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Traditional Tattoos, New Zealand

Portrait of Tāmati Wāka Nene by Gottfried Lindauer (1890) [Gottfried Lindauer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons]
Portrait of Tāmati Wāka Nene by Gottfried Lindauer (1890) [Gottfried Lindauer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons]

British pop star Robbie Williams had a Maori tattoo done on his arm in 2000 by New Zealand artist Te Rangitu Netana. This caused some controversy when a Maori cultural authority, Pita Sharples, claimed the tattoo design was particular to his iwi (tribe).

Many Maori designs and art are considered to be taonga (treasures) and therefore intellectual property.

Ta Moko (traditional Maori tattooing, often on the face) especially, is a taonga to Maori and the purpose and applications are sacred. Every moko contains ancestral/tribal messages specific to the wearer. These messages tell the story of the wearer’s family and tribal affiliations and their placing within these social structures.

A moko’s message would also contain the wearer’s ‘value’ by way of their genealogy, and/or their knowledge and standing in their social level. Kirituhi means skin art and describes more general tattooing.

Tattoo Museum
New Zealand – home to one of the most tattooed populations in the world – now has its own tattoo museum, the first in the South Pacific.

The National Tattoo Museum in Wellington is a showcase for traditional and contemporary tattooing. There are regular live displays of tattooing, particularly traditional Maori ta moko and Samoan methods.

Web: Mokomuseum – The National Tattoo Museum of New Zealand (Aotearoa)

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