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Te iwi Māori


“Te iwi Māori” means Māori people in their language. Here’s a short introduction video you can watch: [youtube] 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).

Traditional and contemporary arts

Maori weaving school at Whakarewarewa, Rotorua, New Zealand By Andy king50 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0]Māori weaving P1210933 By Jane Nearing [CC BY ND-2.0]The Māori Whare Runanga By Sids1 [CC BY 2.0] Maori, Native American, Art, Wood, New Zealand By Falco [CC0 Public Domain]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.

Māori Tattoos

"Tā moko" - traditional Māori tattooing, often on the face - is a "taonga" (treasure) to Māori for which the purpose and applications are sacred.

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. 

Māoris attain different "mokos" at several phases in life, allowing both genders to come across as more appealing to the other. Interestingly, there are no two tattoos which are identical

Māori Tattoo Chisels By Lars Krutak

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

  1. The Koru

The Koru

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.

  1.      The Tiki

The Tiki

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.

  1.    The Manaia

The Manaia

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.

  1. The Toki

The Toki

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.

  1. The Matau

The Matau

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:

Best Polynesian Tattoos for Men l Tribal Tattoos Designs Ideas l Samoan Tattoos l Maori Tattoos By Prank [Creative Commons Attribution License]Tattoo placements

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

Modern day

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.

Dyawne Johnson By Lander2006 untitled [CC BY 2.0] Lastly, quoting from a venerable elder, "Taia o moko, hei hoa matenga mou" (Inscribe yourself, so you have a friend in death).