21 Traditional Hawaiian Tattoo Designs and 10 Symbolic Meanings

Traditional Hawaiian tattoo designs are some of my favorite not only because of the look itself but because of the meanings they have as well.

There are many different symbols used in Hawaiian or Polynesian tattoos and they all have their own and sometimes many different meanings. The other thing I like about them is that the symbols can be intertwined together to come up with a bigger design.

This is exactly how I designed my first tattoo. I looked up the meanings of the different Polynesian symbols and brought about 4-5 different ones I wanted in mine to my artist along with a few designs that I liked and he was able to create a unique tattoo design just for me!


The Polynesian (Hawaiian) style is definitely a tribal style of tattooing. They mostly include thick black shapes, elements and lines.



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However, don’t be fooled, they can still be complex designs even though they use simple elements to create them. You will have to stare at some larger pieces for a while to really see all the different symbols inside of it.

It is very easy to “see the forest and not the tree” when you look at Hawaiian designs if you do not look carefully.



The tiki mask is a popular element within Polynesian tattoo designs. It is used often and appears human-like. These represent the gods and have a more spiritual meaning.


You know this is my favorite! However, it is one of the most popular elements. The turtle can have many meanings, I chose it for the main element in my tattoo for the family aspect of it. But it can also represent wellness, harmony and fertility.

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Shark Teeth

The shark is the body of a god in Polynesian culture so their teeth are a common element in tattoo designs. They are said to bring guidance, power and like a shark, ferocity!


This is another element I chose for my tattoo for prosperity and leadership. The sun can also take on other meaning depending on the size, and shape of its rays.


Shells are another popular Polynesian tattoo design element. They can be turtle shells or sea shells for protection.


These unique symbols are used to represent either gods or men and sometimes even enemies depending on how they are displayed.


Spearheads are often seen in longer chains that can be wrapped through the tattoo design. They often represent courage, willpower and dominance.


I also decided to get a lucky lizard in my Polynesian design. However, they are also meant to help connect the living world with the spiritual world.

Marquesan Cross

The Marquesan Cross is another prevalent element that is said to bring balance between the elements and harmony.


Finally, the ocean, which I also happen to have in my own tattoo, is considered a final resting place for those who have passed away. This is completing the circle of life but can also represent a food source and fertility.

Hawaiian Sleeve Tattoo

Hawaiian tattoo designs are great for making a sleeve. Because there are so many different elements you can create one seamless design to go all the way down your arm or leg. There are so many symbols to choose from that you probably won’t have to repeat elements either unless you wanted to.

You can choose one or two main symbols that are larger pieces of your design and the fill them with smaller elements so from a distance you see the main shape but as you get closer you can really tell a story. It is pretty awesome.

Do you have a Hawaiian tattoo design? I would love to hear about it in the comments below!

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