Skip to main content

Traditional Hawaiian Tattooing: Secondary Sources

Selected annotated bibliography on traditional Hawaiian tattooing.

Secondary Sources - Books

Abbott, Isabella Aiona. ʻau Hawaiʻi: Traditional Hawaiian Uses of Plants. Honolulu: Bishop Museum Press, 1992.
UHM Call Number: QK 473 .H4 A33 1992
163 pages. Short description of traditional Hawaiian tattooing with explanation of materials used for tools and plant sources (p. 128). Written by one of Hawaii's foremost ethnobotanists.
Indexed.

Alexander, W.D. A Brief History of the Hawaiian People. New York : American Book Co., 1900.
UHM Call Number
: DU625 .A37 1900
361 pages. Provides a brief description of ancient Hawaiian tattooing, describing the style as arbitrary (p. 86).

Allen, Tricia. Tattoo Traditions of Hawaiʻi. Honolulu: Mutual Publishing, 2006.
UHM Call Number: GT 3446.U6 A45 2006
218 pages. This is the most comprehensive study on the subject to date. The author is a noted scholar as well as a practitioner. In addition to a compilation of the written history, it an excellent reference to images with numerous illustrations in chronological order.

Blackburn, Mark. Tattoos from Paradise: Traditional Polynesian Patterns. Atglen, PA: Schiffer, 1999.
UHM Call Number: GT2346 .P75 B57 1999
205 pages. This text provides a short introduction to Hawaii (p. 87-92). It places Hawaiian tattooing within the larger context of Polynesia. This is a good overview with an explanation of materials and techniques plus several quotes from the early accounts of European voyagers.

Dinter, Maarten Hesselt van. Tribal Tattoo Designs from the Pacific. Mundurucu Publishers, 2007.
UHM Call Number: PAC GN 667 .D56 2007
283 pages. This is one of several pictorials on tattoo designs compiled by the author. This publication is a quick reference to stylistic differences in Pacific tattoo designs. A CD-rom at the back of the book contains the images in the book for printing.

Ellis, Juniper. Tattooing the World: Pacific Designs in Print & Skin. New York: Columbia University Press, 2008.
UHM Call Number: GT2345 .E55 2008
275 pages. Good source book that weaves an interesting narrative on Pacific tattoo designs. Connects tattoo designs in the Pacific to inspiring tattooing throughout the world. The author is an English professor at Loyola College. Includes a section (p. 112-120) on tattooing in Hawaiʻi. Indexed.

Forbes, David W. Encounters with Paradise: Views of Hawaiʻi and Its People, 1778-1971. Honolulu: Honolulu Academy of Arts, 1992.
UHM Call Number:
N6530.H3 F67 1992
285 pages. Forbes makes an interesting comparison between drawings by John Webber and William Ellis (p. 36-38). The sitter is known as one of the iconic early images of a tattooed Hawaiian man in prints by Webber. The image by Ellis is much less known, showing the tattooed hand and back of the arm. [Both images are reproduced under the "Primary Sources" tab of this guide].

Fornander, Abraham. An Account of the Polynesian Race: Its Origin and Migrations, and the Ancient History of the Hawaiian People to the Times of Kamehameha I. Rutland, VT & Tokyo, Japan: Charles E. Tuttle, 1969.
UHM Call Number: GN670 .F62
Volume I: 247 pages; volume II: 399 pages; volume III: 292 pages. This book was originally published in three volumes in London: 1878, 1880 and 1885; however this copy is bound as one. The author was a newspaper editor and judge recognized as a  historian and scholar.  Volume I mentions that tattooing was a common practice throughout Polynesia (p. 114-115); volume II describes Kahekili as being tattooed on one half of his body to "appear almost black" (p. 215). Indexed.

_____ Fornander Collection of Hawaiian Antiquities and Folk-lore: the Hawaiian Account of the Formation of Their Islands and Origin of Their Race, with the Traditions of Their Migrations, etc., as Gathered from Original Sources. 3 vols. (Memoirs of the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum; v. 4-6). Millwood, NY: Kraus Reprint, 1985.
UHM Call Number: AM101 .B4473 1985 (available via Google Books)
Volume 4: 609 pages; volume 5: 721 pages; volume 6: 546 pages. Text appears in Hawaiian and English opposite each other. The depth of material covered, together with the index, makes this an indispensable reference on Hawaiian culture and legends from primary sources. Fornander was assisted by Samuel Kamakau, J. Kepilino, and S. N. Haleole in collecting the accounts. Page 156 in volume 4 states that "tatuing" was introduced from Tahiti by Olopana. Page 253 of volume 6 also asserts that "tatooing" came to
Hawaiʻi from Tahiti.

Hambly, Wilfrid D. The History of Tattooing and its Significance: with some Account of other forms of Corporal Marking. London: H. F. & G. Witherby, 1925.
UHM Call Number: Pac GN 419.3 .H3
346 pages. Indexed. Page 64 quotes
[W. Ellis "Polyn. Res." vol. 1, p. 262]: "Hawaiians had divine patrons of tattooing whose images were kept in the temples of those who practised the art professionally, and every application of their skill was preceded by a prayer addressed to them..." . Hawaiian tattooing is also mentioned in a short Pacific section (p. 296), chapter on Geographical Tattooing "...it is definitely associated with the puberty of women and their marriageability, and there are usually accompanying taboos and rites."

Hiroa, Te Rangi (Peter H. Buck). Arts and Crafts of Hawaii. Special publication 45. Honolulu: Bishop Museum Press, 1957.
UHM Call Number:
DU 624.7 .B75 2003
606 pages. This is one of the most comprehensive studies of Hawaiian arts and crafts. Unfortunately, not much is mentioned on the subject of tattoo other than tattooing the tongue as a mark of mourning (p. 566), in the chapter on death and burial. The author was director of Bishop Museum from 1936-1951. Indexed.

Kamakau, Samuel Manaiakalani. Ka Poʻe Kahiko: The People of Old. Translated from the Hawaiian newspaper Ke Au ʻOkoʻa by Mary Kawena Pukui. Arranged and edited by Dorothy B. Barrere. Special Publication 51. Honolulu: Bishop Museum Press, 1992.
UHM Call Number: DU624 .K35 1992
165 pages. This is a collection of articles on themes in culture and history from a nineteenth century Hawaiian language newspaper. Hawaiian tattoo is mentioned on page 70.

Kaeppler, Adrienne L., Christian Kaufmann, and Douglas Newton ; translated from the French by Nora Scott and Sabine Bouladon with the collaboration of Fiona Leibrick. Oceanic Art.  New York : Harry N. Abrams, 1997.
UHM Call Number: N7410 .K34 1997
633 pages. Extensively researched and illustrated large volume with specific discussion of tattooing (p. 108-109); page 109 makes note of asymmetrical designs in Hawaiian tattoo and the author's belief that tattoos were a "protective device". There is an additional section dedicated to Hawaiian art (p. 540-541).

Kamakau, Samuel M. Ruling Chiefs of Hawaii. Honolulu: Kamehameha Schools Press, 1992.
UHM Call Number: DU 624.65 .K3413 1992
513 pages.
This is one of the classic books on Hawaiian history. The author was a prolific academic writing for Hawaiians through the time of Kamehameha III’s death. Tattooing is mentioned multiple locations throughout the book. Indexed.

Klarr, Caroline Katherine. Hawaiian Hula and Body Ornamentation 1778-1858. Los Osos, CA: Easter Island Foundation and Bearsville Press, 1999.
UHM Call Number: GV1796.H8 K52 1999
60 pages. The author presents a thoughtful analysis of body ornamentation as it relates to hula. A brief examination of tattoo concludes that it was common for hula performers (p. 37). The book is developed from the author's Master's thesis at the University of Hawaiʻi.

Kwiatkowski, P. F. The Hawaiian Tattoo. Honolulu: Halona, Inc., 1996.
UHM Call Number: GN419.3 .K94 1996
60 pages. Informative overview on the history of traditional tattoos in Hawaiʻi written by a practitioner. This text is a good introduction to the subject with a short bibliography. Several well known early images of Hawaiian tattoos have been illustrated by Tom Oʻo Mehau.

Mead, Margaret. An Inquiry into the Question of Cultural Stability in Polynesia. New York: AMS Press, 1969.
UHM Call Number: GN 670 .M4
89 pages. Mead was an anthropologist famous for her work in the Pacific. This early research paper compares canoe building, house building and tattooing across the cultures in
Hawaiʻi, the Marquesas, Maori, Tahiki and Samoa. Examination of Hawaiian tattooing is discussed in terms of instruments, asymmetrical designs, mention of kauwa (slaves), and mourning tattoos (p. 71-72).

Pukui, Mary Kawena. ʻOlelo Noʻeau: Hawaiian Proverbs and Poetical Sayings. Bernice P. Bishop Museum Special publication no. 71. Honolulu: Bishop Museum Press, 1983.
UHM Call Number: PN 6519 .H4 P84 1983
351 pages. Each proverb and saying is numbered sequentially in this volume. Numbers 2137 and 2565 include reference to tattoos.

Roth, H. Ling. "Artificial Skin Markings in the Sandwich Islands." Internationales Archiv für Ethnographie, Volume 13, Intern. Gesellschaft für Ethnographie, Rijksmuseum van Oudheden te Leiden, (1900), 198-201.
Short article which cites correspondence with W. T. Brigham, Director of the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum as well as accounts from early European voyagers King and Ellis.

Rubin, Arnold, ed. Marks of Civilization: Artistic Transformations of the Human Body. Los Angeles, CA: Museum of Cultural History, University of California, Los Angeles, 1988.
UHM Call Number: GT2343 .M37 1988
279 pages. Oceanic art authority Adrienne Kaeppler contributed a chapter titled "Hawaiian Tattoo: A Conjunction of Genealogy and Aesthetics" (p. 157-170). She argues that male tattoos functioned as a form of protection for battle and later tattoos served as decoration commemorating an individual's genealogy.

Taylor, Alan. Polynesian Tattooing. Laie, Hawaii : Institute for Polynesian Studies, Brigham Young University, Hawaii Campus, 1981.
UHM Call Number: HAWN GT 2345 .T39
32 pages. A brief introduction to the origins of tattooing in Polynesia. This pamphlet links Hawaiian tattoo designs to "Lapita and Marquesan motifs" with a short overview of tattooing in the Hawaiian Islands (p. 23-26).