Friday, 23 November 2012

Ta Mokos

Body Art Of The Maori

European settlers to NZ first remarked on Ta Mokos (the Maori term for tattoos) in the early 1800s. When agreements between the settlers and the Maori tribes were signed it was noted that the distinguishing marks on the Maori tribesmen's faces were copied on documents as a form of signature. These unique marks were used instead of written words by the Maoris who at this time were illiterate yet needed to be legally identified.

Maori mokos

Maori mokos

Not only were the faces of men heavily tattooed but also their bodies were marked at certain rites of passage letting others know of their position within the tribes and also their life experiences to date.

Women were less heavily adorned, and only on their faces, lips, and jawline, which was considered the only appropriate place to be touched by men other than their husbands. Their facial tattoos were a mark of status within the tribe.

The male tattoos were considered to make the men more attractive to women and also symbolised them as fierce and ferocious warriors not to be messed with.

Most Maori men and are now heavily inked over their whole bodies - although for women still only on arms, legs and faces are the marks visible. (Not sure about their bodies!)

It was rather difficult to take photos of the designs I saw because, as you know, I do not identify anyone on my blog unless specifically agreed or they cannot be identified by the pic  ...

A typical spiral design
Via flickr

Women with facial adornment
Via flickr

 "Taia o moko, hei hoa matenga mou"
(Inscribe yourself, so you have a friend in death)
A Maori saying. 

File:Haka for Lord Ranfurly 1904.jpg
Tattooed Maori performing a Haka war dance in 1904
Via wikipaedia

The heavily inked Maoris looked terrifying when facing apponents in battle and particularly so when performing their war dance, The Haka, something now carried forward by their New Zealand Rugby Team,  The All Blacks, before every match.

The Haka
(Ka Mate)
Ka mate, ka mate! ka ora! ka ora!
Ka mate! ka mate! ka ora! ka ora!
Tenei te tangata puhuruhuru
Nana nei i tiki mai whakawhiti te ra
A, upane! ka upane!
A, upane, ka upane, whiti te ra!
'Tis death! 'tis death! (or: I may die) 'Tis life! 'tis life! (or: I may live)
'Tis death! 'tis death! 'Tis life! 'tis life!
This the hairy man that stands here...
who brought the sun and caused it to shine
A step upward, another step upward!
A step upward, another... the Sun shines!



  1. I always find the face tattoos a little weird

  2. Worst tattoo I ever saw in New Zealand, a hug Maori with 'Level 42' the 80s pop group, tattooed on his forehead!

  3. Interesting, but can't say I like it.

  4. Very interesting. I'll bet it's painful to get those tattoos, especially on one's face. The 1904 photo is very intriguing. Thanks for sharing, Annabelle. :-)

  5. Amazing tattoos, but not for me, LOL. I don't think it does anything for the men, and certainly not for the women. Interesting about the "signature" being their tattoo!


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