Polynesian tattoo symbol: net


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Polynesian tattoo symbol net

Upega: (Samoan), net.

It's a very widely spread symbol for prosperity, and it also symbolizes cooperation, community and tradition.

The simplest way of drawing a net motif is to design two sets of parallel lines crossing at an angle, often enclose within a perimeter.

Fishing net tattoo motifs

The net was a very important tool in the life of Polynesian people, be it a fishing net or one to catch birds, so it's not a surprise to see this reflected in tattoos as well.

A fishing net provides food to several people and it's therefore a symbol of prosperity: like the fish hook, it allows to tap into the richness of the ocean, granting abundance to its owners.

The same happens with birds nets. They were placed between trees, hanging from the branches, and required a group of hunters to move toward them making loud noises, for the birds to get trapped into them while trying to escape the hunters.
To grant success to this type of hunting, several people were required to coordinate and work together.
For this reason, net motifs that include birds are associated to cooperation and sociality.

Birds net tattoo motif

Community and tradition are also deeply related to the net symbol: ropes are made from several threads that, together, are stronger than the single threads alone. Ropes are considered symbols of family and tradition (you can read more about it here) and nets, being made of several ropes, symbolize the community that brings all the families together.

From individual to family to community

The net created by this union (the community) achieves greater prosperity than the individual ropes alone (the families, or even the individuals).

Considering how important the concept of community is in Polynesian cultures, it's easy to understand the importance of the net symbol in tattooing

This is also one of the reason for the malu symbol from Samoan traditional female tattoos to resemble a net so closely.
The malu (shield) has for sides to recall the four walls of a house, protection from all sides, but it also recalls the net, as the meaning of protection is strongly related to community and prosperity.

Malu and net Samoan symbols


Graphic variants of the net motif


Fishing net in a Marquesan tattoo. Here it also helps covering an old tattoo.

Net motif in Marquesan pec tattoo

The spearheads represent the warrior fighting for the community (the net with enata around):

Polynesian half sleeve tattoo

The net on top is a symbol of prosperity and community:

Contemporary Marquesan male tattoo

Books about Polynesian Tattoos

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