Polynesian tattoo symbol: people


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Marquesan tattoo symbol enata

Enata, enana: (Marquesan) m. person, people.

Enata is the general word used to indicate the Marquesan symbols representing people.
Some specific representations have different names based on their characteristics and particular meaning.

The study of the symbols allows us to isolate some traits that are specific to each variant: the arms are usually depicted lifted up when present, they can be very simplistic or more elaborate, and the same can be said about the legs.

enata tattoo symbol details

Generally legs and arms identify different ranks of people/gods: the simplest way is to represent arms and legs as squares or rectangles attached to the body as in version a above; there is no space between body and legs. This is a common way to represent people.

Version b shows some space between body and legs, they are more defined and independent. This usually indicates a warrior and it's common for variante called Kena and Pohu, who were two legendary heroes.

In version c the legs are bent. They are associated to a sitting person and usually represent an etua, divinity, or a deified ancestor.


Being strength a common trait related to heroes, many symbols depicting them, like the Kena variants below, simplify the figure to the extent of representing only arms and legs, or trunk and arms:

kena tattoo symbol details

The trunk is important in Polynesian cultures as the stomach was considered the center of a person's mana (vital energy, authority). This belief was shared by most cultures around the Pacific.

Very simplified enata like the one below are also used in rows as if joining their uplifted hands:

aniata tattoo symbol

Legends say that Earth and Sky were once tightly embracing each other. Their children lived in darkness between them until they joined to push their father up, thus letting the light in between them for humanity to see and prosper. On this account this motif represents ancestors and the sky as well, being known by the name ani ata, "cloudy sky".

There are several variants of the symbol, some as individual elements:

aniata tattoo symbol

and some as patterns made from repetition:

aniata tattoo symbol

Two mirrored enata usually represent a couple, marriage:

aniata tattoo symbol


Several enata symbols together, with different sizes, can be used to represent a family like in the tattoo shown below where two mirrored enata symbolize a couple and the three smaller enata below them represent their three children:

Polynesian tattoo symbol enata representing family

In the following tattoo the aniata motif represents the sky, enclosing an ipu that symbolizes here a gourd where good winds are kept:

Polynesian tattoo pattern aniata

The enata symbol of the next tattoo, holding a spear above the head, represents a warrior:

Kena warrior tattoo symbol

Several enata upside down can represent defeated enemies:

Defeated enemies tattoo pattern

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

Books about Polynesian Tattoos

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