History of the Tattoo… Polynesian ~


I love Tattoos!  Always have, always will.  I remember the first time I was attracted to a man with tattoos.  I was sweet sixteen.  He wasn’t your usual guy with a tattoo, we nicknamed him ‘tattoo man’ because his entire upper body was inked.  He used to hang out at the Canyon in the summer and cliff dive, shirtless of course.  I think he was my first real crush, the kind that makes you feel weird inside.  I had never met anyone who had a tattoo let alone a body full of them.  I am intrigued by tattoos and the reasons men and women get them.  The stories and meanings behind them can be so moving and inspiring or just plain quirky and odd.

I have decided to do a history of the tattoo for a post once a month until we cover the many styles and types of tattoos.

‘A really good friend of mine’ Scott has his upper body inked with what I think is the most incredible tattoo I have ever seen.  The process from start to finish took months of preparation because the entire tattoo was created  from his vision.  He went through the creative process with the artist  Cristoffer Fulton.  Cristoffer passed just days after the vision was complete.  His memory will forever live on in the art he has created. There is a unique story here that I hope to share with you one day.

The word tattoo is said to have two major derivations,  from the Polynesian word ‘ta’ which means striking something and a Tahitian word ‘tatau’ which means ‘to mark something’.  The history of tattoo began over 5000 years ago and is as diverse as the people who wear them.

The Rock Polynesian tattoo

Polynesian~ In pacific cultures tattooing has a huge historic significance.  Polynesian tattooing is considered the most intricate and skillful tattooing of the ancient world.  Polynesian peoples, believe that a person’s mana, their spiritual power or life force, is displayed through their tattoo.  The vast majority of what we know today about these ancient arts has been passed down through legends, songs, and ritual ceremonies. Elaborate geometrical designs which were often added to, renewed, and embellished throughout the life of the individual until they covered the entire body.

In Samoa, the tradition of applying tattoo, or ‘tatau’, by hand, has long been defined by rank and title, with chiefs and their assistants, descending from notable families in the proper birth order.  The tattooing ceremonies for young chiefs, typically conducted at the onset of puberty, were elaborate affairs and were a key part of their ascendance to a leadership role.  The permanent marks left by the tattoo artists would forever celebrate their endurance and dedication to cultural traditions.

The Hawaiian people had their traditional tattoo art, known as ‘kakau’. It served them not only for ornamentation and distinction, but to guard their health and spiritual well-being.  Intricate patterns, mimicking woven reeds or other natural forms, graced men’s arms, legs, torso and face.
Women were generally tattooed on the hand, fingers, wrists and sometimes on their tongue.  I will be inking my body at some point this year but it won’t be on my tongue!  To be continued…


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  • Bridget azpeitia

    Thank you for the video and for detailed lesson on tattoos. Very much appreciated. I have been wanting to get a tattoo for quit some time now I’m just not sure what to get. I know for sure I would l would like it to be a Polynesian tattoo, of course I want it to be meaningful but at the same time go with my body and who I am as person.
    What would u suggest for me being that I am a women interested in the art of the Polynesian tattoos.?
    PS I’M A HUGE FAN OF DWAYNE JOHNSON 😀 he was my first crush with a tattoo 😀

    • Tracy Westerholm

      Thanks for the comment Bridget, my advice to you is to be really sure of what you do want, its permanent! I took a very long time too, I always knew I wanted one as well but until it felt like ‘this is it!’ I never moved forward, just kept looking.
      I love Polynesian style too and there are so many symbols to choose from. Try to find one that makes sense to you and has meaning to you. I also like the African symbols which all have unique meaning. It doesn’t have to have life long meaning, it can be where your at right now.
      If you look into our archives you will see my Tara Cronica tattoo.(look under tattoo category Tara Cronica Inked at Genesis Designs Tattoo) I chose my tattoo because it was a time in my life where everything changed, and Tara has such meaning for me. I am on a road to enlightenment. (read our about page) I had the artist draw this after we had a conversation of what it meant to me, he came up with branches coming out as growth. So if you keep working with it, it unfolds and becomes what you want. I also designed double J’s for both my kids Jess and Jordan on my left wrist which is very small, they didn’t look right going in the same direction so I had them mirror one another and it too looks like a symbol. Good luck and let me know what you decide, I’d love to feature it in our Gallery! Tracy

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