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Maori man with full moko tattoo
Maori man with full moko tattoo
Role of Tattoo
Tattoo Stories

Skin Stories: The Art and Culture of Polynesian Tattoo

A typical photo showing two Arawa ladies with hei tiki ornaments and feather cloaks.


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[Note - S = Samoan; M = Maori; H = Hawaiian]

Aiga — extended family (S)

Ala Niho — leg stripe tattoo design lit. tooth path (H)

Alaka'i — guide or leader (H)

Ali'i — sacred chiefs (S,H)

'Ama'u — a fern that grows up in the uplands (H)

Aotearoa — "Land of the Long White Cloud" (Maori name for the North Island of New Zealand)

Ariki — sacred chiefs (M)

Au — special tattooing comb (S)

'Aumakua — ancestral guardian spirit (H)

'Aumakua Pueo — an Hawaiian ancestral guardian that manifests as an owl

'Awa or 'AvaPiper methysticum; a plant in the pepper family; a narcotic drink made from the roots of this plant (H)

Fue — fly whisk (S)

Halau — schools (H)

Hale Mua — the first formal institute of learning in which a Hawaiian male enters

Hapu — sub-tribe (M)

Hulu Pueo — the feathers of the owl (H)

Inu 'Awa — to drink 'awa (H)

Kahuna — a master artist, artisan, or craftsman (H)

Kakau — (v.) traditional Hawaiian art of tattooing

Kapu — taboos (H)

Kauä — a class of Hawaiian outcasts (H)

KavaPiper methysticum; a plant in the pepper family; a narcotic drink made from the roots of this plant; also 'ava, 'awa, or kavakava

Koru — spiral - a common design in Maori tattooing, carving and other arts

Kuleana — responsibility, privilege (H)

Lima — tattoos on the hands (S)

Mai'a — a fruit that has seeds, but doesn't grow from seeds; banana (H)

Malu — tattoo on a woman's thighs (S)

Mana — a person's spiritual power or life force

Matai — a person with a chiefly title (S)

Moko — traditional tattoo art (M)

Moko Kauae — woman's chin moko

Moku O Keawe — a poetic name for the island of Hawai'i

Nahiri — spiritual plane

Pahupu — an elite company of Hawaiian warriors from Maui

Pakeha — white people

Pala'ai — coward

Pe'a — an intricate tattoo that covers the body from mid-torso to the knees (S)

Pe'ahi Niu — crescent fan; Hawaiian tattoo design based on the fan

Pitau — unfurling fern frond; Maori spiral design based on the fern

Pito — belly button; Maori spiral design based on the belly button

Pounamu — New Zealand jade, Nephrite jade; commonly called Greenstone

Pueo — the Hawaiian owl

Puhoro — an intricate Maori tattoo extending from mid-torso to the knees, which featured the characteristic design of a spiral on the buttock

Pule — a prayer, to pray (H, S)

Siva — traditional Samoan dance

Ta Moko — the process of tattooing

Ta' Rapanui — traditional tattoo art

Tanoa — 'ava bowl (S)

Tatatau — Tongan traditional tattoo art

Tatau — Samoan traditional tattoo art

Teorewai — a Maori tribe whose name means "to gently swivel the water so that it ripples and splashes just a little."

Te Waipounamu — "The Greenstone Waters" (Maori name for the South Island of New Zealand)

Tohunga — a master artist, artisan, or craftsman (M)

To'oto'o — orator's staff (S)

Tufuga — a master artist, artisan, or craftsman (S)

Tulafale — talking chiefs (S)

Uhi — Maori tattoo chisel, sometimes serrated; (n.) Hawaiian traditional tattoo art

Wananga — a gathering, often for educating others (S)

Whakapapa — one's genealogy (M)