Polynesia is a subregion of Oceania, comprising of a large grouping of over 1,000 islands scattered over the Central and Southern Pacific Ocean, within a triangle that has New Zealand, Hawaii, and Easter Island in its corners. The people who inhabit the islands of Polynesia are termed Polynesians and they share many similar traits including language, culture, and beliefs.
Polynesian languages may actually vary slightly from each other, or even a great deal, depending on the distance between the groups of islands and the frequency of their contacts. There are some words which are basically the same throughout all Polynesian languages, reflecting the deepest core of all Polynesian cultures.
Two emblematic ones are moana (ocean) and mana (spiritual force, energy).
It is interesting to note how similar these two words are and this should not be a surprise once we understand the relation between Polynesian cultures and the ocean.
The ocean guarantees life.
It’s also the place of birth and rest.
It means abundance, prosperity, and protection, being as vital to man as the air we breathe.
Polynesian tattoos reflect this in a strong way.
Be it in traditional style with more stylized and geometric patterns only, or in modern style (more figurative), sea creatures play a great part in such tattoos. Sharks, mantas, bonitos, sea urchins… each of them acquire a meaning related to its inner nature and embodies that meaning passing it on to the bearer of the tattoo.
Polynesian tattoos thus become a way to tell stories about their owners (to the extent of becoming a figurative identity card in the case of Maori face tattooing), or a way to give strength, protection, or powers from the bond created with other creatures.