On Mangaia they were tattooed from the shoulders to the elbows with zigzagging lines that referred to their ancestry, or with tribal symbols or depictions of a comet and tail. The comet represented the star Maurua, used as a navigational reference point by Polynesian mariners. Before entering battle for the first time, a warrior's face would be covered with series of three curved lines, which were intended to instil fear in the enemy. Warriors on the Cook Islands tattooed arcs on their faces before battle, but unlike the Maori, the designs were not unique to each warrior.
One of the most painful tattoos, called rau-teve (representing a native arrowroot leaf), is found in the cook Islands. It begins behind the ear descending the neck along the cervical vertebrae. The pain was so great that even men of high rank recall their inability to have the tattoo completed.
In the Cook Islands the tattoo 'carving' equipment consisted of combs made of the bones of birds and rats tied at right angles to a short piece of wood. It was known as u'i tatau in Rarotonga and ivi tatipatipa in Mangaia.
A short piece of wood was used as a mallet to tap the comb and make the incision. A piece of bark cloth, wrapped around the fourth and fifth fingers of the left hand was used to wipe away blood. The comb was, before incision, dipped in a dye. The pigment used came from holding half a coconut shell over a fire consisting of burning kernels of candlenut. The charcoal was then scraped from the coconut shell.
Sharks' teeth tattoos are for protection, a turtle symbol represents long life and fertility, shells are a symbol of prosperity to the Polynesian people and it is possible that they were used as the earliest form of currency, the shark itself is seen as sacred. Polynesian shark tattoos are used as a symbol of protection from threats. It is believed that the gecko has powers of a supernatural nature and are feared but also held in awe by the Polynesians. It is also believed that if a green gecko laughs then it is an awful omen of bad fortune and illness.
In some pacific nations like the Cook Islands, the zeal of early missionaries to forcibly end the ancient practice of tata’u or body tattooing almost obliterated even its memory. Fortunately, that’s no longer the case. The powerful renaissance of Polynesian tattoo has seized the Pacific. Pacific Islanders are today embracing the ancient art form with unprecedented passion as it sweeps across the Pacific Ocean.