Samoa, the Cook Islands, Easter Island, Tonga, French Polynesia, Tahiti, Hawaii, etc., make up the Polynesian islands. These islands were discovered in 1500 and have now become a favorite tourist jaunt. A lot of people choose to get Polynesian tribal tattoos after they have visited these islands. The practice of tattoo making was used to signify hierarchy in the society, sexual maturity, and blood line. Some of them also had a religious connection. Body art was a universal custom followed in these islands, where both men and women got tattoos made on their buttocks, back of their thighs, arms, etc. The tools used for this were made from fish and animal bones, tortoise shell, bird beaks, claws, etc.
They were seen as a symbol of courage, as the process of tattoo making was very painful. The person needed to have a lot of perseverance to endurance. The first tattoo was designed on a person who was around the age of twelve, to mark the passage between childhood and adulthood. This process was also looked upon as a rite of passage. Tattoos were also seen as a sign of power and prestige. Hence, chiefs and warriors were the people who had the most elaborate designs, to mark their status and power within the society. Girls were also inked around the age of twelve, however, their designs were not as elaborate, and were usually made on hands, arms, feet, lips, and ears. It was considered very prestigious for a woman to get one made on the legs. It was considered that they added to the sexual attractiveness of a woman and man. They were also seen as a talisman, which seemed to offer protection from evil spirits. Some were also made as a symbol of mourning for a loved one.
Of the two most popular designs the first one is Enata group of designs, which are natural designs, that symbolize a person's life history, island or origin, status in the society, type of work done, etc. If the person was a fisherman, he would get a tattoo made which would protect him from dangerous sharks or protect his fishing vessel when he went fishing deep into the sea. The other type of designs were the Etua designs. These had much more stronger, spiritual, magical, or religious meanings attached to them. They were used to depict the honor of the person in the tribe and also to offer protection by the Gods. Some of the most commonly used designs are:
Tiki: Tiki is a God who is always depicted with closed eyes, as it was believed that he could smell trouble before he could see the trouble coming.
Shells: Shells were used as currency in the Polynesian islands. They symbolized wealth, hence were used as inspiration by people to make tattoos.
Sharks and Shark Teeth: They were considered as sacred animals, who were powerful and mighty. Their teeth were used for self-defense and protection from enemies.
Turtles: Turtles were very popular in Polynesian tattoo art, as they depicted fertility and long life.
Gecko: Geckos were said to have supernatural powers and were looked upon by the Polynesians with awe and fear. It was also said, that if a gecko 'laughs', a terrible omen of illness and bad fortune will befall on the person and his family.
The other designs used were dolphins, tropical flowers, sea turtles, arrows, etc. Legs, arms, face, and torso were the areas where the men would get their tattoos made. Women on the other hand, got them made on the hands, wrist, tongue, lips, etc. Although the process was painful, people would get them made, nevertheless.