Disney’s Moana showcases the beauty of tribal tattoos

I have just got home from seeing Moana and I can’t stop thinking about it. It’s definitely taken first place as my new favourite Disney film of all time.

Also read: 12 beautiful Moana tattoos (you’re welcome)

You may think that here on this tattoo blog, my reactions to this new film might purely focus on the big, bad-ass tattooed main character… Maui. Well, the tale of Moana was about so much more too!

I won’t go through the plot scene-by-scene, no one gains anything from that and you can find it elsewhere on the world wide web. Instead, here are 5 things I’ve personally taken away from watching Moana:

1. The story has nothing to do with romance / love / finding your soulmate.

No offence to Eric, John Smith, the Beast and the other wonderful male love interests that Disney has given us over the years but it’s not always about the boys (sorry bab). In the same way that (spoiler alert) Frozen ended up being about family love, Moana has a much richer and deeper tale to tell.

Don’t get me wrong, Moana’s adventures are indeed helped by Maui, but the story really focuses on her own personal journey within. She doesn’t end up finding the answers around her or in other strong characters, but comes to realise that the truths were inside her all along.


Photo: Moana / Disney

2. Tattoos!

OK, OK, so I said I wouldn’t talk about it too much but hey… I can’t not.

The Samoan demi-God Maui adventures by Moana’s side – he is not entirely fictional but based on a real figure from Polynesian folklore and tattoos are an intrinsic part of his character in the film. Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson isn’t all that different from the dude that he voices… in real life, he represents his own Samoan descent in the form of tribal tattoos on his chest and arms too, created by a renowned artist in Hawai’i.

Maui, and many other less-central characters, are seen wearing beautiful tribal tattoos throughout the movie. Creators spent months actually living within the communities on islands like Samoa, Tahiti, Mo’orea and Fiji, in order to absorb the people’s cultures and accurately represent them.

In actual fact, these Pacific Islands were involved heavily with the creation of Moana from start to finish and all creative decisions were made with their feedback and input. Maui, for example, was originally created as a small and thin side-kick. The islanders insisted that the God should be depicted much (almost exaggeratedly) larger and stronger – as this is how he is remembered in their tales.

Dwayne Johnson, photo source unknown

Dwayne Johnson, photo source unknown

Photo: Disney

Photo: Disney

Pacific cultures have cherished tattooing as an ancient and important artform for over 2,000 years. In fact, the word ‘tattoo’ originates from the Polynesian word ‘tatau,’ meaning ‘to write’. The movie’s research teams spent quality time with the tattooed and tattooers of thee Pacific Islands in order to respect and correctly design their sacred tattoo forms.

In the movie, Maui tells Moana the history of his own marks, how they represent his stories and celebrate his accomplishments. The Disney twist – they are magical tattoos that talk. They shift shape whenever something new happens in his life or if they need to try and send him an important message. His supernatural Polynesian-style art is a metaphor for the power of tattoos themselves and the real strength they have for those who adorn their bodies with ink.


Tala, Moana’s grandmother. Photo: Disney

Tattoos also become a symbol of reincarnation in Moana. Her grandma buy viagra sildenafil reveals her connection to her back tattoo, and how she hopes it will aid the creation of her new animal-self in the afterlife. Many tribal and indigenous tattoos are worn for these spiritual reasons and it’s refreshing to see something on the big screen that portrays ancient and honest tattoo stories. We see the process too – one scene depicts a man enduring the pain of the traditional ‘hand-poke’ method.

There’s a lot more to discuss here about the ancient and sacred art-form that originated from this group of islands: its history, its meaning, its depiction in modern movies – I’ll save that for a later date (and longer blog post). If you want to explore similar stories, New Zealand’s M?ori tattoo heritage was one of the subjects represented in new show Needles & Pins.

Culture areas of the Pacific Islands. Photo: Encyclopedia Britannica

Culture areas of the Pacific Islands. Photo: Encyclopedia Britannica

3. We should seek out links to our ancestors.

In the Western world today, many of us have completely lost connections to our past, our origins and our ancestors. Have we filled our lives with so much stuff that we’ve forgotten the natural roots of where we really came from – civilisations in which we built boats, picked crops and danced together as tribal families?

A world where our focuses are as pure as Moana’s seems more and more alien. Like Pocahontas, this film reminds us us of what’s really important for a society to function and for us to reach true happiness and peace.


Photo: Disney

4. Our planet is a bit screwed, and we need to do something about it.

As soon as I returned home from the cinema and switched on the TV, the final episode of Planet Earth II was finishing. Content onscreen was focusing on how cities are helping, but also hindering, our natural world.

The episode ended with a plea from David Attenborough – for us to act now: appreciate what we have, remember our roots and try to continue building our world in harmony with wildlife – wildlife that now is ultimately is paying the price. Myself (along with many others evidently) shed a tear at David’s speech and at the harsh reality of where our planet is heading.

In Moana, a dark curse brought upon by the greed of humans is wiping out the islands and all living things. The princess’s mission, like ours, is to find a way to stop it… before it’s too late.

David Attenborough, Planet Earth II. Photo: BBC 2

David Attenborough, Planet Earth II. Photo: BBC

Moana's parents. Photo: Disney

Moana’s parents. Photo: Disney

5. Follow your intuition.

We all experience struggle in our lives. That familiar feeling of not knowing where to turn, who to listen to, or how to act. Like many of Disney’s storylines, the movie focuses on finding strength and overcoming darkness.

We are ultimately reminded that if we, like Moana, search within ourselves and our histories, we can always find our way.

Also read: 12 beautiful Moana tattoos (you’re welcome)

Words: Beccy Rimmer / Inkluded
Photos: Various, as credited

Update March 2017:

A few months later, I am now booked in to get my first Moana tattoo. I have the books, magazines, posters, limited-edition DVD and now all that’s missing, I think, is something more permanent!

I watched this movie with my good friend tattooist Lady Chappelle who specialises in watercolour Disney designs. She created this art for me below and I’m off in April to stick it on my body forever. I. Am. Beyond. Excited.

Moana tattoo design by Angharad Chappelle

Moana tattoo design by Lady Chappelle


  1. Love this write-up. Very interesting and true! The tats also reminded me of the tribal and Muay-Thai inspired jewelry for the inked from Deific Jewelry. I love the ethnic vibe that exudes with individuality and style, which is created through superb craftsmanship.


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