Common Polynesian tattoo designs include images of Tiki, turtle shells, suns, canoes, ocean waves, shark teeth, lizards, spearheads, Marquesan crosses and figures known as enata. Enata designs are used to convey information about a person's status and lifestyle. Etua designs represent the spiritual side of the wearer and employ symbols that are thought to offer protection from enemies.
Tiki is a figure who represents ancestral origins and who, according to legend, was the first man. Specific features of Tiki can be emphasized in tattoos to highlight certain meanings. Tiki's nose, for example, may represent the ability to sniff out danger before it approaches.
Turtle shells represent longevity, good health, peace and reproduction. Sun designs may represent aspects of leadership and wealth. A canoe or ocean wave spiral represents a seafaring lifestyle. The ocean can also symbolize a person's final destination or ancestral resting place. Shark teeth can represent fierceness and power. They are also thought to provide protection for fishermen.
Lizard tattoos are thought to protect against illness and evil. According to Polynesian beliefs, lizards can speak to the gods and advocate against ill will. Spearheads are the tattoos of warriors, representing courage and strength. A Marquesan cross symbolizes harmony and balance, much like the Chinese Yin-Yang symbol.
Enata designs depict an individual's life history, major relationships or contributions to society.