Maori Tattooing Practices

Essay by diavola8University, Bachelor'sA+, December 2002

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The Maoris of New Zealand had several art forms that were distinctive to their culture. These art forms included woodcarving, cloak weaving, and tattooing. The most unusual of these crafts was the tattooing, which they traditionally placed on their faces, thighs, and buttocks. They tattooed by dipping a sharpened piece of bone into pigment, which was then tapped, on the area of skin to be tattooed, with a mallet. This art form was practiced universally among the Maoris. (Hiroa, 1949). All societies have intricacies in their cultures. One of the Maori's intricacies was that they had ritual tattooing of the tribe members. They called it ta moko with "Ta being the act of striking the mallet and moko being the resultant pattern" (Hiroa 1949). There were several important facets to this practice: the design, the origin myth, the tools, and the rituals surrounding the tattooing, and what it means to the Maoris of today.

The Maori's myth of the origin of ta moko was that a man named Mataora took Niwareka, who lived in the spirit world, as his wife. After they were married for a while, Mataora got jealous and angry with Niwareka and eventually struck her. Such actions were unknown to the

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people who lived in the spirit world. Therefore, soon after he struck her, she went back to her home, the spirit world. After she left, Mataora became full of grief and went to find her. He went to the guardian of the entrance of the spirit world, Te Kuwatawata. Mataora asked him if he had seen Niwareka, and the guardian said that she had been weeping when she passed through the entrance to the spirit world. Te Kuwatawata then allowed Mataora to go into the spirit world to look for Niwareka.

On his search...