Traditional Hawaiian Tattooing
Like many other Polynesian-descended cultures, the native Hawaiians practiced tattooing. The most heavily tattooed members of the tribe would be the royal family, followed by other court officials and persons who were in the royal family by marriage.
The designs were monochromatic, tattooed in black against brown skin. The patterns and layout were strongly geometric and there were many shapes and symbols which represented the natural island world: stones, waves, fish, sharks, turtles, rain, sun, birds.
Tattoos were traditionally created by using a tool much like a sharpened rake to prick the designs. The tattoo tool would be hit by another stick to make the punctures. Assistants helped by stretching the skin for the tattoo artist and by wiping away the blood.
Hawaiian Rune Tattoos
About Hawaiian Tattooing
- PBS Skin Stories
Keone Nunes was not interested in tattooing at first, but he knew a lot about his Hawaiian culture. When he did get involved in tattooing, he therefore knew more than most about traditional designs.
- Body Art - Hawaiian and Polynesian Tattooing
Queen Kamamalu had a tattoo applied to her tongue as an expression of her deep grief when her mother-in-law died in the 1820s. Missionary William Ellis watched the procedure, commenting to the queen that she must be undergoing great pain.
Rae's Rune Tattoos
My tattoo designs came from a set of Hawaiian rune stones made by my friend who lives on Oahu. She got the designs from a guy who created an entire Hawaiian oracle, making modern rune graphics based on ancient Hawaiian petroglyphs from across the entire series of islands. They explored ancient roles (sacred elder, master), incorporated animal totems (shark, turtle, owl) and other concepts (the elements, play, prayer). But with all her notes, she doesn't have the name of the guy who came up with all these designs and she can't remember it either.
I was doing a reading with the set of stones and cards she made when I "saw" my tattoo idea very clearly and knew this was jus the thing for my next piece of ink. I talked to a friend who was a local on the island and who could recommend a shop (she knew of several to be totally avoided!) and wanted to come along for her next piece of ink as well.
A woman artist named Alex at Odyssey Tattoo in Wahiawa did my tattoo. She traced the designs I brought in to make temporary stencils and applied them to my skin. Once we agreed on the placement, she tattooed them. The outline of all the symbols was done first, then she went back and filled them all in to be solid. All in all, the entire process took about forty-five minutes from start to finish.
Finding Hawaiian Designs
- Hawaiian Petroglyphs
Common subjects of Hawaiian petroglyphs are canoes, paddles and sails; stick-figure and solid-body anthropomorphs, family groups; supernatural beings with horns, bird heads, or wings.
Before You Get a Hawaiian Tattoo...
- Think about your time in the water: New tattoos need to be kept out of water. You will need to avoid swimming in the ocean and soaking in pools or hot tubs for one to two weeks, or until the skin fully heals and all the scabbing is done.
- Think about your time in the sun: The number one enemy of tattoos new and old is the sun: It makes them fade in color and will even blur them softly over time. And when the tattoo surface is still open, you won't want to put sunscreen on it, as it can contain a lot of chemicals that will irritate the healing skin wound. Most often, the best thing you can do on a beach vacation is NOT get tattooed.
- If a shop or artist will only do designs off their walls and not draw something up for you, go find a new tattoo studio: If you truly want a piece of art that you can be happy with for a lifetime, get something original from an artist, not a scratcher who only knows how to copy what someone else drew.