Thanks to the Rugby Team known as “All Blacks”, almost everybody today knows who the Maori are. These fascinating people arrived in south-western Polynesia at some time before 1300 and developed a strong and distinct culture, whose main features have been kept throughout the centuries.
Maori culture almost disappeared during the 18th century, due to Europeans bad habit of destroying different cultures. Nevertheless, they survived the hard test, and they are now living some kind of cultural revival.
Among many interesting aspects of their culture, there is one I am particularly interested in: Maori love for complex tattoo designs. Their particular art of tattooing was called Ta Moko. They developed a great mastery of this unique kind of tattoo designs (called Mokos), which covered the whole face of worthy Mori warriors.
A Moko symbolized an important milestone between childhood and adulthood, but it was also an important sign of your social status. A Moko tattoo design has not much to do with aesthetic. It carries information about your identity, information about your family lineage and about yourself.
Mokos were traditionally face tattoos, as the head was considered to be the most sacred part of the body. Such complex tattoo designs were literally carved with chisels on the face. Therefore a Moko was never something done lightly. It took months to decide if a Maori young man was worth getting a Moko carved on his face for the rest of his life. That was why carrying a Moko on your face wasn’t just something personal; a Moko carries information about the whole family and its tribal history. Therefore you have to honour it with your behaviour throughout your whole life.
Maori without Mokos on their face were seen as persons of lower or without social status.
In a Moko tattoo design, each side of the face represents the genealogy of a different parent. There are also one-sided facial Moko tattoos, in case one of the parents could not prove a high social status.
Reading a Moko is not easy at all. Such a tattoo design carries important information about your family and your social position, but also about yourself and your character. While reading a Moko you should be able to open your mind in the attempt to see not only what is visible and clear but also what’s behind it. It is some kind of transcendental experience, which allows you to know more about the man who is wearing it.
Tagged as: moko tattoo, moko tattoos, western polynesia