Hawaiian triangle patterns have deep Polynesian roots. In traditional tattoos, each symbol and pattern have spiritual significance and identify its wearer within his or her community. Triangles, or maka ihe, represent the tip of the spear in Tahiti, Samoan, and Maori tattoos.
The spear is significant in ancient Hawaiian beliefs because it represents both life and death. A spear represents life in that it is used to hunt, both on land and in the sea. The spear also represents death because it is used as a weapon. In ancient Hawaii, war was part of tribal life. The spear is a symbol of war. The spear tip is symbolic of the death of the pork or fish that would be caught with the spear.
Maka Ihe also symbolizes a man’s duty to protect and provide. Patterns with several triangles, or spearheads, arranged in horizontal and vertical rows are typical in Hawaiian tattoos. In Tahitian tattooing, more intricate pattern styles are typical, with triangles forming swirls and other patterns.
Additionally, Maka Ihe patterns represent the warrior. The direction of the spear tip also has symbolic meaning. A triangle or spear tip facing up may suggest one is aggressive or looking for trouble. The spear tip down, however, suggests one is ready to defend, and may use force if necessary.
The maka ihe design, commonly referred nowadays as Hawaiian tribal triangles, transcend the ancient world and tattoo meaning into the printing a graphics world. Hawaiian triangles are often used in t-shirt designs, advertisements, stickers, and other graphic designs.
Check out our Maka Ihe and other Hawaiian & Island designs Here