Hawaiian tattoos (kakau) are intriguing, tribally exotic, ancient in origin, enigmatic, culturally meaningful, mysterious, evocative, and eye-catching. They are worn by persons from all walks of life—kumu hula, dancers, chanters, athletes, educators, artists, and security officers.

Here is valuable information compiled by Hawaiian culture researcher and educator, P.F. Kwiatkowski, that explores many aspects of Hawaiian tattooing—it’s origins, significance of designs, and their relation to religion, magic, social status, and personal expression. The information delivered is concise and helps dispel some misconceptions regarding the meaning of Hawaiian motifs and the differences between Hawaiian and Polynesian tattoo designs and placement. You will learn the what and why of the usage and the significance of the designs.

Hawaiian tattoos serve as permanent personal marks of a name or milestone, or they can carry a story, or have special spiritual meaning. 

At a time when there is a rage for “cultural tattooing” but a scarcity of materials about authentic Polynesian tattoo practices, The Hawaiian Tattoo provides a look at the history, art and traditions of tattooing in the Hawaiian culture. It is an invaluable resource about Hawai‘i’s captivating world of tattoo. 

Author: P. F. Kwiatkowski

Illustrator: Tom Oo Mehau