Polynesian tattoo symbol: seashell


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Polynesian tattoo symbol fish

Pu: (Samoan, Hawaiian), seashell, trumpet.

Pu (pupu in Tahitian, Marquesan and Maori) is a general word used to indicate big seashells often used to create trumpets and horns.
Other types of seashells were used too, and their associated meanings in tattoos vary depending on their nature.

Seashells were an important source of food in ancient Polynesian cultures, much appreciated for their meat and for the beauty of their shell.
Seashells were used as adornments and bigger shells served as horns and trumpets.

They are a symbol of prosperity and abundance and their inclusion in tattoos distinguished important people.
This is particularly evident in Samoan tattooing, where a series of trochus shells were included on the back of the thighs and knees.
They testified the status and social position of the tattooed person and they were used to identify chiefs, talking chiefs, and priests.

Samoan back thighs seashell tattoo motifs

The more shells were represented, the higher the rank of the person.

Trochus shells tattoo motifs

The Samoan patterns representing the trochus follow the general geometric look of this specific style, while more contemporary representations are more detailed and also include other types of seashells, such as bivalve shells:

Bivalve shells tattoo motifs

They represent the couple, the two halves forming one unique shell when joined together. They are used to symbolize union, intimacy and marriage.

A third important meaning related to shells is protection.
This theme is commonly shared by the motifs representing all the creatures that have a protective shell that acts like a shield: seashells, crabs, turtles-- they all share this trait:

Shell tattoo motifs

a) Marquesan mata hoata symbol, possibly inspired by the crab, b) turtle honu shell motif, and c) Samoan seashell design.


seashells tattoo symbol details


Trochus shells identify a person of high status:

Status and prosperity tattoo

Nautilus shell used to symbolize love and union:

Seashell tattoo motif

Seashell used to symbolize love and safe shelter:

Seashell symbol representing love and protection

A bivalve shell was included to represent the couple:

Bivalve shell tattoo symbol

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

Books about Polynesian Tattoos

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