The Maori are well known for their stunning and unique tattoos. Throughout Maori history tattooing, called ta moko by the Maori, has been an important part of Maori culture. Tattooing is an art form for the Maori and their tattoos are intricate and detailed works of art. The early Maori settlers of New Zealand brought this practice from their Polynesian homelands. On this page is a list of interesting facts about Maori tattooing. This information includes why the Maori wear tattoos, what types of Maori tattoos there are, and how the Maori were tattooed.
Maori Tattooing Facts
They are always highly intricate and detailed and display the craftsmanship and artistry of not only the artist but of the Maori culture.
Ta moko was used to signify status and rank; it also reflected the wearers genealogy (whakapapa).
In early Maori society, most people were tattooed.
The types and number of tattoos reflected a person's status.
Facial tattoos have traditionally been the most common Maori tattoos with most Maori men having tattoos covering most of their face.
Slaves were also marked with tattoos.
The Maori often wore tattoos to attract the opposite sex.
Receiving tattoos was an important step to maturity and there were many rites and rituals associated with the event.
Up until the early 1900s a bone chisel, called a uhi, with an extremely sharp edge was used for tattooing. Getting tattooed was an extremely long and painful process involving the carving of deep grooves into the skin.
Maori tattoo artists are called tohunga ta moko.
Maori men usually had their faces, thighs, and buttocks tattooed; Maori women usually had their lips and chin tattooed.
After being tattooed leaves of a karaka tree (also called New Zealand Laurel) were applied to the tattooed skin as a balm to help bring down the swelling.
The Maori had a gruesome custom of taking tattooed heads of enemies killed in battle and keeping them as trophies.
During the tattooing process the Maori often played music and sang in an attempt to distract those being tattooed from the pain.
Burnt wood was used to make the most common pigment, black.
Decorative vessels called oko were used to store pigments used for tattoos.
In 1769 Captain James Cook wrote about the beauty of the Maori tattoos he observed; "the marks in general are spirals drawn with great nicety and even elegance".
Today Maori tattoo designs have become very popular throughout the world with people from many different countries and cultures wearing them.