Traditonal Hawaiian Tattoos



Think you felt pain getting your tattoo with a modern machine, think again. Imagine getting tattooed with needles made from bird beaks, or cactus needles like used in the traditional days of tattooing in Hawaii.

Other materials for needles where sea urchin spines, fish bones, bone splinters, and animal spikes.

Ink was made from kuki nut ashes and sugar cane juice. Tattoos where mostly only black, but when color was used, they came from flowers.

Designs originally where symmetrical geometric shapes but as years went on more pictorial designs came about.

The process was like that of many other ancient tattoos. A larger stick was used to tap the needle continuously. An assistant would assist the artist by stretching out the skin for the tattoo. Once the tattoo was done sometimes juices and saps of plants where rubbed on the tattoo to darken the ink.

This type of tattooing originated sometime around 1500 – 500 b.c. by the Lapita people that lived on the islands of Fiji, New Caledonia, New Guinea, Samoa, and Tonga. The pain of the tattoo was thought to be a spiritual journey. The more of your body that was covered by these tattoos the more respect you where given. Unlike in modern culture, especially here on the mainland, where people with visible tattoos make a person look unprofessional. Women where not allowed to be tattoo artists but could be tattooed, but only on the calves, feet, hands, ears and lips. Men could be tattooed anywhere. The most common spot would be on the face. The meanings of these tattoos usually came from a persons heritage and family.

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    • Anonymous
    • June 12th, 2009

    now that sounds painful. I still think the lickem-n-stickem tattoos are the best.

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