Polynesian tattoo symbol: figure


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Polynesian tattoo symbol tiki

Tiki: (Maori, Marquesan) m. figure.

Tiki (ti'i in Tahitian, ki'i in Hawaiian) is a the word used in Polynesia to indicate a figure, an image.
It is represented by a human figure with marked traits: big eyes, nose, ears and mouth.

Many stories about Tiki exist throughout Polynesia.
According to some Maori legends Tiki was the first man created by the god Tane (Kane in Hawaii), while other legends refer to Tiki as a demigod who created the first man.

The tradition of Marquesan tattooing is called patutiki, which means drawn figures.

Marquesan male and female traditional tattoos

Marquesan traditional male and female tattooing.

The word tiki actually indicates any figure, any image, especially when it has human-like traits, and for this reason figures that have very specific anatomic traits (be they tattooed, painted or carved) are normally called tiki.
The commonly recognized traits of the tiki are big eyes and nostrils, open mouth and prominent ears.
In particular, tiki eyes are often depicted closed, but nostrils are always shown. This stems from the belief that tiki could smell dangers even before seeing them.

These traits are so representative of the tiki that they are often used independently.
An eye, an ear, the mouth, a hand. They sometimes appear in traditional designs to represent a deity, a demigod or a human with special habilities.

Tiki eyes designs

Tiki eyes motifs.

Tiki nostrils design

Tiki nostrils motifs.

Tiki hand designs

Tiki hands motifs.

Tiki hands are usually depicted with three fingers, especially in Maori traditions where the three fingers represent different things to different tribes (ancestors, balance, fire-making, prosperity...).
They are generally used to symbolize protection and fertility.

Arms are usually associated to strength, power, and tiki arms are used to symbolize strength, or growth when they are designed pointing upward.

Tiki hand designs

Tiki arms


tiki tattoo symbol details


This tiki with an all-seeing eye on the front was placed on the shoulder for protection:

Voyage to prosperity tattoo

Two tiki on the front flippers of this turtle protect her from all sides:

Side view tiki design

This tattoo includes two tiki, tiki hands and tiki eyes:

Tiki design and tiki motifs

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

Books about Polynesian Tattoos

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