The Maori tattoo designs also known as “Ta Moko” are traditional designs that came from the eastern part of Polynesia, and they are unique compared to other kinds of tattoos. The “gurus” of these tat designs were called “tohunga-ta-moko” who used different chisels or “uhi” traditionally from certain bone parts of an albatross.
These bone fragments are then engraved on the skin of natives creating a rough appearance of the tattoos as compared to the smooth surface of finished tattoos that you can see nowadays. The bone of the albatross was attached to a handle and pierced on the skin with the use of a mallet.
To create a darker facial color for the Maori tattoo designs, drops of “awheto” or body coloring was combined with burnt timbers called “ngarehu” by the tattoo gurus. Before the coming of the Europeans, a lot of people with higher ranks obtained their tat designs, and whoever refused to get tattooed were looked down with bad social reputation.
The tattooing process was done with sacred rites and rituals usually during the transition from adolescence to adulthood. Many bachelors preferred to get this kind of tattoo to be more appealing and attractive to the opposite sex. During those times, tattoos were embedded on the upper thighs, buttocks, as well as faces of men. In the case of women, they had their tats usually on the lips and chins.
There were also some women who embedded Maori tattoo designs on their necks and thighs, and for both genders, tats were inked on the calves and bellies. These Maori designs that were commonly composed of spirals conveyed a kind of tribal or ancestral message to the user.
The kinds of messages that were written on their skins commonly relayed a kind of information regarding their family affiliation or the tribe where they belong, their standing in the community and their social rank or position. Those messages were meant to portray their importance in the community and their social reputation.
A lot of Maori people were born and raised in small villages called “hapu”, and the “ta moko” Maori tattoo designs etched on their skins were something to show their level of social recognition in the tribe where they belong. The marks of Maori tat designs also signify whether a high-ranking member of the tribe was performing his public duty by means of active involvement in the community or by “blood”.
The use of “blood” here means participation in battles, and the tat designs were also meant to associate the status of the person according to inheritance or by virtue of accreditation. In the early 90s, a lot of people craved for Maori tattoos indicating the revival of its popularity.
One thing amazing about these people is that they preferred to perform it through the traditional way of using chisels than using the modern technique with a needle. The latest revival of the Maori tattoo designs, and the practice of utilizing these tat designs by non-Maoris raise the question of whether these modern people were respecting the Maori culture or just exploiting their heritage.
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