by Tori Jones
Kakau Tattoo

Aloha, ink enthusiasts and curious newcomers! Welcome to another deep dive into the sea of symbolism and culture that makes the world of tattoos so endlessly fascinating. It’s your favorite ink maestro, Tori, here to shine a light on a topic as warm and enticing as a tropical sunset — we’re talking about the ancient art and the layered meaning of Hawaiian tribal tattoos.

Are you dreaming of a tattoo as bold as an erupting volcano, as intricate as a lei of plumeria, and as rich in symbolism as the depths of the Pacific Ocean? If you’ve ever admired the unique beauty of a Hawaiian tribal tattoo but wondered about its origins and meanings, then today’s your lucky day, folks.

hawaiian tribal tattoo
@808tattoohawaii Via Instagram – Want your tattoo to look brighter? Try tattoo balm 

Throughout this blog post, I’ll be your tour guide on a journey that will take us from the islands’ sand-dusted shores to the heart of its fiery volcanoes. We’ll explore the techniques used to create these awe-inspiring body masterpieces, the culture that gave rise to them, and the significance hidden in their intricate patterns.

Expect to encounter imposing Tiki gods, daring Hawaiian warriors, and symbolic sea turtles as we chart the evolution of this traditional art form and examine how it has adapted to the modern world. By the end of this journey, you’ll not only have a deeper understanding of the history and meaning of Hawaiian tribal tattoos but, more importantly, you’ll be equipped with the insights needed to decide if this powerful art form could be the perfect choice for your next piece of ink.

hawaiian tribal tattoo
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So, pull up a beach chair, let the breeze of knowledge tousle your hair, and let’s dive into the vibrant and mesmerizing world of Hawaiian tribal tattoos. Trust me, it’s going to be an exciting voyage full of surprises and, just like a hearty luau feast, there’s plenty to savor. Now let’s grab our metaphorical surfboards and ride this wave of ink history together!

Hawaiian Tribal Tattoos

What are Kakau Tattoos?

Unlike any other Pacific tattoos, Kakau boasts a distinctive style that weaves together symbols and line work into a tapestry of tribal patterns. I recall as a little girl, the sight of these intricate designs was hypnotizing. The ancient Hawaiians, brave and enduring, would bear the painful procedure, an embodiment of resilience and courage. Ash and soot from the kukui tree, mixed into a pigment, would be carved into the skin, painting tales of personal histories, ancestral lore, and representations of strength.

Kakau Tattoo
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Both men and women bore these tattoos, but the intensity varied. Men often inked their entire bodies, an intimidating tapestry that echoed the war cries of battles. Women, on the other hand, bore less but still etched the stories that mattered. Each marking was a window into the individual’s past, their values, and their journey.

The History of Hawaiian Tribal Tattoos

Polynesian explorers, the pioneers of these islands, brought with them an embryonic culture that would evolve into a unique Hawaiian identity over 800 years. Captain Cook’s arrival in 1778 on the coast of Kaua’i was an event I often heard about in my grandparents’ stories. Believed to be Lono, the God of peace and agriculture, Cook was welcomed warmly, witnessing a thriving culture that supported half a million people.

I remember stories about the kahuna, the revered tattoo master, as a mystical figure. The process of tattooing was veiled in secrecy, with the tools of the craft ceremoniously destroyed after use. Even now, the thought sends a chill down my spine—it was not merely a tradition, but a sacred rite.

hawaiian tribal tattoo
@magneticmark Via Instagram – Want your tattoo to look brighter? Try tattoo balm 

Kakau Tattoo Designs and Their Meanings

Each Hawaiian tattoo design tells a story. They blend natural elements with symbolic representations, each combination resulting in a unique meaning. Below are some of the most prevalent designs and their interpretations.

Hibiscus Kakau Tattoo

Hibiscus Kakau Tattoo
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The sight of a Hibiscus tattoo always reminds me of my grandmother. As the state flower, it symbolizes the women of Hawaii, epitomizing femininity. Back in my childhood, I was always fascinated by the different colors of the hibiscus flower, each holding a unique meaning. Yellow signifies friendship, while white represents enlightenment.

Lizard Kakau Design

Lizard Kakau Design
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A tribal pattern formed in the shape of a lizard usually symbolizes toughness and fearlessness. The ancients believed that bearing the tattoo of a creature deemed unlucky would in fact ward off evil and bring good luck to the wearer. Every time I see this design, it takes me back to my granddad’s tales of Hawaiians who endured hardships, embodying the longevity of lizards.

Sea Turtle Kakau Design

Sea Turtle Kakau Design
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The sea turtle, always close to the hearts of Hawaiians, symbolizes a long and peaceful life. The intricate tribal patterns often woven into the design emphasize the value of peace. The fertility aspect of this design is something I can personally attest to, having marked the birth of my first child with a turtle design, hoping to bring a peaceful life to my newborn.

Dolphin Kakau Design

Dolphin Kakau Design
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The sight of a Kakau dolphin tattoo brings a sense of protection and guidance, especially for those traveling at sea. The waves and shapes forming the body of the dolphin serve as a potent reminder of the ocean and its guardianship.

Shark Kakau Design

Shark Kakau Design
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The Kakau shark tattoo, with its rows of triangles forming the sharp teeth and body of the shark, embodies power, protection, and adaptability. If you’ve ever seen a Kakau shark tattoo, you’ll understand the sense of awe it can evoke. A mark of the warrior, this design tells the world you are a force to be reckoned with.

Arrow Kakau Design

Arrow Kakau Design
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Also known as spearheads, these triangle designs symbolize courage and resilience. Each spearhead is a testament to a warrior’s spirit, a fitting tribute to the bravery of those who have come before us.

From my childhood to the present, the magic and mystery of Hawaiian tribal tattoos have always fascinated me. They are more than just ink on skin. They are tales of resilience, tributes to our ancestors, and a reminder of our rich and diverse cultural heritage. So, if you ever decide to get a Kakau tattoo, remember, it’s not just about the design, but the story it tells.

Still Need Some Inspiration?

Hawaiian tribal tattoos are a huge area,

there’s an entire dictionary of symbols to explore in the world of Hawaiian tribal tattoos. Each design carries unique meanings, reflecting individual stories, personal identities, and cultural values. Let’s delve into a few more:

  1. Tiki: Tiki figures are prevalent in Polynesian culture, representing deified ancestors. These figures are believed to ward off evil spirits and are usually inked as protectors. Each Tiki character carries a different meaning, tied to the god it represents.
  2. Turtles (Honu): In Hawaiian culture, turtles are considered as sacred creatures symbolizing good luck, endurance, and long life. They’re often depicted in a stylized, geometric design, in line with the traditional tribal aesthetic.
  3. Geckos: Considered as guardians and protectors, geckos are thought to have supernatural powers. A gecko tattoo is often a symbol of fearlessness and survival.
  4. The Hawaiian Warrior (Koa): These tattoos showcase the warrior spirit, strength, and bravery. It’s not uncommon to see designs of Koa warriors or warrior items like the traditional Hawaiian spear.
  5. Rainbows (Ānuenue): Hawaii is known as the ‘Rainbow State’, and rainbow motifs in tribal tattoos represent blessings, transformation, and a bridge between the earthly and the spiritual world.
  6. The Sun and the Sea: The sun typically signifies leadership, riches, and grandness, while the sea – a vital part of island life – represents death, life, the afterlife, and the world beyond where ancestors dwell.

Remember, these tattoos are deeply personal. So while we have these broad meanings, every individual’s ink could mean something unique to them, depending on their life journey and personal beliefs. The real beauty of Hawaiian tribal tattoos is this incredible blend of personal and communal storytelling, inked onto the canvas of human skin.


In wrapping up our vibrant journey into the world of Hawaiian tribal tattoos, we come face-to-face with the practical considerations – placement, cost, and potential risks. These indelible emblems of culture and history come with a price tag. Depending on the complexity of the design and the artist’s expertise, you might expect to invest anywhere from a few hundred to several thousand dollars for a truly unique piece of skin art.

Finding the perfect spot for your tattoo is a delicate balance of personal comfort and aesthetic appeal. I always tell my clients to consider how the tattoo will interact with their day-to-day attire and how visible they want it to be. Tattoos on highly visible areas like hands and neck might impact job prospects in more conservative fields.

As with all types of body modification, there are risks to consider. Infection and allergic reactions are among the most common issues, but with proper aftercare and a professional, reputable artist, these are minimized. It’s important to note that Hawaiian tribal tattoos are not just an aesthetic choice; they’re a responsibility to the rich cultural heritage they represent.

Lastly, remember that a tattoo is a lifelong commitment. Don’t rush into it. Take your time, do your research, and make sure that the design you choose resonates with your personal narrative. After all, you’re not just getting a tattoo; you’re adding a chapter to the story that is uniquely you.

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