The Islands of Polynesia are located in the South Pacific Ocean and include Hawaii, Fiji, Samoa, Tahiti, Easter Island and more than a dozen other island nations made up of more than 1,000 islands. Humans first settled in the area now known as Fiji more than 3,000 years ago and spread out over the next 1,500 years or so to the other islands.
Like almost every culture from all over the world, the cultures of Polynesia have a history of good luck charms.
The Ancient Maori
The Maori of what is now known as New Zealand developed good luck charms from pendants and other jewelry as well as everyday items such as needles and tools. The charms were made from bone, with the belief that wearing these charms would endow the charms with the spirit of the wearer. Therefore, charms passed on through generations carried with them the spirits of every ancestor who wore them.
Hei-Matau, or fish hooks, were thought to bring abundance and fertility, as well as good luck. The Hei-Matau are symbols of authority and power, and they are revered in Maori society.
Hawaiian Flowers and Leis
Hawaii is famous for its beautiful, tropical flowers and leis, garland necklaces made from flowers. Ancient Hawaiians used leis as symbols of love and friendship. By the 1800s, leis were thrown into the ocean for good luck whenever a sailor left the island. If the lei came back to shore, it was believed that meant the sailor would return.
In many Polynesian cultures, particularly Samoan and Tahitian, tattooing is an ancient, sacred art form. Tattoos are part of cultural rites of passage and symbolize everything from the wearer’s social status to his courage. Tattoos also are worn as talismans, or charms for protection. The patterns used in traditional Samoan and Tahitian tattoos are intricate and complex patterns of geometric shapes.
In Fiji, art historically has been essential to social structure and everyday life. Fijians' beliefs, identities and their very selves were thought to possess figurative sculptures and even woven cloths. A whale’s tooth, known in Fiji as a tabua, is “the most powerful talisman in Fijian society” and is the very embodiment of female energy, according to “Fijian Art” by Rod Ewins.
A green volcanic gem, peridot is known in Hawaii as the tears of Pele, the great Goddess of the Volcano. Ancient Hawaiians believed that peridots protected wearers from bad luck and evil spirits.
- Image by Flickr.com, courtesy of Steve Jurvetson