Hawaiian Tattoos

Updated on February 9, 2016
relache profile image

Raye has many body mods, SFSI training, former CFR-D creds, and a decade-long stint as BellaOnline's body art editor, under her belt.

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

Hawaiian rune stones for the four elements.
Hawaiian rune stones for the four elements. | Source
The tattoo stencil applied to the skin.
The tattoo stencil applied to the skin. | Source
...and the finished product about a half an hour later!
...and the finished product about a half an hour later! | Source
Here's my left wrist a few days later.
Here's my left wrist a few days later. | Source
I had all four elements done going all the way around my wrist.
I had all four elements done going all the way around my wrist. | Source

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.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Hawaiian tribal tattoo designs.Hawaiian petroglyphs (rock carvings).
Hawaiian tribal tattoo designs.
Hawaiian tribal tattoo designs.
Hawaiian petroglyphs (rock carvings).
Hawaiian petroglyphs (rock carvings).

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.

Questions & Answers


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      • relache profile image

        Raye 5 years ago from Seattle, WA

        Cake girl, just pick a design you like and then put it on your cake...

      • profile image

        Cake girl 5 years ago

        Hi there I'm a baker and I want to make a cake for surfing but I want to use a nice tattoo design for the boarder around the cake any suggestions?

      • profile image

        kellz all day 6 years ago

        They try to rip you off out here on the prices get out of tourist areas and ur good man they'll try to get your money one way or another everything a charge

      • TattooKitty profile image

        TattooKitty 6 years ago from Hawaii

        As a resident of Hawaii, it's nice to see the culture's historical background to the art of tattoo brought to life through hubpages! Great links! Thanks for the great info and resources!

        I'd suggest checking out Skin Deep Tattoo if you're on the Big Island!

      • Sue826 profile image

        Sue826 6 years ago from Albuquerque

        Good hub - interesting.

      • helistonaisia88 profile image

        helistonaisia88 6 years ago

        yeah very nice hub tatoos..i like it so much

      • lisbontraveler profile image

        lisbontraveler 7 years ago from Lisbon

        like tattoos.. nice hub again :)

      • Descartes profile image

        Descartes 7 years ago from grand prairie

        Great Hub, I like the list of Tattoo Shops in Hawaii.

      • Just For Fun profile image

        Joe 7 years ago from Pennsylvania, USA

        I love the simplicity of the Hawaiian/nature designs. I also think they look nicer on darker skin.

      • Zac828 profile image

        Zac828 7 years ago from England

        Great hub Relache, I'm thinking of getting another and was looking for some kind of inspiration, I may have found it.

      • billyaustindillon profile image

        billyaustindillon 8 years ago

        Check out MMA Legend Kimo's Hawaiian Tattoos - the real deal. Nice Hub

      • cr8ve1 profile image

        cr8ve1 8 years ago

        relache.....You made me really HOMESICK with this article, but I loved it!! Thank you for sharing this!!

      • Locke Reborn profile image

        Locke Reborn 8 years ago from Arlington, Texas

        Great information!

      • profile image

        keniasearch 8 years ago

        This is a cool hub. The topic of body art comes a long way and nowadays we have many different types of tattoos of all shapes and sizes. Good resource for Hawaiian tattoos.

      • johnr54 profile image

        Joanie Ruppel 8 years ago from Texas

        I saw a short Discovery channel piece on native tatoos and found the whole process to be fascinating. Still looked like the old fashioned way would hurt a bit.

      • Sexy jonty profile image

        Sexy jonty 8 years ago from India

        Wow .... relache .... very nice hub on the tatoos .....