Tā moko

Tā moko

Tā moko is the permanent body and face marking by Māori, the indigenous people of New Zealand. It is distinct from tattoo and tatau in that the skin was carved by uhi (chisels) rather than punctured. This left the skin with grooves, rather than a smooth surface.

It was brought by Māori from their Eastern Polynesian homeland, and the implements and methods employed were similar to those used in other parts of Polynesia (see Buck 1974:296, cited in References below). In pre-European Māori culture, many if not most high-ranking persons received moko, and those who went without them were seen as persons of lower social status. Receiving moko constituted an important milestone between childhood and adulthood, and was accompanied by many rites and rituals. Apart from signalling status and rank, another reason for the practice in traditional times was to make a person more attractive to the opposite sex. Men generally received moko on their faces, buttocks (called raperape) and thighs (called puhoro). Women usually wore moko on their lips (kauae) and chins. Other parts of the body known to have moko on it include the foreheads, buttocks, thighs, neck and backs of women, and the backs, stomachs and calves of men.

The tattooists were considered tapu. [cite web|url=http://history-nz.org/maori3.html|title=The Māori - The Tattoo (Ta Moko)]

Instruments Used

Originally tohunga-ta-moko (moko specialists) used a range of uhi (chisels) made from albatross bone which were hafted onto a handle, and struck with a mallet. The pigments were made from the awheto for the body colour, and ngarehu (burnt timbers) for the blacker face colour. The soot from burnt kauri gum was mixed with fat to make pigment, also. [ [http://www.teara.govt.nz/1966/K/KauriGum/MaoriUses/en Encyclopedia of New Zealand] ] The pigment was stored in ornate vessels named oko, which were often buried when not in use. The oko were handed on to successive generations. Men were predominantly the moko specialists, although King records a number of women during the early 20th century who also took up the practice. There is also a remarkable account of a woman prisoner-of-war in the 1830s who was seen putting moko on the entire back of the wife of a chief.


King (see below) talks about changes which evolved in the late 19th century when needles came to replace the uhi as the main tools. This was a quicker method, less prone to possible health risks, but the feel of the moko changed to smooth. Women continued receiving moko through the 20th century, but moko on men stopped around the 1860s in line with changing fashion and acceptance by Pākehā (white New Zealanders). Women were traditionally only allowed to be tattooed on their lips, around the chin, and sometimes the nostrils. [ [http://www.thetattoocollection.com/history_of_tattoos.htm The History of Tattoos] ]

Tā moko Today

Since 1990 there has been a resurgence in the practice of moko for both men and women, as a sign of cultural identity and a reflection of the general revival of the language and culture. Not all moko applied today is done using a tattoo machine. Recently there has been a strong revival of the use of uhi (chisels). Women too have become more involved as practitioners, such as Christine Harvey of the Chathams, Henriata Nicholas in Rotorua and Julie Kipa in Whakatane. Te Uhi a Mataora was recently established by practitioners to discuss issues facing the art form, such as the practice by non-Māori, an issue which is increasingly of concern to Māori.



* Hiroa, Te Rangi (Sir Peter Buck)(1974). "The Coming of the Maori". Second Edition. First Published 1949. Wellington:
* Jahnke, Robert and Huia Tomlins Jahnke, ‘The politics of Māori image and design’, "Pukenga Korero" (Raumati (Summer) 2003), vol. 7, no. 1, pp. 5-31.
* King, M., and M. Friedlander, "Moko: Māori Tattooing in the 20th Century", (1992) 2nd ed., Auckland: David Bateman.
* Robley, Major-General, " [http://www.nzetc.org/tm/scholarly/tei-RobMoko.html Moko, or Māori Tattooing] ", (1896) digital edition from New Zealand Electronic Text Centre
* Nikora, Linda Waimarie, Mohi Rua and Ngahuia Te Awekotuku, 'Wearing Moko: Māori Facial Marking in Today's World', in Nicholas Thomas, Anna Cole and Bronwen Douglas (eds.), "Tattoo. Bodies, Art and Exchange in the Pacific and the West", London: Reacktion Books, pp. 191-204.
* Te Awekotuku, Ng., ‘More than Skin Deep’, in Elazar Barkan and Ronald Bush (eds.), "Claiming the Stone: Naming the Bones: Cultural Property and the Negotiation of National and Ethnic Identity" (2002) Los Angeles: Getty Press, pp. 243-254.
* Te Awekotuku, Ng, ‘Tā Moko: Māori Tattoo’, "Goldie", (1997) exhibition catalogue, Auckland: ACAG and David Bateman, pp. 108-114.

External links

* [http://www.tamoko.org.nz Moko website]
* [http://www.tao-of-tattoos.com/maori-tattoos.html Ta Moko - Māori Tattoos]
* [http://www.tepapa.govt.nz/TePapa/English/Learning/OnlineResources/Moko/ Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa Online Resources on Moko]
* [http://collections.tepapa.govt.nz/search.aspx?term=moko&imagesonly=on Images relating to moko from the collection of the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa]
* [http://www.maoriart.org.nz/noticeboard/te_uhi/links Links from Māori arts site]
* [http://www.nzetc.org/tm/scholarly/tei-corpus-moko.html New Zealand Electronic Text Centre collection on Ta Moko, mokamokai, Horatio Robley and his art. A bibliography provides further links to other online resources.]

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