic meaning associated to the cutting of the umbilical cord.

Independence is a trait that is valued highly in Polynesian society (as in most others), however individualism is not. All people depending on the sea for sustenance know the important of sociality and socialising. Polynesian people built their culture around this. Family thus becomes a larger group of people that includes all relatives, friends and neighbours, all of which play an important role.

A famous word to define this larger family, comes from Hawaii, the word is ‘Ohana which indicates the familiar group of people who cooperate in the growing, teaching and feeding of children.

4. Upper arms and shoulders

The shoulders and upper arms above the elbow are associated with strength and bravery and they relate to people such as warriors and chiefs. The Maori word kikopuku used to designate this part of the union of the words kiko (flesh, body) and puku (swollen). Puku as a prefix or suffix is also used as an intensifier of the word it qualifies, enforcing the idea of strong arms.

5. Lower arms and hands

From below the elbow, the same word is used to refer both to arm and hand. This part of the body relates to creativity, creation and making things.

6. Legs and feet

The same word is used to refer both to leg and foot. Legs and feet represent moving forward, transformation and progress. They are also related to separation and choice. The feet, being our contact with Papa, Mother Nature, are also related to concreteness and material matters.


Joints often represent union, contact. If we look at the body as a reflection of society, we can understand why joints, being the points where different bones meet, represent different degrees of relation between individuals: the farther from the head (the chief of the family) the greater the distance in kinship, or the lower the status. Ankles and wrists represent a tie and bracelets placed there often symbolise commitment. Knees are often related to chiefs (to kneel before them).

Side note:

Traditional positioning should not keep you from placing your tattoos on any part of the body you may feel appropriate for you: we believe a design should be meaningful to his owner before anyone else.

Polynesian images and motifs

1. Enata (singular)


Human figures, otherwise known as enata in Marquesan language, represent men, women and sometimes gods. They can be placed within a tattoo to represent people and their relations. If they are placed upside down then they can be used to represent defeated enemies. This is one example of the Enata in its singular form.

2. Enata (pattern)


Over-stylised enata joined together in a row of people holding hands form the motif called ani ata, which translates to “cloudy sky”.
Polynesian languages and a row of enata in a semi-circular form often represent the sky as well as the ancestors guarding their descendants.

3. Shark teeth (simplified)


Shark teeth or niho mano deserve a space of their own. Sharks are one of the favourite forms that aumakua choose to appear to man. They represent protection, guidance and strength as well as fierocity however, they are also symbols of adaptability in many cultures. This is an example of simplified shark teeth.

4. Shark teeth (complex)


Below are stylisations of shark teeth, in their more complex form as they may be seen in a tattoo.

5. Spearhead


Another classic symbol that is used to represent the warrior nature is the spear. Spear-heads are very symbolic in relation to sharp items too and they can be used to represent the sting of some animals.

6. Spearhead (pattern)


Often, this is stylised as a row of spear-heads, below is one variant.

7. Ocean (simplified)


The ocean is a second home to Polynesian people and the place of rest when they leave for their last voyage. Coincidentally, turtles are said to join the departed guiding them to their destinations. So sometimes, the ocean can be used to represent death and the beyond. Since the ocean is the primary source of food, it is no wonder it impacts so much tradition and myth. All the creatures living in the ocean are associated with several meanings, usually mutated from their characteristic traits and habits. The ocean and the sea can be represented by waves. Here is the simplified version.

8. Ocean


The stylisations of the ocean can often represent ideas such as life, change and continuity through change. Waves can also be used to represent the world beyond or the place where the departed go and rest on their last voyage.

9. Tiki


One meaning of the word tiki is figure, so tiki is the name given to human-like figures that usually represent semi-gods as opposed to atua, who usually appear to men under the shape of animals such as lizards.

The tiki can also represent deified ancestors, priests and chiefs who became semi-gods after their passing. They symbolise protection, fertility and they serve as guardians.

By stylizing the figure over and over there has been a simplified version that has been reached, called the “brilliant eye” where the eyes, nostrils and ears appear to be the prominent elements.

Here is an example of a tiki face

10. Tiki eyes


Tiki figures can be portrayed in a front view (sometimes with their tongue stretched out as a symbol of defiance to enemies). Here is a close up of one of the most important elements of the tiki, the eyes.

11. Turtle


The turtle or honu is another important creature throughout all Polynesian cultures and has been associated with several meanings. The first being the fact that turtles symbolise health, fertility, longevity in life, foundation, peace and rest.

The word hono, meaning turtle in Marquesan language, has other meanings which encompass things such as joining and stitching together families and representing the idea of unity.

Contrary to what is sometimes believed, turtles drawn upwards do not imply that they are taking the soul of a dead person into the other world. To represent this, a human figured must be placed on or near the shell of the turtle.

12. Turtle (shell pattern)


Other patterns can be derived by the inlay of the shell, this is one example of a shell-stylisation…

13. Lizard


Lizards and geckos are often called mo’o or moko and they play an important role in Polynesian myth. Gods (atua) and minor spirits often appeared to men in the form of lizards and this may explain why the stylised element used to represent the lizard is very similar to the stylised symbol used to represent man.
Lizards are very powerful creatures who bring good luck, communicate between the humans and the gods and who can access the invisible world. On the other hand, they can also bring death and bad omens to people who are disrespectful.

14. Lizard (pattern)


This is a pattern or stylisation of the lizard symbol, and as mentioned above it does look rather similar to the human-form stylisation (enata).

15. Stingray


Stingray tattoos come in several variations and styles, the image can hold symbolic meanings. The stingray has the ability to hide in the underwater sands, mainly from sharks and is able to cover up with sand and lay still. Most sharks can sense prey in the sand based on movement but for the most part the stingray is able to hide and for this reason, it’s image is classed as a symbol of protection. Other themes that go hand in hand with the sting-ray image are adaptation, gracefulness, peacefulness, danger, agility, speed and stealth.

We specialise in Polynesian and Maori Tattoo Artwork



If you’d like to see more of our polynesian work, head on over to our Polynesian Tattoo Gallery or contact us to talk about your ideas!

Source: The Polynesian Tattoo Handbook

Want to stand out from the crowd with a striking art piece that is tailor-made for the individual.
And applied with the highest standards of professional care.


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240+ Tribal Hawaiian Symbols And Meanings (2020) Traditional Tattoo Designs !

60 Hawaiian Tattoos For Men – Traditional Tribal Ink Ideas

Aloha! Discover the ancient art of “kakau” and its traditional black ink. Beyond the shirts, flowers and leis, you’ll find deep tribal culture in these island inspired designs.

When it comes to this famous tattoo style, there are two important things to know.

Today’s modern tribal designs stem from the traditional Polynesian island art. While, Hawaiian designs on the other hand, represent the infusion of popular Hawaii culture and early tribal traditions together. Another aspect to consider is the Tiki culture, which was quite popular back in the 1950’s and 90’s.

Yet, across thousands of years the meanings behind them have stayed similarly true. Even though each tattoo is unique with its own interlocking lines, shapes and geometric patterns. Not to mention, colors and animals like the turtle are added touches of character too.

For instance, these ideas can represent protection, family heritage and personal identification, memorable life events, and perhaps the most popular, a man’s status as a warrior.

Regardless of the meaning you choose, these top 60 best Hawaiian tattoos for men are sure to bring about plenty of cultural inspiration. From tribal designs on arms to full and half sleeves that leave lasting impressions, each piece of artwork has its own significance and incredible beauty.


Back Hawaiian Tribal Tattoos For Males

Cool Hawaiian Tattoos For Males

Cool Men's Hawaiian Tribal Shoulder Tattoos

Forearm Men's Traditional Hawaiian Tattoos

Guy's Hawaiian Tattoo Design On Leg

Guy's Hawaiian Tattoo On Back

Guy's Hawaiian Tribal Tattoos For Men On Chest

Hawaiian Armband Sleeve Tattoo for Men

Hawaiian Arm Tattoos For Guys

Hawaiian Band Men's Tattoo

Hawaiian Bicep Tattoos For Guys

Hawaiian Full Sleeve Tattoo Designs For Men

Sleeve Hawaiian Islands Men's Tattoo Designs

Hawaiian Island Tattoo For Men

Hawaiian Leg Sleeve Tattoo For Men

Hawaiian Male Tattoo Art On Chest

Hawaiian Men's Tattoo Patterns On Bicep

Hawaiian Polynesian Tattoo Men Sleeves

Hawaiian Shoulder Tattoo For Guys

Hawaiian Shoulder Tattoos For Males

Hawaiian Side Rib Cage Tattoo Designs For Men

Hawaiian Sleeve Tattoo For Men

Hawaiian Sleeve Tattoos For Men

Hawaiian Style Tattoo For Men

Hawaiian Tattoo Half Sleeve For Men

Hawaiian Tattoo Ideas For Males On Shoulder

Hawaiian Tattoos Ideas For Men On Chest

Hawaiian Tattoo Symbols For Men

Hawaiian Themed Men's Tattoo Ideas

Hawaiian Themed Tattoos For Males

Hawaiian Traditional Tattoo For Guys

Hawaiian Tribal Back Tattoos Men

Hawaiian Tribal Band Sleeve Tattoos For Gentlemen

Hawaiian Tribal Cross Men's Tattoos

Hawaiian Tribal Leg Tattoos For Men

Hawaiian Upper Armband Tattoos For Guys

Hawaiian Warrior Tattoo For Men

Male Chest Hawaiian Tattoo Designs

Male Hawaiian Half Sleeve Tattoos

Male Hawaiian Style Tattoos On Ribs

Palm Tree Masculine Hawaiian Tattoos For Men

Male Tattoo Hawaiian On Back

Male Tattoos Hawaiian

Manly Ancient Hawaiian Tattoo

Man With Tribal Hawaiian Tattoos

Masculine Men's Hawaiian Warrior Tattoos

Men's Hawaiian Islands Tattoo

Men's Hawaiian Island Tattoos

Men's Hawaiian Tattoo

Men's Hawaiian Tattoo Designs

Men's Hawaiian Tattoo Meanings

Men's Hawaiian Tattoos On Shoulder

Men's Hawaiian Tribal Tattoo Designs

Men's Hawaiian Tribal Tattoo On Legs

Men's Hawaiian Tribal Tattoos

Men's Hawaiian Turtle Tattoo

Men's Traditional Hawaiian Tattoo

Traditional Tattoos Of Hawaiian Tribal Designs For Men

Tribal Hawaiian Tattoo For Men

Tribal Tattoos Hawaiian Men

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If you are a fan of the film Moana, you have had the chance to see interesting (and magical) traditional Polynesian tattoos. While your Hawaiian-inspired tattoo isn’t going to just appear because of your great deeds, the significance of tattoos in Hawaiian culture isn’t too far off from the way it is portrayed in the film.

Known as kakau, Hawaiian tattoos have a rich history to go with their distinctive designs. Like many cultural tattoo traditions, Hawaiian tattoos did not only serve as body ornamentation, but had greater spiritual significance. The symbolism of the tattoo images connected to protect their well-being, physically and spiritually. Tattoos also displayed the status of the different members of society, from the leaders to older adolescents. The colors were applied by specially trained artists called kahuna, the only ones permitted to apply the designs, by a bone needle attached to a stick and then struck with a mallet.[1] 

In addition to the traditions of creating the tattoos, the symbols and their placements had distinct meanings. Men tended to get their tattoos on the right side of the body while women got them on the left, and putting tattoos within certain areas of the body could convey different significance. Warriors and chiefs tended to have tattoos on their upper arms and shoulders, while the women typically had theirs on their hands and lower parts of the body.[2]

Today, there is a movement among Hawaiian tattoos artists to bring back the designs, and even the practice, of traditional kakau tattooing. Throughout these Hawaiian tattoo looks, you will see examples of the ancient artwork combined with modern tattoo styles. This mash-up makes for beautiful tattoos that pay homage to the kakau artists of old.

45 Best Hawaiian Tattoos image

Best Hawaiian Tattoos

Ride the Waves

Classic Hawaiian tattoo

This is a classic example of a Hawaiian tattoo, rich in symbolism and intricate geometric designs. The use of the negative space within the tattoo to add accents to the design is beautiful, smooth, and effective. Shading throughout the shapes gives depth and draws the eye to all the details of the design. Adding in the plumeria gives a nice contrast, both in tattoo technique and design.  

Geometric Sleeve

Classic Hawaiian tattoo geometric sleeve

Other common themes in Hawaiian tattoos designs are repetitive shapes and the use of movement. Perhaps since Polynesian societies were in touch with nature, the islands and the sea, the flow of the designs hearken back to that concept. Stark black fits the traditional look of kakau tattoo art, finishing with a cool cuff at the wrist.  

Soaring Warrior

Hawaiian tattoo kakau flying bird

While animals are often symbolic in tattoo designs, in kakau the placement of the tattoo was also significant. To get a tattoo on the shoulder was the mark of a warrior or even a chief. This two-toned design incorporates a flying bird, which could be a bird of prey or a seabird. While these birds were not common in traditional Hawaiian tattoos, birds in flight tend to represent freedom. A beautiful design, this tattoo can show strength, freedom, or a combination.

Full Leg Spearheads

Classic Hawaiian tattoo spearheads

A simple, sequential design, this triangular pattern is a representation of spearheads covering the entire leg. This is a common Hawaiian tattoo design, fitting with the traditional look and meaning of the tattoos. Spears can represent the warrior spirit or the sting of an animal, it all depends on what you want it to mean.

Patterned Waves

Classic Hawaiian tattoo waves

A common theme in Hawaiian tattoos, waves are connected to life, specifically the contrast of the constancy and changes of life. Applying patterns to the waves add layers to the tattoo’s meaning, in this instance the shapes and plant life making connections to home. The beauty of this design is undeniable, with the curves of the waves and the shading within the artwork.

Hidden Tiki

Tiki Hawaiian tattoo

Hawaiian tattoos use the negative space within the artwork as key parts of the design. The curls within the patterns form waves and flow, going with the depth of the shading. Also within the design, the shapes create a tiki face at the upper part of the tattoo. Tikis are typically demigods, meant to show protection and guardianship.

Swirling Patterns

Classic Hawaiian swirling pattern tattoo

Several traditional Hawaiian patterns make up this design. Curls of waves and water start at the back, moving into a turtle shell pattern, shark teeth, and elements of nature. Finishing the swirl is a line of spearheads. Combining these symbols together, the tattoo has the meaning of strength, fertility, and life. It is interesting to note that the tattoo is placed on the left shoulder, as traditionally kakau tattoos are placed on the left side for women and the right for men.

Shark Teeth and Spears

Classic Hawaiian leg tattoo

This leg piece combines patterns of spears and shark teeth, which together mean ferocity and strength. Bold lines contrast nicely with the patterns, while the open spaces of the design tie the parts of the tattoo together. Traditionally, tattoos on the leg means transformation and moving forward, so such a bold design gives the idea that this person wants to move forward in a strong manner. The same design would work well as a sleeve piece, changing the meaning to one of creativity.

Guiding Light

Sea Turtle in Classic Hawaiian tattoo

Sea turtles were considered to be guides for the departed to the next life. This serene scene is both a beautiful addition to this sleeve, and also would be a wonderful tribute piece to a loved one. The artistry of the piece is breathtaking, and while this would be lovely in color the simple nature of the black and white makes the design.

Hang Loose

Hawaiian tattoo shaka

While the shaka, a common Hawaiian gesture, has several origin stories, it has long been associated with Hawaiian surfing culture. Incorporating traditional Hawaiian tattoo patterns into the shaka brings old and new culture together, a fabulous hybrid of the history of the islands. Ocean symbols, like the fish, as well as the warrior symbols like the spearheads, are perfect for surfers.

Hawaiian Lily

Hawaiian lily tattoo

A beautiful wrist tattoo, the blending of the blue and yellow within the lily provide a great color complement. Similar to red and yellow Hawaiian lilies, the blue fades into the yellow like a watercolor painting. The colors are reminiscent of both the sun and ocean, two symbols that are important to Hawaiian culture. This would also make a great shoulder or ankle tattoo.

Swirling Leg Piece

Classic Hawaiian pattern tattoo on a leg

Classic Hawaiian patterns make this cool tattoo a spectacular piece. The turtle shell patterns stand out in particular, fitting with the ocean theme of the swirls. Each curve fits with the others, creating a cohesive look. Pulling the design down onto the foot gives the feeling that the tattoo has no bounds, fitting with the freedom of the ocean waves.

Warrior Sleeve

Warrior sleeve Hawaiian tattoo

Scales, shark teeth, and spearheads are the main focus of this tattoo design. The details and shading are a nice complement to the stark lines of the rest of the tattoo. Going for a classic black and white look fits with the traditional nature of the sleeve.

Sharks, Stingrays, and Sea Turtles

Shark and sea Hawaiian tattoo

While the stingray is prey for a shark, both symbolize protection and adaptability in traditional kakau designs. Sea turtles are also protectors of souls at sea, making all three ideal representations of guardianship. From a design standpoint, using the other animals to create the shape of the stingray is a cool visual trick.

Polynesian Mash-up

Classic Hawaiian tattoo with Asian warrior

Ancient China has connections to traditional Polynesia, and the people’s that descended from the area, and so it is not surprising that kakau designs could have Chinese influences. Chinese warrior emblems, as well as the yin and yang, are paired with Hawaiian flowers and patterns. Placing the tattoo on the shoulder, as would a warrior, fits well with this particular design.

Tribal Tribute

Classic Hawaiian tribute tattoo

A cool tribute tattoo, the majority of the Hawaiian tattoo patterns feature spearheads and shark teeth. The sharp details and bold lines fit with traditional Hawaiian tattoo designs. Using the negative space within the tattoo as part of the design works well, as it is the perfect placement for the names. The beautiful script of the names is the perfect contrast to the straight lines of the rest of the design.

Layered Spearheads

Classic Hawaiian pattern tattoo

Taking a different approach, the layered spearheads are an alternate look to the traditional spearhead design. Adding the shading gives another layer to the style. The swirls here fit with the ocean themes, but also have a tentacle-like style that implies other sea creatures. A cool twist on the traditional elements to make an awesome tattoo sleeve.

Full Leg Swirls

Leg Hawaiian tattoo

In addition to the typical elements of a Hawaiian tattoo, the swirls are the main focus of this leg piece. The movement of the wave-like curls draw the eye through the entirety of the tattoo, insuring that you will admire all its aspects. Within the overall design, there are smaller vignettes of ocean scenes and animals that fit with the general theme of Oceania.  

Blue Rose

Blue rose Hawaiian tattoo

While plumeria are considered to be the Hawaiian rose, the deep blue of this design fits the oceanic spirit of the islands. The gorgeous shading of the artwork adds depth to the tattoo, making it seem almost like a real rose. For a tattoo this size, the wrist is a perfect placement, although it would also work well on the ankle.

Sketched Leg Piece

Big leg Hawaiian tattoo

The art style of this Hawaiian tattoo is sketched, giving it almost an animated quality. This quality gives the tattoo life in a way that is reflected by the movement of the design. Some common imagery includes fish scales, spearheads, and shark teeth, all typical warrior symbols.

Hawaiian Half-sleeve

Sleeve Hawaiian tattoo

A cool half-sleeve idea, the lines of the tattoo follow the natural lines and curves of the arm. The tribal designs flow down the forearm, while the more spherical aspects circle the elbow. Using bold lines is a stark contrast to the rest of the sleeve, breaking up the whole piece.

Happy Hula Hottie

Happy hula Hawaiian tattoo

There is nothing quite so stereotypical as the buxom hula girl tattoo. Complete with the bright red lei and heavy makeup, her enticing hula dance makes you want to rush off to the islands. Finishing the scene with the gorgeous sunset in the background brings the whole design together.

Hawaiian Chest Plate

Patterned Hawaiian chest tattoo

This design is reminiscent of chest armor worn by tribal warriors, fitting given the elements of the shark teeth and spearheads. Placing a kakau on the chest fits with generosity and honor, appropriate characteristics for a noble fighter. The symmetry of the design is pleasing to the eye, and fits the traditional style of Hawaiian tattoos.  

Descending Spears

Spears in Hawaiian tattoo

A cool optical illusion, the spearhead pattern gets smaller as it travels down the arm. While the spears look a bit like a triforce, you can also see the way the inner triangles reflect the pattern of the black spearheads. The thin lines fit with shark teeth designs, a natural complement to the spearhead pattern.

Contrasting Patterns

Polynesian hawaii tattoo

The cuffs, as straight lines, give an interesting contrasting element within this tattoo design. The swirling of the shell pattern evokes a feeling of the sea, while the weaving and the spears of the cuffs fit with the land. Both elements were important in Polynesian culture, and they are fitting halves of one whole in this sleeve.

Central Tiki

Tiki Hawaiian tattoo

Since tikis were considered to be demigods or semi gods, putting the tiki at the center conveys the being’s importance. Spiraling the rest of the tattoo out from the center emphasizes the point. Included among the shark teeth and spearheads is an enata, or the Polynesian symbol for a person. Sometimes, the enata represented deity as well, which fits with the tiki. Keeping the colors dark and bold conveys the strength and power, as well as the intimidation, of the figure.

Tapestry Sleeve

Sleeve Kakau tattoos

In addition to tattoo artwork, Polynesian cultures were known for their intricate tapestry work as a way to pass on the stories of their people. This tattoo design weaves in and out of itself, similar to a tapestry, and it is fitting for kakau. Tattoos were meant to tell a story of the person, and the delicate lines, details, and shading paint a personal picture for this individual.

Waves Full Leg Piece

Hawaiian tattoo of waves on leg

A Hawaiian tattoo like this has great personal significance, particularly given its size. Placing the tattoo on the leg in traditional kakau meant transformation and moving forward, and waves also represent change. It is possible that this person wanted to show next steps of her life, a journey represented by this tattoo.

Tiki Turtle

Tiki turtle tattoo

An interesting mash-up of designs, turtles were the guardians of the spirits as they traveled across the sea, while the tikis bring a sense of deity. Who better to guard your passage than a demigod? Using the green as a complementing color is a great choice, since it fits with the turtle and oceanic elements.

A Sleeve Complete

Tattoo that tells a story

Especially if you are getting traditional kakau, which can be quite painful, it makes sense to do the sleeve in pieces. This section of the sleeve seems to be telling a story of a people settling down, growing crops and establishing their society. A continuation of the lower part of the sleeve, which has more warrior elements, the top part shows a shift in the priorities of the people. Additionally, the artistry fits with traditional Hawaiian tattoo elements.

Shark Cuff and Spears

shark teeth pattern hawaiian tattoo

Much like the ancient Samoans, it is common to have multiple tattoos that complement one another. The shark teeth cuff, a new addition, goes with the decorative spearheads. While it is not a direct match, that is not necessarily the point. Kakau tattoos tell a story, and additions show the journey of the tattoo owner. To get a tattoo on a joint, like the wrist, shows commitment.  

Half-Sleeve Waves

Half sleeve tattoo

The cool movement of these tattoo comes from the curve of the patterns and the curls of the waves. Waves are a feature of this design, as the negative space arcs like the ocean to mimic the shape at the top of the tattoo. Bringing in the traditional patterns and elements add depth and details that make the tattoo.

Warrior Sun

Warrior sun Hawaiian tattoo

Tattoos on the chest and upper arms were meant to show honor and bravery. The spearhead pattern within the sun fits with these themes, while the sun fits the traditions of honoring elements of nature. The waves on the arm are the natural complement to the sun, as the sun and the sea were considered the sources of life in ancient Polynesian societies.

Classic Sea Turtle

Classic sea turtle Hawaiian tattoo

Sea turtles were an important symbol in kakau tattoo culture, as guardians of spirits. However, turtles could also represent long life, health, and peace. Any one of those meanings are a perfect fit for this beautiful design, with its perfect symmetry and traditional elements. Keeping the tattoo stark black allows the curves and swirls to stand out clearly rather than muddle the design with unnecessary color.

Full Body Waves

full Body Hawaiian tattoo

The curve of the waves reaches from the top of the body down the leg, tying together the design cohesively. Within the tattoo, elements of turtle shell, fish scales, shark teeth, and tiki eyes form a repetitive pattern. The sea animals are the perfect complement to the ocean shape of the tattoo. The same design would look cool wrapped around a leg or arm as well.

Spearheads and Shark Teeth

Spearheads and shark teeth hawaiian tattoo

A perfect example of traditional warrior tattoo, the multiple versions of spearheads and shark teeth artwork come together in a woven tapestry. Laying the patterns on top of one another gives depth to the design while keeping the lines clean. Going for complexity of detail rather than shading gives this tattoo a more traditional feel.

Spearhead Sleeve

Spearhead sleeve

Similar to the previous design, the weave of the patterns paint the story of a traditional warrior tattoo. Going for the full sleeve also fits with the traditions, making the tattoo owner feel closer to the Polynesians of old. Small fish decals bring in the oceanic elements that also honor the cultural heritage of the original tattoos.

Hail to the Chief

Curve on elbow tattoo

Tattoos on or around the knees were symbolic of kneeling, typically to the chief. The shape of the design alludes to waves, but also to a bird of prey like a hawk or falcon. Other elements, like the spears and flower shapes, fit with the other aspects of Polynesian society. As this design is made to curve around an area of the body, another good placement would be around the elbow or across the chest.

Garment of Honor

Tattoo on chest as sign of honor

Putting tattoos on the chest was a sign of honor and sincerity, which makes sense given the patterns included in this design. The shape and angle of the tattoo also fits with the traditional garments of ancient Polynesian societies, particularly for the men. It is essentially a way to say that this is the permanent garb of the tattoo owner, displayed for all to see.

Woman of the Tribe

Female Classic Hawaiian tattoo

This is an excellent example of a more traditional female tattoo. Women typically have had geometric patterns and floral images, such as the ones pictured. Additionally, women would put their tattoos on the left side of the body, like this one. While the flowers and patterns are a bit more modern, it is a great way to honor the tradition and bring contemporary flair.

Brave and Bold

Bold and brave Hawaiian tattoo

Rather than using delicate details or shading, this Hawaiian tattoo look brings emphasis on the symbols with bold lines and shapes. This is much more like the ancient kakau, as they would not have had the technology to do the more intricate artistry of contemporary tattoo artists. It is particularly interesting to note the gradation of complexity from the simple spearheads to the more comprehensive pattern to the outside of the arm.

Hawaiian Henna

Classic Hawaiian tattoo done in henna

Taking inspiration from henna tattoo designs, this Hawaiian tattoo brings something new to the table. Incorporating many of the shapes and symmetrical nature of henna with the repeated patterns of Hawaiian tattoos creates a unique style. Pulling the tattoo all the way to the tip of the finger helps to give the tattoo extra length and carry the style through.

Truly Traditional

Traditional pattern Hawaiian tattoo

This tattoo design couldn’t be more traditional if it tried. The repeated patterns of the spears, shark teeth, and fish fit the island culture perfectly. Going for a full right sleeve hearkens back to the male warrior, as does the compact nature of the look. Again, we see the negative space used as an important part of the design rather than an afterthought.

Polynesian Full Sleeve

Polynesian tattoo design

The best tattoos look natural, like they belong on the body. This tattoo design captures that idea perfectly. Classic Hawaiian patterns follow the curve of the muscles in this full sleeve, making it seem as though the tattoo was always part of its owner. The waves and water move naturally over the skin, and a space is even open for the elbow. While that is certainly intention for reasons other than design, it is clear that the space is part of the look.

Hawaiian Tiki

Colorful Hawaiian tiki tattoo

What everyone pictures when they think of a tiki, this representation of the stereotypical statue is a fun and colorful take on a Hawaiian tattoo design. The artist did an excellent job in using colors to create dimension within the figure, as well as bringing a touch of realism with the wood grain. The bright highlights and flames also add mysticism, appropriate considering the mythical nature of the tiki gods.

Sunset Back Piece

Shoulders and back Hawaiian tattoo

Along with common Hawaiian tattoo symbols, the addition of the geometric sunset fits with the island and ocean themes. While this would also make a gorgeous chest piece, putting this design along the curves of the back brings the artwork to life. The additions of the Hawaiian flower and the word uncontrollable add the personal touch of the owner.  

Historically and culturally significant, Hawaiian tattoo art is rising in popularity in more than just paradise. These designs speak of a time of community, both with ones neighbors and with the earth itself, in a way that has been all but lost. These societies valued tattoos as a sacred art, to the point that only specially trained priests could perform the kakau process. As tattoos become socially acceptable in mainstream culture, these tattoos once again come to the surface.

While the artistic themes in Hawaiian tattoo designs tend to be the same, the meaning of each tattoo is deeply personal. The placement of the tattoo itself and emblems used within the artwork make the tattoo unique to its owner, even if some of patterns are the same as another’s. In this way, the owner feels connected to others with similar patterns but still maintains their own style.

If you are a lover of the ocean, the islands, or all things Hawaiian, hopefully you have found inspiration among these designs.

[1] Pacific Islanders in Communication, “Skin Stories: The Art and Cultural of Polynesian Tattoo,” PBS. 2003. https://www.pbs.org/skinstories/index.html.

[2] Zealand Tattoo, “Polynesian Tattoo: History, Meanings and Traditional Designs.” 2017. https://www.zealandtattoo.co.nz/tattoo-styles/polynesian-tattoo-history-meanings-traditional-designs/

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