Polynesian Tattoo Placements, 50+ Designs, and Their Meanings

By Jason Hamilton / April 6, 2020
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There are a lot of meaningful tattoos out there. However, if you’re going to ask us, we say that the Polynesian tattoo (sometimes also called a Hawaiian tattoo) is one of the most meaningful and attention-grabbing ones. It is rich in design that you can mix and match to come up with an all the more meaningful design. If you’re thinking of having this inked to your body, you’ve come to the right place as we will give you more information that you need to know about such a tattoo.


What is a Polynesian Tattoo?

Sometimes referred to as Hawaiian tattoo, this kind of design is actually usually a combination of various symbols that are often related to nature like the sun, shell, a shark’s teeth, etc. Some symbols used are also related to the Pacific islanders’ culture like the Tiki, a spearhead, and the likes. However, they are not like the usual symbols that we usually imagine. Rather, they have more intricate details and give off more tribal vibes. And normally, such tattoo design is not like the usual colorful tattoo designs that we’ve grown accustomed to as Polynesian tattoos are commonly made of black, red, and brown ink. It is rare to see bright colors for such tattoo design.

Who Can Wear a Polynesian Tattoo and How Do Pacific Islanders See this Trend?

Polynesian tattoos are apparently a type of ancient art. Back in the day, writing wasn’t imminent in Polynesians. And to let people know of their identity and personality, they used tattoos – the Polynesian tattoo. That said, it played a big role in the Polynesian culture. For that reason, Polynesians treasure such tattoo design. And if you’re a Polynesian, needless to say, it is one of the best tattoos for you to show off your heritage and culture.


But don’t worry if you’re not a Polynesian. You can still wear such a beautiful and meaningful design.

As the popularity of such tattoo rises, there is a mix of reactions on this. Thus, it’s understandable if you’re having second thoughts of getting this inked on your skin. However, many Pacific Islanders now appreciate it if you’ll get such tattoo inked on your body even if you’re not a Polynesian. Some even feel proud that foreigners wear their tribal tattoo.


Does it Hurt?

Generally, tattoos hurt. Who wouldn’t feel the pain when needles poke you, right?

However, Polynesian tattoos might hurt more even if you’re not going to undergo their traditional process of tattooing – the manual one. This is because such tattoos have more details. Hence, the more details that a tattoo has, the more you’ll feel the pain. Also, some placements can affect the level of pain that you will feel. Remember, the lesser the muscle and fat in the area where you’ll place your tattoo, the more will it hurt as there will be less or nothing to cushion you from the needles.


Polynesian Tattoo Meanings

Polynesian tattoos have several variations and meanings. Take a closer look at them.


In Maori mythology, Tiki is actually the first man created by the gods. When you use it as a tattoo, it represents protection against possible mishaps that you might encounter.


A Tiki tattoo for the forearm


A Tiki warrior tattoo that you can place on the chest, lower tunk, or arms


Tiki tattoo samples of different shapes


Tiki tattoo variations in a rectangular shape


There are two variations of shells that are used in Polynesian tattoos: the turtle shells and seashells. The former symbolize fertility, wellness, peace, and longevity. On the other hand, the latter represents protection and intimacy.

A turtle shell tattoo


Small seashell tattoos

An intricately details turtle tattoo sample

A turtle tattoo with subtle star details

Marquesan Cross

Derived from turtles, this symbol is associated with harmony and balance among elements.


A simpler Marquesan cross in a circular shape

A retangular Marquesan cross


More intricately detailed Marquesan cross

Another circular Marquesan cross with more blackened areas


The sun symbolizes a person’s position in society in Polynesian culture. In addition to that, it also means riches and leadership.


An intricately detailed Polynesian sun tattoo with a thin outline


A Polynesian sun tattoo with thicker outline

A Polynesian sun tattoo with thick and thin outlines



A Polynesian sun tattoo with solid details


Polynesians believe that when they die, their final destination would be the ocean. Hence, it’s like the Christian’s heaven which makes a nice addition to other Polynesian symbols. Apart from that, it is also often used to fill spaces on a tattoo and will definitely give any Polynesian symbol an oomph.

A tribal ocean tattoo that you can use to fill your Polynesian sleeve tattoos

An ocean tattoo paired with other Polynesian tattoos


A Polynesian ocean tattoo that would look better if you make it bigger

A closer look at the details that you can add to your Polynesian ocean tattoo

Shark teeth

Also known as “niho mano,” this symbol represents ferocity, adaptability, and power because of the shark’s characteristics and personality. It also refers to one of the Polynesian gods.


A shark’s teeth Polynesian pattern paired with other tribal patterns


A shark teeth paired with suns. turtle, Tikis, and spearheads

This pattern focuses more on shark teeth details

A Polynesian shark teeth tattoo paired with a sea turtle and plumeria flowers

Spear Head

Spears are the main weapons of ancient Polynesians. Needless to say, when you use this symbol, it can signify courage and even symbolize your battles in life.

A spearhead that’s best if placed on the arms and legs

A spear (last symbol on the lower right portion) with symbols fo birds, net, tuna, cord, nuqa, vetau, fish scale, turtle shell, sea waves, plant leaves, and path

Spearheads paired with octopus tentacles, shark teeth, tiki, fish hooks, and flowers

Symbols of spearhead with the sun, Marquesan cross, shark teeth, octopus tentacle, and Tiki

But did you know that Polynesian tattoos’ placements also matter? Yes, there are certain placements for such a tattoo that will help enhance its meaning and not just for aesthetics and attention grabbing. Here’s what it could mean depending on its placement.

Polynesian Tattoo Placement


Polynesians believe that the head is the contact point to heaven. Such tattoo placement is also related to wisdom, spirituality, intuition, and knowledge because, needless to say, this is where our brain is located.

A Polynesian tattoo covering the whole head

This one is placed on the side of the head, matching the owner’s haircut

This tattoo covers half of the head

This one starts from the right side of the head that stretches down to the neck and nape


This area is related to themes like honor, reconciliation, sincerity and generosity probably mainly because it is where you can find the heart. It is also associated with balance because it is located between the head, which is believed to be related to heaven, and the feet, which is associated with earth.

A tattoo starting from the chest to the upper arm

A tribal tattoo covering the whole back

A combination of chest and sleeve tattoo

A combination of chest and half-sleeve tattoo of Polynesian symbols

Lower Trunk

This area, on the other hand, relates to courage, life’s energy. Procreation, sexuality, and independence.

A tattoo that stretches down to the hips

This one stretches down to the thighs

This one looks as if you’re already wearing a pair of shorts

A Polynesian tattoo placed even at the private part

Upper Arms and Shoulders

Tattoos placed on this area associated with bravery and strength. This area also relates to people like chiefs and warriors.

A unique tattoo in black and red ink

A half-sleeve tattoo

A combination of Marquesan cross, turtle, and other Polynesian symbols

This one has more prominent shark teeth and spearhead symbols

Lower Arms and Hands

Since we use these parts a lot for our daily routines, these parts (the hands and the forearm) relate to creation and creativity.

A Polynesian sun tattoo on the forearm

A Polynesian full sleeve tattoo with prominent blackout details

This one is accentuated with shark teeth symbols in red ink

Another Polynesian full sleeve tattoo

Legs and Feet

These parts represent moving forward, progress and transformation.

A Polynesian foot tattoo

A Polynesian turtle tattoo on the lower part of the leg

A tattoo placed on the right calf

A Polynesian ankle tattoo that reaches to the foot


You can also place Polynesian tattoos on your joints like the shoulder joints, ankles, elbows, and wrists. This area represents contact and union.

A circular Polynesian tattoo on the elbow

A simple Polynesian tattoo placed on the ankle

Another Polynesian elbow tattoo but this time it is wrapped around the elbow area

A Polynesian half-sleeve tattoo that covers the shoulder joint

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About the author

Jason Hamilton

Jason has been an avid fan of tattoos for over 13 years now. He is currently 35 years old, and he got his first tattoo at the age of 22. Since then, he has added over 20 tattoos to his collection. He is also into writing, which is why he decided to celebrate both of his passion and hobby through tats ‘n’ rings. Jason dreams of having his very own tattoo parlor soon. Jason would be very happy to answer any questions about tattoos that you may have! Leave a comment below and he’ll answer it for you right away!

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