Māori facial and body tattooing is known as Tā moko. An ancient art
form, its origin lies in West Polynesia. The intricate designs were
chiseled into the skin using a tool called an uhi; ink was then smudged
into the carved lines. Tā moko represents the wearer’s family heritage
and social status—it is believed that the receiver visits a spiritual
realm where they encounter their ancestors, returning as a new person.
For Māori women, as historian Michael King notes in his seminal book Moko, the moko was a rite of passage, marking the passage between girl and adulthood.
But from 1840, with the influx of English settlers, Māori were pushed from their lands and assimilation began. Colonial laws were passed banning what are known as tohunga,
or Māori experts, and children were caned for speaking Māori at school.
By the 1970s, the moko had all but died out. Only a few female elders
carried it, and elsewhere facial tattoos had negative connotations;
adopted by disaffected urban Māori, they became associated with gangs
Things started to change in the 1980s, with a push to revive Māori language
and culture, and in recent years there has been a revival in the
ancient practice among both elders and young Māori women. Tā moko artist
Pip Hartley, 33, is one of a new generation of Māori who are carrying
the art form forward. When she was 18 she started traveling to remote
regions of the country to learn the ancient art, before opening her
Auckland tattoo studio, Karanga Ink, this year.
moko process is intensely personal, Pip tells Broadly. “I prefer to
draw straight onto the person, because it’s an exchange of wairua, or
energy. It’s working with the contours of their body and translating
their story, and for a lot of people it’s a transformative experience.
Every time they see it, it’s a reminder of what they’ve achieved, and
that their tupuna [ancestors] have their back.”
If you asked me a year ago if i will ever draw myself, I would have said no. But if its the only way we can ever be in the same picture, I’ll draw myself standing next to you over and over again to remind me even if we live all the way across the ocean from each other, art and internet can keep us together. Thank you for being you and the biggest ray of light in my life. Happy birthday, my special bean :’)! You mean so much to me and more!!!