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Ta Moko - A History On Skin

Wednesday July 13, 2005

Ta Moko - A History On Skin

Taia o moko, hai hoa matenga mou. Only death can deprive you of your moko. It will be your ornament and your companion until your dying day.

The Christchurch Arts Festival in association with Canterbury Museum, Toi Maori and Te Uhi a Mataroa will present Ta Moko - A History on Skin in the Visitor Lounge of Canterbury Museum from July 22 - 29.

At Ta Moko - A History on Skin four of New Zealand's finest artists will demonstrate the art of ta moko (tattoo). The artists will also conduct free talks each day, at 12.00pm and 2.00pm, looking at the history and modern practice of the ancient art of skin tattooing and its role in redefining Maori identity.

Te Uhi a Mataora are committed to the promotion of ta moko as a living, breathing and dynamic art form worn as a symbol of a person's identity and origin. This is an opportunity to observe some of New Zealand's finest artists demonstrating the art of ta moko.

Te Uhi a Mataora are currently developing major works of puhoro, the body designs from mid-waist to knee. The complex network of designs are sculpted to fit the human form and incorporates the character and history of the recipient.

Christchurch-based Riki Manuel will be joined by ta moko artists Mark Kopua and Patrick Takoko from Gisborne, and Turumakina Duleyz from Auckland ta moko studio 'Mana Moko Studios.'

"It is highly appropriate that contemporary ta moko artists will be working within the Museum as this place gives particular context to this ancient art form. The Museum holds many taonga that demonstrate the once widespread wearing of ta moko. We are proud to support the local and international revival in the practice and wearing of ta moko, and its strong assertion of Maori identity," said Roger Fyfe, Canterbury Museum's Curator of Ethnology.

On Tuesday July 26 at 6.00pm, Mark Kopua, Patrick Takokoko, Nick Tupara and others will speak to the topic "Moko; its origins and its future," in the Bird Hall, of Canterbury Museum.

In August a number of the artists participating in Ta Moko - A History on Skin will travel to San Franscico to participate in the "Maori Art Meets America" exhibition.

For full festival details, visit the "Applaud" Christchurch Arts Festival 2005 website,, or collect a copy of the quirky purple programme from outlets around the country or by phoning 0800 ARTS 05.


Ta Moko - A history on skin

Show Information, Ta Moko - A history on skin
Visitor Lounge
Canterbury Museum
July 22 - 29 10.00am - 4.00pm

Evening talk, "Moko; its origins and its future."
Speakers: Mark Kopua, Patrick Takokoko, Nick Tupara and others will speak.
Tuesday 26 July 6.00 - 7.00 pm,
Bird Hall,
Canterbury Museum,
Free entry; donations appreciated. Bookings not required.

Talks on Ta Moko will be delivered daily at 12.00pm and 2.00pm during the exhibition.

Ta Moko - A history on skin Short Description
Ta Moko - A History on Skin
Te Uhi a Mataora are committed to the promotion of ta moko as a living, breathing and dynamic art form worn as a symbol of a person's identity and origin. Observe some of New Zealand's finest artists demonstrating the art of ta moko. Ta moko artists will talk about their work at intervals during the day.

Ta Moko - A history on skin
There is a famous pepeha about the art of ta moko: Taia o moko, hai hoa matenga mou. Only death can deprive you of your moko. It will be your ornament and your companion until your dying day.

Presented by Te Uhi a Mataora and Toi Maori Aotearoa.

Te Uhi a Mataora are committed to the promotion of ta moko (tattoo) as a living, breathing and dynamic artform, worn as a symbol of one's identity and origin. Observe some of New Zealand's finest artists demonstrating the art of ta moko and participate in seminars looking at the history and modern practice of the ancient art of skin tattooing and its role in redefining Maori identity.

Te Uhi a Mataora are currently developing major works of puhoro, the body designs from mid-waist to knee. The complex network of designs are sculpted to fit the human form and incorporates the character and history of the recipient. Christchurch-based Riki Manuel will be joined by ta moko artists Mark Kopua and Patrick Takoko from Gisborne, and Turumakina Duleyz from Auckland ta moko studio 'Mana Moko Studios.'

The origins of Ta Moko The origins of ta moko lie in the ancient story of Niwareka and her husband Mataora. They lived at a time when the art of chiselling the skin was not known and designs were painted on the body. One day, Mataora mistreated Niwareka who fled to her father's people in Rarohenga, the underworld. Mataora pursued his wife, wanting to persuade her to return. But when he reached Rarohenga, the designs painted on his face were smeared with sweat from his exertions. Seeing his appearance, his wife's people laughed at him - their faces were marked with permanent incisions.

Ashamed, Mataora begged his wife's forgiveness and asked his father-in-law to teach him the art of ta moko. Niwareka eventually forgave her husband and returned with him to the world above, taking with her the art of taniko, a delicate and intricate form of weaving. Mataora brought with him the knowledge of moko. In that way, knowledge of these arts entered the world.

The first Europeans to document the art of moko were artists who travelled with Captain Cook in 1769. Later European visitors and settlers, such as Christian missionaries, regarded tattooing as savage and vulgar and encouraged Maori to abandon the practice.
By the early twentieth century the art of ta moko had almost disappeared. But towards the end of the century there was a revitalisation of its practice that continues to this day. More Maori are choosing to have moko carved on their bodies, and pride in this art form is growing
Te Uhi a Mataora

Te Uhi a Mataora is a national collective of ta moko artists formed in 2000 to preserve, enhance, and develop ta moko as a living art form. Many of these highly skilled artists come from a carving background, while others specialise in design. They share a depth of understanding of traditional forms and designs.

Te Uhi has developed a strong kaupapa (set of fundamental Maori principles) for the practice of ta moko. This kaupapa provides boundaries and guidelines: respect for traditional customs and practice; care for physical, spiritual, and emotional well-being; and utmost care for the health and safety of the person receiving the moko.

Ta moko belongs within Maori communities and Te Uhi works to strengthen the knowledge of the art in whanau (family), hapu (sub-tribes), and iwi (tribes). But there is also strong international interest in Maori moko design, through the tattoo industry. Te Uhi continues to address pressing issues concerning the intellectual property of ta moko and to make sure it is always practised with integrity.

On the one hand, Te Uhi strives to uphold the traditions of the past. On the other, it looks to the future, as the art of ta moko continues to evolve.

Te Uhi a Mataora is one of 10 national art form committees that comprise Toi Maori Aotearoa.

Ta Moko Artists
Riki Manuel Iwi (tribal) affiliation: Ngati Porou Ta moko has refreshed my interest in exploring designs because it's different to any other medium that I work with. It's quite challenging because when carving wood you don't care if you slip or make a mistake; things can be changed. On skin it's different.

My approach to doing moko is a lot more challenging than in other mediums. I like drawing, and ta moko has given me an opportunity to use my drawing skills and to use graphic lines.
It's not like the other work that I do - work that sits on the shelf. It's alive, because it's on somebody that's walking around. It's got life in it.

Riki Manuel is an experienced ta moko practitioner and also an expert carver working in wood, pounamu, bone, and clay. He has his own gallery, Te Toi Mana Maori Gallery, in Christchurch where his ta moko studio is based.

A graduate of the New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute in Rotorua, Manuel spent many years teaching Maori art. He has taken part in carving demonstrations in countries as diverse as Singapore and Holland.

His many carving commissions include a poupou for Christchurch's Victoria Square (1995), carved and painted wall-panels for the Maori Department at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch (1998), Waka Taua (1999) for Millennium 2000, and most recently a wall panel for

New Zealand Customs at Christchurch Airport (2002).
Mark Kopua
"He maha te Moko. He whakapapa, he kaupapa, he toi tangata, toi whenua, he toi atua. He hakari ma te kanohi, ma te wairua."

Mark Kopua (Ngati Ira, Te Aitanga a Hauiti, Ngati Porou) is a carver and ta moko artist.
After a 23-year career as a traditional carver, Mark started doing ta moko full-time. During his carving career, he worked on approximately seven meeting houses as the head carver and continues to do consultancy work as a Maori arts advisor. He is in high demand for his ta moko work and, from his home in Tolaga Bay, regularly travels to work on clients around the North Island.

As a practicing ta moko artist, Mark is actively concerned with the re-development of the symbolism and information attached to ta moko designs, mostly focusing on these issues as they pertain to his affiliated hapu. As a way of disseminating his knowledge and understanding of the subject, Mark often gives seminars on ta moko.
ua maha nga tau a Mark e whakairo ana me te whakaoti ano i a ia o nga whare whakairo tipuna e maha. I aua tau, na tona mahi ano i tipu te hiahia kia mau i a ia te moko, kia mau ano i a ia te uhi ta. No nga tau iti noa nei i mua, i hikina e ia te uhi, te ngira ta moko kia ta i a ia ona whanaunga ki nga tohu moko a o ratou tipuna. Koia kua pau nga tau maha o mua i teneki whainga.
Mark is a current member of Te Uhi a Mataora national collective of ta moko artists.

Turumakina (Tu) Duleyz

(Tribal affiliation: Tuhoe, Ngati Awa, Ngai Te Rangi)

Long seen as the epitome of skill in the tattooing world, Ta Moko is gaining acceptance. AUT graduate Turumakina (Tu) Duleyz is now at the forefront of moko design.

After completing the Bachelor of Maori Development at AUT's Faculty of Maori Development, Tu (Tuhoe, Ngati Awa, Ngaiterangi) thought it natural to get a moko to celebrate his graduation. Traditionally, moko is seen as a sign of achievement and Tu says he wanted to utilise moko in the way it was meant to be used.

When you go to uni you get a piece of paper that you stick on the wall. For me, I wanted something more," he says.

After refining his skills and touring internationally as a tattooist, Tu and two friends set up a moko studio.

Tu also works as an editor with Tangata Whenua Productions, which creates the daily show Manu Rere on Maori Television - a programme focusing on Kohanga Reo. He sees this as an important way to encourage children and parents to learn Te Reo Maori and to continue to nurture the language.

Now Tu's two children attend Kohanga Reo and his cousins are going to Te Reo classes. His oldest child, at age six, is already talking about the day his dad will give him a moko.

Patrick Ta Koko

Ta Moko FAQs

Source: Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa and Te Uhi a Mataora, March 2004.
I thought only chiefs wore Moko? No! Most people in traditional society wore some form of Moko. But only the chiefs wore the Moko for a chief. If you were a gardener or a warrior you wore what was appropriate for you and what you were.
But you have to earn a Moko don't you? Yes! And the first area you earn a Moko from is within your own family. To increase what you want to wear you have to achieve what the family thinks is worthy. To go further beyond that, you have to achieve what the hapu thinks is worthy and so on. If your family considers you their leader than you get the Moko for that. If they think you're their scholar than the marking for that is what you get. If you're their master gardener, then that's what you get.

Do you have to give up smoking and drinking etc? No! Many of the elderly women, from the 1900's, who wore Moko smoked tobacco and drank whiskey or some other alcohol. They also gambled and continued having sexual relationships if they could. Nothing much about their lives changed.

Is Moko tapu? Only when it is being put on! When a Moko is being put on it is inevitable that blood will be spilt. It is the blood that is tapu. It is similar to when a woman has her monthly cycle where during the time that she is menstruating, she, from a cultural perspective, is in an extreme state of tapu.

Did the old method use a chisel? Yes. This was called an "Uhi" however there are varying types of uhi that achieve varying different outcomes. A "Uhi-mata-hae" was a straight edged chisel that left a groove. The "Uhi matarau" was a comb type chisel with a serrated edge that left the skin smooth. Either of these 2 types was hit into the skin with a mallet.

Is the chisel method still being used? Yes it is! The Maori, Samoan and other Polynesian nationalities are still using traditional tools and methods, more so the Samoans.
Is that sore? That depends. Every person has a different threshold to pain even with needles. As a recipient of both needle and chisel tattoos I can safely say that I would personally always prefer the chisel over the needle. However, there would always be a limited amount of pain involved, regardless of whether it was inflicted by needles or chisels.

If I'm a Maori who wants a Moko, what can I get? You can get whatever type of Moko you please depending on how important social or cultural opinions are to you. I would advise however that a facial Moko may require you to seek consents from your family as well as checking up on your employers culturally orientated policies.

Do I need anything else before I can get a Moko? Ideally you need to have your whakapapa or genealogy. And if you are required to have that, then you are also wisely required to have consent from the other people who have the same whakapapa. Your family.
Can non-Maori, like Robbie Williams, wear Moko? Culturally it is inappropriate and therefore the answer should be no. However, traditionally, non-Maori have been wearing Moko since they have settled in New Zealand. Rutherford and Barnet Burns being 2 early examples. Obviously Rutherford and Burns could never have had a whakapapa as a prerequisite so their Moko was based on something other than whakapapa. Indeed, in Burn's case, he was a valued contributor to the community into which he married, so his Moko was clearly based upon credit as opposed to inheritance.

So does that mean that what Robbie Williams or any other non- Maori is wearing is not Moko? Simply put, yes, it is not Moko! One of the key differences between Moko of old and today's Moko is the "process." We, in comparison to our ancestors, no longer live the close village lifestyle with the daily interaction of the extended family so we lack the opportunities of "process." The fundamental of that is the pre-requisite of genealogy which obviously includes many others. Hence we must first, "seek consent." So basically, if it lacked a community effort or that process, then it simply is not Moko.

Yeah but what if I wanted to put my kids on my arm, I could make that decision alone couldn't I? Well, that leads us into another problem. Traditionally, the living were neither put into carving or Moko. For example, how many carvings have you seen in a carved house are of living people? None! It was never a tradition to carve or Moko the living.

So I cant wear my kids? Yes you can, but under some interpretations of Moko it wouldn't fit in unless of course there was overwhelming family or hapu consents.
Are there many Ta Moko artists? Yes there are a few. The Tairawhiti has about 10-12 artists. The far north has 2. Auckland has about 10. Waikato/King Country has 6. The whole Bay of Plenty has about 7. Hawkes Bay has 3. Taranaki has 2. Horowhenua has about 3. Wairarapa has 1. Christchurch, representing basically the whole of the South Island has 3 also. But I'm sure there are more.

Are a lot of them "Back Yard" tattooists? If you were to look at them from the perspective of the Tattoo Industry, YES! However there is a clear difference between Tattoo and Moko. So if you were looking at them from the Moko culture perspective, NO! It's the same as for carvers. Some carvers are very successful and others aren't. But that doesn't make the less successful any less a carver as the successful. Not only that, but we need to bear in mind that our earlier artists from the early 1900's back, did their Moko work on Marae and at peoples homes. This did not make them or us any less a Moko artist than those fortunate to be in a Shop or Studio.

If there is a "clear difference between the Tattoo and Moko" what are they? Tattoo, is comprised of borrowed multi cultural skin-art forms yet does not adhere to the culture, customs and genealogy of those many forms. Moko however is born from, and dominated by whakapapa or genealogy. It has a relatively strict code of practice all of its own, unlike tattoo, that most artists adhere to. Pure tattooists will disagree but unless they are aware of the culture of Moko and/or adapt the cultures of the borrowed art forms, than they can only disagree from a biased point of view.

Does Moko have a whakapapa? Yes. Moko comes from the Maori god of earthquake and volcanic activity, Ruau-MOKO. It was handed down from one generation to the next and eventually arrived at a human called Mataora. He then brought it back to the human world and it has flourished ever since.

Is the Moko of today the same as the Moko of long ago? Clearly, a lot of it cant be, because our lives on a whole are different to that of long ago. If our lives were the same then I would suppose that maybe the Moko would also be the same. But it simply is not. Moko is only a part of the lifestyle or culture from which it exists. If the culture changes then so does the Moko. Again, we see that the carvings of the 1800's are clearly different to the carvings of 2000.

Only due, to changes in the lifestyle. Many people assume that the woman's chin Moko is the only woman's Moko however that particular Moko is relatively young in comparison to many others. It never came from Hawaiki but was developed well into the Maori settlement of Aotearoa. I am certain that in another 10-20 years time, the Moko of then will look and mean something totally different to today.

Didn't Moko die out and why? The male facial and body Moko did die out! However the female chin did not. One of the contributing factors for the demise was the 1908 Tohunga Suppression Act, which was primarily set into law as a means to help protect the Maori from certain demise only due to their loyalty to their own tohunga. During that time epidemic was prevalent from alien diseases which could only be cured by proper doctors and proper medication. So visiting the local tohunga was outlawed. The trouble with that was that it included the Tohunga Ta-Moko.

Another point about chisel Moko was that it took a lot longer to heal. Up to months. This meant, during the late 1800's and early 1900's when Maori living conditions were extremely low and impoverished, that Moko recipients were more susceptible to infection and death. Hence the Health Department made legal requests to halt the use of chisels as a tool of tattoo.

Was the Maori the only people to produce groove like chisel lines? Yes. There are also methods that prevail in Borneo and other indigenous races that use scarification to produce scaring patterns that instead of being grooved are raised. There were also other indigenous peoples who worked their skin art on the face. However the Maori form of Moko was known for grooved pigmented lines.

I read that there were markings for slaves too. Is this correct? Yes. However that was not by choice. Many of the people taken into captivity were forced to wear the permanent markings of their slavery. Many refused to take on these markings, consciously choosing death over slavery.
So what was the use of Moko? Moko was used to differentiate individuals by displaying their particular achievements, status and genealogy. It also grouped people by displaying similarities and consistencies, like family or hapu group markings. Over all, Moko was a form of personal identification and curriculum vitae.

What if I want to wear my tribes style of Moko? The origin of a tribal style is with a particular artist. For example in the 1700-1800's the Iwirakau group of carvers, that carved the majority of meeting houses within the Ngati Porou area, learnt their style from Hone Taahu. Thus after two generations, people assumed that the Iwirakau style of carving was the Ngati Porou style. Unbeknownst to most, there are 3 styles that exist within the broader tribal district of Ngati Porou.

Yet all the components of this style exists elsewhere. The same applies to Moko. Tame Poata who although from Ngati Ira and Ngati Porou of the East Coast, applied a lot of Moko, in his time, in both the Tuhoe, Apanui, Kahungunu and Waikato districts. The question is, Is the style of Moko that he applied a Tuhoe, Apanui, Kahungunu, Waikato or Poata style? Because it covers too many tribes, it can clearly NOT be a tribal style. Hence it is seen as the Poata style. However, this does not mean that you cannot adapt the style, be it a Poata, Wharepu, Tuhi or a Herewini, that prevails from your affiliated tribal area.

What if a person was to gain a Moko status and then went against that marking? Many years ago, our ancestors lived as whanau and hapu so the policing of such rankings was kept daily and religiously. If the wearer was to breach the code of a wearer of particular markings the punishment was severe, so it rarely happened without valid reason. Today because we no longer live in that style we therefore lack the structures and systems to police this situation.

So although we may receive or provide consents, we are not governed by a system that promotes maintenance of the status. The consequence of breaching that code today carries at worst, a humble reprimand from your family. So we need, as a family and as possible wearers to accept the responsibility and consequence of any failings to the expectations of Moko. We would need to not go into Moko without commitment and conviction.

So what do the designs of Moko mean? That is not so easy a question to answer because there are no finite meanings for any single type of design. As the designs themselves vary from one place or artist to another so too do their meanings. In general, however, there are common designs and placements that regularly occur across all the tribes and artists. In this case there is a common understanding as to what a Koru means. Which includes such concepts as birth, growth, re-birth, re-growth, inheritance etc.

Then there is the form in which Koru are placed. This can produce such design components as Puhoro, Mango-pare etc. One must also bear in mind the placement which, as mentioned, is a regularity and therefore must account toward the meanings of an area. So for that matter with Puhoro, meaning "speed" it is very compatible to place this upon the legs, being the common mode of transport. Over all these designs are varying and need more than just a FAQ in order to be addressed.

What if I was wanting just a Maori design instead of a Moko? There is such a concept known as "Kirituhi." Kirituhi translates literally to mean - "drawn skin." As opposed to Moko which requires a process of consents, genealogy and historical information, Kirituhi is merely a design with a Maori flavour that can be applied anywhere, for any reason and on anyone. This is not to say that Kirituhi is void of meaning because any recipient with their skilled artist can apply meaning to any design. But based upon the definition of Moko, Kirituhi is void of consents, genealogy and historical meaning.

What about if I provide my own design? Some Moko artists include "design," as part of their costs so if you provide your own design, the artist may deduct a set amount, like $20.00 from the over all cost. However some artists do not charge for their design and only charge for application, so they may not deduct any portion of the costs. Ultimately, if you do provide your own art the artist may want to study it and or alter it. In many cases, people who provide their own art often do not understand the body's muscle tones and forms so tattooists or Moko artists are looking to see where the faults relating to these points are, in the design. Please accept or at least consider any advice that they give about the design after studying it. In all, if you want to know whether there are deductions from costs, with provided art work, ask the tattoo or Moko artist, and trust their judgment within reason.
Isn't the trade of money etc for cultural items a moral injustice? If this question is referring to the sale of cultural items or the culture itself, then the answer from the artists perspective would be NO! The ideal that Maori intellectual property and artefacts is not a viable and saleable commodity is born primarily from the reaction to the exploitation of these things by the wrong people. Moko artists have recently, for the first time, joined forces to sought a control over exploitation of our intellectual property in Moko. However for the majority of Moko artists, Moko is their bread and butter.

And, historically, this has always been the case for our Maori artists. Not only for our Maori artists but for our people in general. For example, in the past a young man might journey on his finely carved canoe and visit a friendly tribe. He sees a beautiful young princess there and they both desire one another. In order to win favour, from her family, for her hand in marriage, he will offer his finely and ornately carved canoe as a gift. This is the type of trade that occurred amongst our ancestors. He didn't offer them money, which is the currency of today, but he offered them his canoe, which was the currency of then.

So the very thing that the modern ideal tries to protect our treasures from was in fact what our treasures were. The item of trade. Even in more recent times, Tame Poata was paid in kind by his more hapu orientated customers, for his Moko services, with either carvings, food, clothing and money. These he accepted as his bread and butter. So although the ideal has merit, in the face of exploitation, it is also for the sake of the ideal a scenario of "biting off your nose to spite your face."


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