Modern Polynesian tattoos

Tahitian tattoo style

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Tahitian style hammerhead shark tattoo

Tahitian tattoos have become the known face of modern Polynesian tattoos over the last decades, and it's no surprise as they successfully blend Polynesian roots and western influences together.

Their peculiarity, and the probable reason for the popularity of the style, is the great visual appeal of its aesthetics, being graphically closer to realism than any other Polynesian style, including the Marquesan one that it took so much inspiration from.

While most Polynesian traditions use small elements and symbols, each one with its own specific meaning, in a geometric way, the modern Tahitian style uses those same elements to create bigger figures within the tattoo, designing bigger naturalistic elements, often sea creatures, by using the smaller symbols.
This way we can easily recognize turtles, sharks, mantas, and all kind of animals woven into these tattoos.

Turtle tattoo pattern, motif, and design
a. turtle pattern     b. turtle symbol     c. turtle design

This allows the storytelling to become more visually evident. Animals and other elements seem to pop out of the geometrical boundaries of the underlying patterns, giving threedimensionality to the design, another feature highly used in Tahitian tattoos, which is not present in more traditional styles:

Overlaying layers in Tahitian tattoos
Manta and hammerhead shark going over the underlying patterns

It's not uncommon to see shadings either:

Polynesian tattoo with shadings

All these aspects identify this style as a modern one, evolved from the traditional form by incorporating ideas and designs derived from European and American influences.

The use of modern tools like the rotary machine also made it easier to ink round lines, which need some skill to do with traditional tools and were less common, making this another prominent feature of this style, that keeps moving toward a higher degree of realism, ideally bridging the gap between the most traditional styles and contemporary tattoo practices. This can be seen in specific elements too:

Tiki tattoo symbol comparison
Tiki symbol evolution in modern Polynesian tattoos
Manta tattoo symbol comparison
Manta symbol evolution in modern Polynesian tattoos
Lizard tattoo symbol comparison
Lizard symbol evolution in modern Polynesian tattoos


Several figures are woven into this tattoo, sometimes overlapping, giving the impression of being on different levels:

Tahitian style halfsleeve tattoo

The size of each figure and its position are related to its importance within the story. Here family (represented by the turtle) is clearly central:

Tahitian style arm tattoo

The inclusion of realistic elements is not uncommon:

Modern Polynesian manta tattoo

This turtle is made up by the union of different animals (manta, lizards, and moray eels):

Manta turtle Polynesian tattoo

You can click on the photos to read the full description of each tattoo.

Books about Polynesian Tattoos

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