The Importance of Samoan and Pacific Symbols – The Legacy of the Lapita People – Samoan Tattoo, Carvings and Artwork


Motifs in Samoan Tatau (Traditional Tattooing) can be traced back to 1500 BC to the very origin of the Polynesian peoples and their ancestors the Lapita.

Detailed and decorated pottery called Lapita pottery found throughout sites in the South Pacific carried distinctive motifs and art forms which detailed the migration path of the first Pacific People’s who Journeyed out of Formosa (Modern Day Taiwan) thousands of miles across Land and Ocean.

These motifs are drawn from the natural environment and would eventually be found in siapo decoration, in wood and shell carvings, in Tatau (tattoo) and many other art forms of the Samoan and Pacific people.


The Samoan Motif Illustration

Janet’s has created this illustration of some of the most common Samoan and Polynesian Symbols and their meanings.

Created as an educational tool to highlight the significance of Samoan Symbolism and Motifs.  It is important to note that there is a common set of motifs and symbols used and understood by Pacific artists many having a long established and shared meaning.

However many motifs have a more modern origin and have been brought in to popular use by contemporary Pacific artists. Some elements and interpretations are unique to the artists and are less well known then others.


Legacy of the Lapita People

Our culture is something that is constantly changing and being filled with new ideas and life.

Whilst these motifs are beautiful and can be admired without understanding their meaning; it gives the production that much more significance.

It is a living record of the Lapita people and their Pacific Ancestors.


If you would like a large poster size version of this illustration to print out as a learning tool for your organization or for yourself let us know.

Sources:;;  Sulu’ape Paulo “Fomison:What shall we tell them?”

3 thoughts on “The Importance of Samoan and Pacific Symbols – The Legacy of the Lapita People – Samoan Tattoo, Carvings and Artwork”

  1. I hope you had a blessed Easter. Thank you for the post . I pray the Lord keeps you in good health and blesses your beautiful family.

    With love Kristin

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