“Te iwi Māori” means Māori people in their language. Here’s a short introduction video you can watch: [youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tLsohqp30rs] Origins
Originated from East Polynesia, they have had various canoe trips before they arrived in New Zealand between 1250 and 1300CE, where they eventually settled down and developed their unique Māori culture.
The Māori culture consists of beliefs, and also traditional and contemporary arts.
The Māoris viewed the universe spiritually. Tapu, the strongest force in the Māori life, is defined as “sacred’ or “spiritual restriction”. Everything that’s Tapu-labelled has a restraining order, where no human contact was allowed. In some cases, people who violated Tapu rules could face death penalty.
Some people and objects have mana - spiritual power or essence.
If any higher ranked tribal members touched items that belonged to members of lower ranks and vice-versa, it would cause “pollution” and again, putting themselves in a life-threatening situation. They too believed that a breach of tapu could incur the wrath of the Gods (aka natural disasters and pandemics).
Weaving and carving may be common in other tribes, but they act as means of telling stories and legends. Each detailed piece tells a different story and has different meanings to it. These can be read by those who know how.
The Māoris also believed that the master carvers were the people who communicated with gods.
However, the Māoris stood out from other tribes with this one art - “moko”, which means tattoo. This was considered a traditional custom since tattoos played a major part in differentiating individuals from the higher and lower social statuses.
Each "moko" contains ancestral tribal messages specific to the wearer. These messages tell stories of the wearer's family and tribal affiliations, and their place in these social structures. The message also portrays the wearer’s genealogy, knowledge, and social standing.
The instruments used to create tattoos on the Māori people are uhi-chisels and knives that are made from shark teeth, sharpened bone, and sharp stones. The inks are made from natural products. For example, the black ink is retrieved from the soot of burnt wood and the lighter pigment inks are made from the caterpillar fungus.
Various Māori tattoos and symbols
This represents new beginnings, growth, and regeneration. In Ta Moko, it represents parenthood, ancestry, and genealogy. It is also known to portray human-like characteristics; like having a head, an eye, neck, body and also a tail.
This symbol is said to represent Tiki, the first man in Māori myth, which is a sign of remembrance to connect deceased family members to the living.
Said to be a messenger between the living and the dead, this symbol was traditionally carved with the tail of a fish, body of a man, and head of a bird. People wear the Manaia symbol as a personal guardian, as a protection against evil.
The Toki is said to represent strength because the toki blade had to be strong so as not to break when being used to carve waka and cut trees.
The fish hook symbol is said to represent prosperity and safe travel over water. It's a clever design because it incorporates both the fish and fish hook motif into one design.
An example of symbols that are incorporated in tattoos:
The male facial moko or tattoo is generally divided into eight sections of the face:
- The centre of the forehead called the ngakaipikirau, designated a person’s general rank
- Area under the brows, called ngunga, designated his position
- Area around his eyes and nose, uirere, designated his hapu, or sub-tribe rank
- Area around the temples, uma, served to detail his marital status, like the number of marriages he had
- Area under the nose, raurau, displayed the man’s signature that was once memorised by tribal chiefs who used it when buying property, signing deeds and officiating orders
- Cheek area, or taiohou, showed the nature of the person’s work
- Chin area, wairua, showed the person’s mana or prestige
- Jaw area or taitoto designated a person’s birth status
The influence of the Tā Mako is still prevalent. However, there are some evolution changes. Both Māoris and non-Māoris are allowed to undergo Tā Mako. Tattoos are now found on both faces and other body parts as well. Instead of uhi, modern instruments such as needles are used. Some celebrities like Mike Tyson and Dwayne Johnson have Maori inspired tattoos.
Lastly, quoting from a venerable elder, "Taia o moko, hei hoa matenga mou" (Inscribe yourself, so you have a friend in death).