Polynesian tattoo symbol: centipede

"kiva puhi"

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Polynesian tattoo symbol centipede

Kiva puhi: (Marquesan), centipede.

Puhi is the word used for the sea eel; eels and centipedes share a common symbolism stemmed from the observation of their similar look and aggressive nature.

The centipede is a common symbol in Polynesian tattoos, appearing in several traditions for different reasons.
Marquesan tattoos include it mainly as a symbol of fighting spirit: the scolopendra, a large tropical centipede, can reach up to 30 cm in length, and its venomous bite makes it a ferocious hunter who predates on any small-sized animal that crosses its path, including rodents, snakes, tarantulas or even bats.

Marquesan centipede symbols

The centipede was also used to represent a war party, since it was believed that each segment of its body was an independent entity that worked together with the other segments to create the biggest, more powerful creature.

In Samoan traditions, the centipede is also a symbol of protection. The symbol's name fa'atualoa translates as "long god".

Samoan centipede symbols

Even if less common, given the pain that the bit of the centipede causes, its symbol can also be included to represent pain, similar to fa'atigipusa.

Examples of pain symbols in Polynesian tattoos


A row of centipedes compliments the three koi fish in this mixed Polynesian piece:

Mixed Polynesian tattoo photo

Centipede symbol incorporated into a Marquesan half sleeve tattoo:

Centipede symbol in Marquesan tattoo

You can click on the images to read the full description of both tattoos.

Books about Polynesian Tattoos

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