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M ā ori T ā Moko. Ruth Phillips. T ā Moko. Tā moko is the permanent body and face marking by Māori people. It’s not exactly like tattooing in that the skin was carved by chisels rather than punctured. This left the skin with grooves, rather than a smooth surface .

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m ori t moko

Māori TāMoko

Ruth Phillips

t moko
  • Tāmoko is the permanent body and face marking by Māori people.
  • It’s not exactly like tattooing in that the skin was carved by chisels rather than punctured. This left the skin with grooves, rather than a smooth surface.
  • The Moko is similar to an identity card, or passport. For men, the Moko showed their rank, their status and their ferocity.
  • The wearer's position of power and authority could be instantly recognized in his Moko.
  • According to Māori mythology, tattooing commenced with a love affair between a man named Mataora (which means "Face of Vitality") and a princess of the underworld named Niwareka.
  • According to archaeological evidence, tattooing came to New Zealand from Eastern Polynesian culture.
  • In New Zealand, it is in the early sites that the widest chisel blades are found.
    • Lends evidence to the theory that there was possibly a preference towards rectilinear (straight lined) tattoo patterns in earlier times.
background cont
Background Cont…
  • The head was considered the most sacred part of the body, and because tattooing caused blood to run the tattoo craftsmen were very tapu (sacred) persons.
  • All high-ranking Māori were tattooed, and those who went without tattoos were seen as persons of no social status.
  • Tattooing commenced at puberty, accompanied by many rites and rituals. In addition to making a warrior attractive to women, the tattoo practice marked both rites of passage and important events in a person's life.
  • The tattoo instrument was a bone chisel, either with a serrated or an extremely sharp straight edge.
  • The first stage of the tattoo commenced was the graving of deep cuts into the skin.
  • Next, a chisel was dipped into a sooty type pigment such as burnt Kauri gum or burnt vegetable caterpillars, and then tapped into the skin.
  • It was an extremely painful and long process, and often leaves from the native Karaka tree were placed over the swollen tattoo cuts to hasten the healing process.
  • During the tattooing process, flute music and chant poems were performed to help soothe the pain.
process cont
Process Cont…
  • There were certain prohibitions during the tattooing process, and for the facial tattoo in particular sexual intimacy and the eating of solid foods were prohibited.
  • In order to overcome this, liquid food and water was drained into a wooden funnel, to ensure that no contaminating product came into contact with the swollen skin.
    • This was also the only way the tattooed person could eat until his or her wounds healed.
t moko designs
TāMoko Designs
  • The women were not as extensively tattooed as the men. Their upper lips were outlined, in dark blue. The nostrils were also very finely incised. The chin moko was always the most popular, and continued to be practiced even into the 1970s.
  • The male facial tattoo - Moko - is generally divided into eight sections :
    • Ngakaipikirau (rank). The center forehead area
    • Ngunga (position). Around the brows
    • Uirere (hapu rank). The eyes and nose area
    • Uma (first or second marriage). The temples
    • Raurau (signature). The area under the nose
    • Taiohou (work). The cheek area
    • Wairua (mana). The chin
    • Taitoto (birth status). The jaw
  • Ancestry is indicated on each side of the face. The left side is generally the father's side and the right side is the mother's ancestry.
  • The tattoo designs themselves came from life’s force and energy.
modern t moko
Modern TāMoko
  • The Māori tradition of tattooing lost much of its significance after the coming of European settlers.
  • Māori traditions have become more known and popular since the 1990s.
  • Most modern Māori tattoos are on the body rather than the face and ink is used instead of powder and chisels.
  • It is considered insulting for a non-māori to wear a Māori tattoo pattern because you are stealing part of their identity.