The ancient Hawaiians,
like other tribal Polynesians such as the Maori, commonly tattooed their
bodies. Both Hawaiian men and women were tattooed with bold, black tattoos
that often covered large portions of their skin. In fact the English word
tattoo, like taboo, comes to us from the Polynesian languages such as
Tahitian (tatau), Samoan (also tatau) and Marquesan (tatu). Captain James
Cook, who discovered the Hawaiian Islands, introduced the word to English
speakers in his account of a voyage around the world from 1768 to 1771.
European sailors began to get tattoos as well, a practice that is associated
with sailors to this day. The Hawaiian word for tattoo is Kakau.
Tribal Ink |
The Rock Sports a Traditional Design
I categorize Hawaiian
tattoos into two areas, tribal Hawaiian tattoos and modern Hawaiian tattoos.
Tribal Hawaiian Tattoos are done in black and feature a style that dates
back to the native Hawaiians ancient ancestors. It features traditional
designs and motifs that were found on warriors, nobles and common Hawaiians
when the Europeans arrived.
Modern Hawaiian tattoos feature a variety of Polynesian themed designs
and frequently give a nod to tribal Hawaiian designs. Modern designs can
have color and a wide variety of subjects. Examples are Hawaiian Flower
Tattoos, tiki gods and modified tribal designs like Hawaiian arm bands
that mix popular culture and traditional tribal elements.
Hawaiian tattoos have become more popular since the 1990's, this isn't
surprising since tribal tattoos and tattooing in general has become more
popular with landlubbers. That combined with the recent rebirth of tiki
culture's popularity do to its retro appeal seem to have made the popularity
of Hawaiian tattoos inevitable.