Maori Tattoo Designs

The Rock's Maori Chect tattoo design.Once you hear the name of Maori from New Zealand, these are Polynesian indigenous people known for introducing “moko” or Maori tattoo which has become popular for many years.  You should be aware that this art is highly revered, and even at this time, it is still considered sacred by the Maori.

Considering that the most sacred area of the human body for the Maori is the head, this gave rise to facial tat as the most popular type of Maori tat.  This tat is made up of spiral patterns and curved shapes usually covering the whole face as a symbol of prestige, power, social status and rank.

For Maori people, tattooing was highly considered as a sacred passage, meaning that it has been highly ritualized.  Getting Maori tattoos usually started at a young age, and continuously obtained as the person grows to be an adult.  Tattooing was based on special events that have come to the life of the person as a reminder for him as he grows older.


Chest tattoo design.

They called their tattoo artist “tohunga-ta-moko”, referring to a moko specialist who was highly revered in their community.  While skilled tattooists were mostly composed of men, there were also a few women who were involved in the practice.  Tats were exclusively for people with high status or rank who were authorized to embed them, and for those people who could afford them.

People who didn’t belong to the high status in the society, or those who had no rank in the community like the slaves, were not allowed to get a Maori tattoo on their face.  On the other hand, persons who were qualified to ink them but didn’t have them on their bodies were considered to be low class in the society, and they were not respected at all.

These Maori tattoos engraved on the face were not only signs of higher rank, but was used also as a basis of identification.  In the case of men, face tattoo meant high achievements, social status, marital status, ancestry and position, among others.  Once you see a Maori tat pierced on a person’s skin, and you don’t recognize his power and status, then, it is viewed as a big insult to the bearer.
Ritual maori inked with face tattoo design.
The Maori tattoo intended for the face of men is divided into 8 sections of the human face.  They include the forehead, which shows the rank of a person and the surrounding area of the brows, denoting the position.  Also included are the surrounding area of the nose and eyes, designated as the sub-tribe rank, and the temples, indicating the person’s marital status, or the number of times he has been married.

Also listed in the 8 sections of the face is the place beneath the nose, which displays his signature.  Area around the cheek is a symbolic of the usTraditinal maori face tattoo symbol.er’s work, and the area of the chin showing the bearer’s prestige.  The last in the list is the jaw denoting an individual’s status of birth.  As far as the ancestry of a person is concerned, it is written on the sides of the face.

When the Maori tattoo was embedded on the left side of your face, it refers to the father’s side, while if it is at the right side, it’s the mother’s side.  Supposing that you don’t have any rank at all, then, any sides of your face should not have a tattoo, and if you’re not an heir of any prominent tribe, the center of your forehead should not also bear a tattoo.

These Maori tats have become very popular since time immemorial, but during the 19th century when the European settlers have arrived, their popularity has declined.  It was during the period of colonization that the significance and great meaning of Maori tat was lost.  There were attempts in the past to revive these tats, but it was a failure because the tat artists did not produce high-quality tats since the original method of tattooing was already forgotten.

Ancient maori tattoo art on lower back.

However, the rising interest to save this traditional Maori tattoo designs has inspired skilled artists to create a combination of the traditional designs and the modern ones with corresponding modification to form a modernized art.  The successful revival of the Maori tat in the modern times, has finally took place at the start of 1990.  This time, tattooing has been performed usually using modern tat machines.

Polynesian leg tattoo.With the rising popularity of tribal-pattern tattoos, more non-Maori tat designs were copied by modern tat artists from the original designs, and incorporated them in their own style of art.  A lot of artists used needles for tattooing instead of the traditional instruments used in the olden times.  On the other hand, the Maori people have decided to revive the old procedure in embedding tats in order to save their traditional heritage.

Even women have greatly involved in preserving their great culture by reviving the original Maori tattoos in practice.  The purpose of this revival movement is to express their cultural identity, and to reconnect with their roots.  They strongly believe that simply copying something sacred without asking permission is tantamount to disregarding the cultural values of the people affected.

Recently, they have established an art organization called “TeUhi a Mataora” comprising the traditional Maori tat artists.  The main focus of this organization is the rising number of non-Maori artists creating non-authentic Maori tats.  They remind these people not to abuse the authenticity of these sacred tats, as their cultural symbol.

So, if you are not a Maori, but you have a great admiration to Maori tattoos, and you want to embed one, then, it would be better for you to look for a Maori tat artist who can provide you with an original Maori tat with a traditional design.

Polynesian animal tattoo designs.
You’ll find many tat artists who specialize in creating modern Maori tats which are similar to the original Maori tat designs without copying the symbol which is sacred to this group of people.  Remember that in getting a Maori tattoo, asks the tattoo artist to include the exact meaning of it.