Meaning of Ta Moko - Maori tattooing

by Stephanie - 7/31/2009 4:04:00 PM

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When I lived in Taupo on the North Island, our next door neighbours were a friendly and generous Maori family.

My Dad was a keen fisherman, and when he had caught more than we could eat we would barbecue the fish outside and invite the neighbours over for dinner.   

They were family that were proud of their heritage and had the traditional Maori tattoos; the Mum on her lips and chin, and the Dad on his cheeks.
The Dad also loved to scoop out the fish eyes and chew them thoughtfully, which made me both shudder and laugh. And then he would laugh at me.

The distinctive Maori tattoos have become increasingly popular with the average person; although most tattoo artists in the normal studio don't practice Ta Moko. Kirituhi, meaning skin art, is the new term being used to describe Maori-style tattoos. 

The traditional method of applying Ta Moko was with an albatross bone and natural dyes from dried and powdered caterpillars or a specially prepared tree resin.

The bone blade was dipped in the pigment and then tapped with a mallet to chisel deep incisions into the skin.

hmm, ouch.

But it was also accompanied by many rites and rituals, indicating a step from puberty into adulthood.

Some tattoo artists are reviving the traditional Ta Moko methods, but most tattoos are created using an electric machine and so the skin remains smooth. 

Ta Moko is a national and sacred treasure of the Maori people, a history of a person's achievements and a representation of their status in the tribe. Ta Moko is also a reminder about a man or woman's responsibility in life, and is a huge honour to wear.

It is applied on men to the face and buttocks, and on women to the chin, lips and shoulders and sometimes on their face depending on their ranking.

There are no set patterns to Ta Moko, although the left side of the face related to the father's history and the right to the mother's history.

I've always thought it was a beautiful expression of belonging and history.

Eating fish eyes though? Yeeeck!

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