Many people recognize motifs of contemporary Polynesian tattoos that are frequently used. The bird (manu), for example, or the shark’s teeth (niho mano).
But in addition to the general interpretations of a motif, an artist can give it specific meanings when they compose a design.
Here’s what Hawaiian tattoo artist Megan Jones intended with her inspiring wing tattoo:
“The manu is sacred to me,” Megan says.
The bird motif is often used to indicate travel, but Megan chose a different meaning.
“The manu sits at the center of the Hawaiian star compass, so I choose to represent direction in life and guidance"
Koru (unfolding fern): Koru is a motif from Maori tattooing, which has become a staple in contemporary Polynesian tattoos. Megan uses it multiple times in her design with its common meaning of new beginnings and life.
Ki’i (tiki): Megan included the Marquesan-style tiki hand (reaching for goals) and bright eye. Ki'i motifs are usually considered protective, but Megan used the Ki'i eye to mean “being able to communicate well” because the draws this particular shape like a mouth.
Lauhala (mats woven from dried pandanus leaves): Lauhala is a very popular motif, indicating family, the generations in the family, the extended family, the connections to people we meet.
Niho Mano (sharks teeth): Megan uses the niho mano in its traditional interpretation as a protective pattern.
In addition, she gives it an upward direction on the upper part of the design to represent going towards something. Look carefully to find several other instances of the triangle shaped motif.
Kalo (taro plant, a dietary staple of Hawaii and possibly the oldest cultivated crop): “Kalo is life”, Megan says. "The kalo pattern carries a lot of kuleana (privilege and responsibility) with it."
The Kumulipo (the Hawaiian Creation Chant) describes Kalo as the ancestor of all Hawaiians. "Kalo can represent many things," Megan says. "Keiki (children), kupuna (elders), the Hawaiian people."
A especially important meaning of kalo in this exuberant wing design is "giving honor to our ancestors."
The half-kalo next to the kalo motif indicates the new generation and new beginning.
Overall, Megan composed this tattoo design to express the saying "She who flies by her own wings".
She was inspired by our era of coming of age for women, who are "stepping into the enlightenment of being strong mana wahine."
But while the tattoo expresses the ability to soar, it also includes respect for our ancestors and roots us in our heritage.
Want to know more about Megan Jones? Learn about her here.