Many of the meanings associated with Polynesian tattoos extend from what the particular design is referencing. For example, designs may depict the tiki, shells, the Marquesan cross, the sun, the ocean or shark teeth, with each carrying its own symbolic meaning.
The tiki in Polynesian culture symbolizes ancestors and heads of families or clans who have passed on to the next life and become gods. These semi-gods are believed to provide protection for those who haven't yet passed on. Therefore, the tattoo of the tiki symbolizes protection.
Shells are referenced in Polynesian culture a great deal. In terms of tattoos. Shell designs can be divided into two categories: turtle shells and sea shells. Designs that pertain to turtle shells represent longevity, wellness, fertility and peace. Sea shell patterns allude to protection and intimacy.
The Marquesan cross is a box-like design that is normally associated with balance and harmony.
The sun is a fluid motif in Polynesian tattoo art as it can encapsulate a number of meanings, depending on the other symbols that are around it. For the most part, the sun symbolizes richness, brilliance, grandness, leadership, eternity and the passageway to the world beyond.
The ocean designs found in Polynesian tattoo art are normally used to fill out large designs as the ocean is a focal point in Polynesian culture. Designs of the ocean and waves hearken toward death, life, fertility and the final destination.