Tahitian Tattoos

Tahitian Tattoos @seattlestravels

Of all of the places that I’ve travelled over the years, I’ve never felt more accepted for my own tattoos, or noticed such a strong culture for it as I did in Tahiti.

It seemed like 90% of the locals had at least one, and most of them either wanted to look more closely at mine, or simply made a motion at them and smiled.

It felt like Tahiti was one big tattoo show that I spent nearly two weeks walking around and admiring everyone’s incredible work.

There is just something about the pattern and continuation of symbols throughout each piece that draw me into the style, and I just kept wanting to see more and more.


The History of Polynesian Tattoos

The word tattoo originated in French Polynesia. The legend of Tohu, the God of tattoo, describes painting all the oceans’ fish in beautiful colors and patterns. In Polynesian culture, tattoos have long been considered signs of beauty, and in earlier times were ceremoniously applied when reaching adolescence.

Historically there was no writing in Polynesian culture so they used tattoo art that was full of distinctive signs to express their identity and personality.

Tattoos would indicate status in a hierarchical society as well as sexual maturity, genealogy and ones rank within the society. Nearly everyone in ancient Polynesian society was tattooed.

Tahitian Tattoos @seattlestravels

Women’s tattoo patterns were typically smaller than men’s, most often on the thighs, legs or on their hands.

Tattoos on the hands, called lima, were required at the age of twelve to be able to serve kava, a narcotic drink made from the root of the kava shrub, during ceremonial occasions. It also meant that they were permitted to prepare the meals and join in the process of rubbing coconut oil on the dead bodies for ceremonies of death.

A woman was also considered to be more beautiful if she had tattoos.

Tahitian Tattoos @seattlestravels

I planned to get my own tattoo before I even arrived in Tahiti–I just didn’t know what or where I wanted it. So, I spent the first ten days looking at all the tattoos around me, and deciding which were my favourite styles.

Of course, I loved all of the full sleeves and more intricate designs, but there wouldn’t be enough time for that.

In terms of designs, I thought of incorporating a turtle or manta-ray, but also liked the idea of letting the artist choose something with a little more meaning.

I thought the bracelet placement was nice, and noticed a lot of anklet designs on females. Ultimately, I fell for the behind-the-ear hook.

But, where would I get it done?


Enter, Thierry Pirato.

Pirato Tattoo Studio is located in a small circular building just outside of the main Carrefour on Tahiti Nui. It was a very unassuming atmosphere, and didn’t have much of an online presence, but after taking a look though some of his books, I could tell that he did some good work.

I arrived for my appointment, which was after regular hours, as I was arriving back on a flight from Tikehau, but he was very accommodating.

There was a bit of a language barrier, but we managed to communicate through a series of hand motions and general english.

We both set up the cling-wrap on the chair, he drew a design directly on my skin, showed it to me for approval, then prepared the tools.

It was time to tattoo.

Tahitian Tattoos @seattlestravels

20 minutes later, I had a beautiful new piece of Tahitian art on my neck.

I loved it.


About My Tattoo:

Historically, this style of tattoo, behind the ear, was reserved only for a Queen, typically from the Island of Marquesas. So, I declared myself Queen Seattle for a day, and took my inked crown.

Placement: In Polynesian culture, the head is said to be the contact point to Rangi, and is related to themes of spirituality, knowledge, wisdom, and truth. It is also the spot on the body where the most meaningful tattoos should be placed.

Next, comes the meaning behind each symbol involved within the tattoo design.

At the top, is the symbol of a lizard: Lizards play an important role in Polynesian myth, as Gods often appeared to men in the form of a lizard. They are considered very powerful animals that bring good luck.

In the middle is the symbol of Tiki eyes: Tiki figures can be portrayed as a symbol of defiance to enemies.

At the bottom is a symbol of waves: The Ocean is the second home and source of food to Polynesian people and represents ideas of life and continuity through change. Waves can also be used to represent the world beyond, as Polynesian people regard the ocean as their final destination where they go when they pass away.


Tahitian Tattoos @seattlestravels


Read more about: 
my tattoos that I’ve gotten while travelling,
how different countries react to tattoos,
my travel tattoos and
travel tattoos in general.

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5 Responses to “Tahitian Tattoos”

  1. pavitra
    June 18, 2017 at 10:23 pm #

    Really its great art. I have one and i like it. It is different.

  2. Lighting Doctor
    July 1, 2017 at 4:00 am #

    beautiful art dear………

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