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Taia o moko, hai hoa matenga mou.

Of your moko, you cannot be deprived, except by death. It will be your adornment, and your companion, until your last day.

Netana Rakuraku, the last of the Elders to wear tā moko before the cultural revival of the Māori

Unlike European tattoos, which are largely based on native art from Asia, America, New Zealand, and Australia, traditional tattoos from Aboriginal cultures have their own symbolism. The Maori (indigenous people of New Zealand) are known for their famous ta moko or moko, facial and body tattoos that clearly distinguish them from other indigenous peoples. Originally the term ta moko was used for the process and the term moko for the product, but with the demise of Maori art, both terms are now used to describe moko – the tattoo.

There are two theories, not necessarily contradictory, that explain the origins of moko. In 1769, Captain James Cook visited New Zealand. That was the first time moko was mentioned. According to Captain Cook, early Maori people marked their faces with charcoal for battle. To avoid the hassle of constantly painting, they made their facial decorations permanent. The Reverend Richard Taylor (whose works shed light on many aspects of Maori tradition at the time) noted that the purpose of the moko was to distinguish chiefs from slaves, who often fought side by side in battle.

Tā moko had a double function: as a facial tattoo that distinguished the person who wore it and as a signature. Some records show the latter. For example, when missionary Samuel Marsden purchased land near the Bay of Islands (1815), a moko was used as the vendors’ signature on the document.

Distinctive features

Ta moko consists of black and blue spiral lines; the skin is completely covered (including eyelids). The process of getting tattooed is very painful, but showing signs of suffering is considered unmanly. Originally, any man who wanted a moko had to give up his beard. In the Maori tradition, the beard was considered the sign of old age. A person who wore a beard was called and weki, which means “old”. However, that tradition was later abandoned.

Moko also applies to women. There are certain distinctions between men’s and women’s moko, discussed in separate chapters below.

Moko Apparatus

Moko is applied by the instrument called hello. Uhi is similar to a small chisel with sharp edges or teeth. It is made from bird bones (usually albatross), stones, shark teeth, or wood. Metal Uhis were introduced later. The sizes and shapes vary, depending on the parts of the meat where the moko is applied. The sharp part of Uhi is applied to the surface of the skin and then driven with the small mallet called the mahogany. The process leaves deep cuts in the meat.

The process of your moko is very complex. Sometimes it takes weeks and even months if you get a full body tattoo. No wonder: moko has deep symbolism and strict rules must be followed. In addition, the pain is often unbearable and there are records of some cases that ended tragically.

moko man

Although the origins of your moko are unclear, some factors are true. First of all, the men tended to be fearsome in battle. Like the Samurai masks worn in battle, the Maori used moko instead of helmets. In addition, the moko was considered very manly: men who wore it were more attractive to the female sex.

Originally, moko was applied to the body to help identify fallen warriors who were decapitated. As for the facial moko, it showed the personality and rank of the man. Different social positions required different personal ornamentation and the hierarchy was strictly respected. For example, only great tribal leaders were allowed moko on the upper lip, chin, and forehead. Tohungas or the priests had only a small moko over the right eye. Thus moko was also to distinguish different classes in tribal society. The men who did not wear moko were called papateawhich literally means “flat face” and is a term of reproach.

woman’s moko

Originally, women with red lips were considered disfigured. Therefore, the greatest attention was paid to the application of moko to the lips of women. Maori considered full, blue lips the height of female beauty. Horizontal lines were applied to the lips, just like with the men. According to Captain Cook:

“Of the women, their lips were generally stained a blue color, and several of them were scratched all over their faces as if they had been done with needles or pins.”

Moko could also be applied to the chin. The custom allowed only a small moko on the woman’s face, but did not prohibit its application to the breasts, thighs and other parts of the body. Depending on the woman’s rank, moko was sometimes applied in the space between the eyes to the forehead and on the back of the leg.

Another symbolic function of the moko lies in the fact that women were always the main mourners at funerals. According to Maori custom, during the pauses between wailing, women would cut their faces, arms, and necks with sharp projectiles. Moko-dye (narahu) was sometimes applied to wounds, to mark their grievance.

moko patterns

According to Reverend Richard Taylor, there are nineteen parts of male moko patterns. These are:

I love you: four lines on each side of the chin;

you pukawae: six lines on the chin;

Nga rere hupe: six lines below the nostrils;

Nga Kokiri: a curved line on the cheekbone;

Nga koroaha: lines between the cheekbone and the ear;

nga wakarakau: lines below the first;

Nga pongiangia: the lines on each side of the lower extremity of the nose;

Nga pae tarewa: the lines on the cheekbone;

nga repi Y Nga Ngatarewa: lines on the bridge of the nose;

tyrcan nga: four lines on the forehead;

Nga rewha: three lines below the eyebrows;

marmoset nga: lines in the center of the forehead;

IPU Rangi: lines above the previous one;

tone you kai: the general name of the lines on the forehead;

IIe ngutu pu rua: both lips tattooed;

rape you: the upper part of the thighs;

tea paki paki: the tattoo on the seat;

te paki turi: the lower part of the thigh;

nga tata: the adjoining part.

Female moko patterns include:

taki taki: lines from the chest to the navel;

hope hope: the lines on the thighs;

waka you the: the lines on the chin.

(Reverend Richard Taylor – “Ika you to Maui Prayed New Zealand and its inhabitants”)

Moko – The Dying Art

When missionaries first arrived in New Zealand, they began to discourage moko as a wild acting act. The art of moko is now all but extinct as modern Maori no longer cling to tradition. One of the last moko specimens was King Tawhiao, who died in 1894. A short-lived Maori cultural revival in the 20th century brought back some of the moko tradition, though the symbolism of tattooed spirals, which distinguished a person otherwise, it has been lost. contemporary maori. That is, all the older generations who stuck to the old ways are long dead. Soon all that will remain of the moko symbolism will be dried heads (mokomokai) preserved in museums and private collections. Meanwhile, we can only wish for a new revival. Many contemporary moko artists offer their services to interested parties. What remains of the ancient ta moko art can still be glimpsed in their tattoo parlors.

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