Since the stunning revival of Polynesian tattooing, many clients of tattoo artists, and even some artists themselves, call the style “tribal”. However, that is quite wrong.
Pacific Islanders did not live as tribes, and their tattoos had nothing to do with a tribal spirit. Indeed, the word tribal can come across as demeaning of Pacific Islanders. It could be understood as primitive, savage, an uncivilized society.
The Oxford English dictionary says this about the use of the term tribal : “It is strongly associated with past attitudes of white colonialists towards so-called primitive or uncivilized peoples living in remote undeveloped places.“
So how come we write ”tribal tattoo” at times in this website?
We feel bad about it, in fact, we hate to do it! The reason we use “tribal” is because so many people do use the term. They use it to search for information about modern Polynesian tattoos on the web. So we have to sprinkle “tribal tattoos” into the text on this site so that we can be found by people who may have a sincere interest in this ancient Polynesian art.
Today’s Polynesian tattoos are typically a mixture of styles and motifs of different Polynesian peoples, and good terms to describe them are neo-Polynesian, pan-Polynesian or even Polynesian inspired.