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Historical Māori moko collection features online

23 January 2008

Historical Māori moko collection features online

Ta Moko – Māori tattooing – is featuring in a significant new collection on Victoria University’s New Zealand Electronic Text Centre (NZETC) website.

The NZETC has tried to take into account sensitivities around the digitisation of textual taonga – precious books – and significant Māori knowledge.

“Horatio Gordon Robley’s 1896 publication of Moko; or Māori Tattooing is a key historical resource. The copy in the University collection is particularly interesting because it contains handwritten annotations and several letters about the content,” Alison Stevenson, NZETC director, says.

The NZETC was established in 2002 and aims to provide the community with free access to digital copies of important historical books.

“Robley came to New Zealand in 1864 as an officer in the British Army. He was also an artist and became interested in moko design while he was here. Later, he began to collect mokamokai – preserved heads – which he used as the basis for the many sketches and photos included in his book,” she says.

“There are an additional six texts to accompany Robley’s work, including a contemporary essay on mokomokai and a 19th century manuscript produced by Wiremu Maihi Te Rangikaheke for Governor Grey. The proposal to digitise these works prompted thought and debate on the potential for online access to significant Mā-ori material to both offend and inform.”

“The NZETC undertook consultation with a range of academics, librarians, Māori, Ta Moko artists and the general public. As a result, it was decided to provide free online access to the material, but to not include any images of ancestral remains out of respect for those depicted in the collection.”

Robley’s memoirs, organised and annotated by Wellington book collector and historian, Horace Fildes, are also held at the University Library’s J C Beaglehole Room. The NZETC intends to put them online this year.

The collection is available at


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