Maori 'Ta Moko' Tattoo

While most tattoos are meaningful and carry a history, not many contemporary versions can compete with the tradition and symbolic nature of the Ta Moko tattoos. These tattoos are unique to the Maori people in New Zealand, and tribal members have donned these pieces for centuries.

You probably know these tattoos for their unique spiral designs that fit together like pieces of a puzzle. Both men and women would receive these tattoos, with men having them on their thighs, buttocks, and face. Women were limited to designs on their lips and chin, and the designs typically represented love or marriage-eligibility.

Tattoos with a Deeper Meaning
While modern tattooing involves puncturing the skin and injecting an ink or dye, Maori moko tattoos are actually grooves carved into the skin by a “tohunga-ta-moko.” This process is long and incredibly painful since the artist is literally carving these designs into their skin while leaving behind the pigment made of soot, burnt vegetables, and even shark fat. The process is incredibly sacred among tribes, and the person receiving the Ta Moko must follow strict rules.

No Two Are Alike, Each with a Unique Meaning
These tattoos were often used to symbolize status in the tribe, an expression of power and prestige, being a part of a historic lineage, or sometimes simply an expression of the individual’s individuality. Whatever the design chosen, receiving these tattoos represented a milestone in one’s life as they transitioned into adulthood.

Modern Day Ta Moko
Since the late 1990’s, the designs of traditional Ta Moko have regained popularity as modern islanders seek to reconnect with their roots. Many of these people have their tattoos done with modern-day tattoo machines instead of the uhi (chisel) however there are some that prefer to have their skin carved in the traditional manner. Nevertheless, each moko still holds a significant meaning to members of the tribe or lineage, and they will continue the practice as long as the tradition remains alive.