When you think of Polynesia, you think of lovely islands, food, dance and of course handsome men sporting large Polynesian tattoos and at times even over the entire body. Surprisingly, Polynesian tattooing is a creation of a civilization in which the language does not have a script. Tales and legends were passed over orally from one generation to another. A tattoo was part of that tradition and was kind of a record that was maintained to know about the person’s past.
Polynesian tattoo designs differed and each design would denote something in particular like a person’s standing in society, profession and ancestry.
There was a short break in tattooing here with the Christian missionaries taking over and trying to establish a new set of rules as the law of the land. However, tattooing soon returned as Polynesian Tattooing is very popular and the traditional Polynesian tattoo designs are highly sought after. The traditional tools that were used were prohibited in French Polynesia during the 80s since the Health Ministry felt that it would not be shoulder-polynesian-tattoospossible to sterilize the wood and bone tools that were used. The needles used were made out of tortoise shell or bone and the same was fixed firmly to a piece of wood. Polynesians made use of the soot that they got from burning candlenut. It was mixed with another solution, generally oil or water, so that the application becomes easier. The needle is then dipped into this solution and then pushed into the skin with an instrument resembling a hammer.
A person became a part of the Polynesian tattooing ceremonies by around age 12 and this is the period of changing from being a child to being an adult. The Polynesian tattoo designs and placement were decided upon in accordance with their lineage. Social status and number of tattoos were directly proportional. A person with no tattoos was considered an outcast and those with many were held in very high esteem. The size of the tattoos also greatly varied from one to the other.
Polynesian tattooing was done for women as well but not in the same proportion as men. The girls like boys were tattooed by age 12. Until this time she was prohibited from cooking and not allowed to be a part of the society completely. Women were permitted to get tattoos only on their hands, lips or feet.
Around the late 90s and the early part of the new millennium the people who got tattooed in the United States followed a “tribal” fashion in their tattoos. These tattoos were distinct because of their shapes and dark black color. But little do they realize it has nothing to do with Polynesian tattooing, which they are supposedly inspired from. It does not necessarily mean that these are fake Polynesian tattoo designs but they can probably be categorized into a separate category. It is the emotional value that is attached by the wearer that makes the tattoo symbolic which is the case with any kind of body art.