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PART III. Your Ultimate Guide to All Things Tattoo & Hawaii Culture in Art.

3.1. Exploration of Traditional Polynesian Tattoo Designs: Traditional Polynesian tattoos are a captivating visual journey through the rich tapestry of Pacific island cultures. These designs are rooted in ancient traditions and are often characterized by bold, geometric patterns and intricate linework. Motifs like the enata (human figure), waves, and turtles feature prominently. Each design is carefully crafted to convey a specific message or narrative, making it a deeply personal and cultural experience.When it comes to Polynesian tattooing, every element carries a deep significance, and the placement on the body is no exception. In Polynesian culture, where and how a tattoo is positioned can profoundly influence its meaning and message. Let's delve into the fascinating world of Polynesian tattoo placement and the symbolism it carries.


Body as a Link Between Heaven and Earth

Polynesian legends describe humans as descendants of Rangi (Heaven) and Papa (Earth), who were once united. The quest in Polynesian mythology is to reunite these two realms, and the human body serves as the bridge between them. Here's a breakdown of the body's symbolism:

  • Upper Body: The upper body, including the head, is associated with the spiritual world, heaven, and themes like spirituality, knowledge, wisdom, and intuition.

  • Higher Trunk: This area, from just above the navel to the chest, symbolizes generosity, sincerity, honor, and reconciliation. It's crucial for maintaining harmony between Heaven and Earth.

  • Lower Trunk: Extending from the thighs to the navel, this region represents life's energy, courage, procreation, independence, and sexuality. Thighs signify strength and marriage, while the navel symbolizes independence.

Gender and Sides:

In Polynesian tattoo culture, gender and sides of the body play a significant role:

  • Gender: The left side of the body is often associated with women, while the right side is linked to men.

  • Sides: Different sides of the body represent distinct aspects, with the back often associated with the past and the front with the future.

Body Parts and Their Meanings:

Let's explore how various body parts and joints carry specific meanings in generally in Polynesian tattooing:

  • Head: The head connects to Rangi, representing spirituality, knowledge, wisdom, and intuition.

  • Upper Arms and Shoulders: These areas symbolize strength and bravery, often associated with warriors and chiefs.

  • Lower Arms and Hands: From below the elbow down to the hands, these parts represent creativity, creation, and craftsmanship.

  • Legs and Feet: These signify progress, transformation, and moving forward. They also relate to choices and separations.

  • Joints: Joints in the body represent connections and relationships. The farther a joint is from the head, the more distant the relationship it represents.



3.2. Techniques Used in Creating Traditional Tattoos: Creating traditional Polynesian tattoos is an art form passed down through generations. Tattoo artists, known as "tufuga" in Samoan culture, employ techniques like hand-tapping or "tatau" and, more recently, modern tattoo machines. Similarly in Hawaiian the technique is named "kakau". Hand-tapping

involves using a series of tools to manually puncture the skin,

while machine tattooing utilizes electric devices. Both methods require skill and precision to produce intricate, symmetrical patterns.







3.3. Meanings and Symbolism Behind Common Polynesian Motifs: Every Polynesian motif carries specific meanings deeply rooted in cultural symbolism. For instance, the enata symbolizes humans and their connections, often reflecting relationships or social status. Waves represent the ocean's power and its role as a life source, while turtles embody longevity, fertility, and navigation. Each tattoo tells a unique story, and the placement of these symbols on the body can convey particular messages about the wearer's journey and identity.


Polynesian Tattoo Motifs:

Polynesian tattoos are rich in symbolism, and several motifs are commonly used:

  1. Enata (Human Figures): Enata coming from Marquesan language, represents people, gods, and relationships. When placed upside down, they can symbolize defeated enemies.

  2. Shark Teeth: Shark teeth symbolize protection, guidance, and adaptability. They can represent the sting of some animals.

  3. Spearhead: Spearheads signify the warrior nature and the sting of sharp objects.

  4. Ocean: The ocean represents life, change, and continuity through change. Waves can also symbolize the world beyond.

  5. Tiki: Tiki figures represent semi-gods, ancestors, and guardians. They symbolize protection, fertility, and unity.

  6. Turtle: Turtles symbolize health, fertility, longevity, and unity. They are associated with joining and stitching families together.

  7. Lizard: Lizards represent gods and spirits, good luck, communication with the divine, and access to the invisible world.

  8. Stingray: Stingrays symbolize protection, adaptation, gracefulness, and agility.

Each element and motif in Polynesian tattooing carries a story and a message. These tattoos are not just ink on skin; they are a profound reflection of culture, tradition, and personal significance. So, the next time you admire a Polynesian tattoo, remember that it's a masterpiece of symbolism, artistry, and heritage.




3.4. Contemporary Adaptations of Traditional Polynesian Tattoos: In recent years, traditional Polynesian tattooing has seen a resurgence, blending ancient practices with modern interpretations. Contemporary adaptations maintain a homage for the Polynesian aesthetics, while allowing for individual expression. Tattoo artists collaborate with clients to create designs that are reminiscent of tradition while reflecting personal narratives. This fusion of the old and new is a testament to the enduring relevance and adaptability of Polynesian tattoo art in today's world.

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