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40 Amazing Maori Tattoo Designs

Maori Tattoo Designs 2021

40 Amazing Maori Tattoo Designs

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The Maori are indigenous people of New Zealand. They have a unique body art form, known as moko, commonly referred to as Maori tattooing. The Maori art was originated from Polynesia and is considered sacred. Maori people consider their head as the most sacred part of the body, which is why Maori tattoos are etched on the face. These tattoos are composed of curved shapes and spiral-like patterns. Maori tattoo designs cover the whole face. Ta moko was always considered a symbol of social status, rank, power, and prestige.

Traditional Maori tattoos are highly intricate and detailed designs displaying a unique Maori culture. Usually, these tattoos are done during adolescence. No two ta moko symbols, you will find the same. The Maori tattoo artists are called the tohunga ta moko, which means moko specialist. These tattooists are highly revered and are considered holy.

The Process Of Maori Tattooing

The art of tā moko was developed in isolation in Aotearoa, New Zealand. In this form of art, broad toothed combs of varying widths called uhi are dipped in the dark pigment and then struck into the skin with small mallets known as tā. The teeth of the comb pierce the skin and deposit the pigment. Māori uses smaller and narrower uhi without teeth that cut grooves through the skin.

The method of tāmoko is a form of scarification. The practice is very similar to wood carving and is characterized by deep grooved furrows stained with dark pigment. Before the tattooing, the tattooist would study the person’s facial structure and decide the most appealing ta moko design.


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Meanings Of Maori Motifs

Maori tattoo motifs are universal. The spiral elements are applied to the ihu, cheek, and lower jaws, to the curvilinear rays on the forehead, and from the nose to the mouth. All the ta moko elements are chosen carefully to enhance the individual features, giving meaning to the expression Mataora, the living face. Māori tattooing designs are used to indicate social status, role, and expressions of identity.

The focal point of ta moko was generally the face. Men used to have full facial tattoos, while women only had their lips, chin, and nostrils inked. Some Maori men had tattoos on their backs, buttocks, and legs. And women used to have a tattoo on their arms, neck, and thighs.


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Tools & Inks Used For Ta Moko Designs

Traditional Maori tattoo designs do not involve the use of needles. Maori used knives and chisels made up of shark teeth, sharpened bone, or sharp stones. The chisel, also known as the uhi, was made from albatross bone or iron. Knives and chisels were used interchangeably, depending on the intended design or pattern.

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The inks used by Maori were made from all-natural products, such as burnt wood to create black pigments; burnt kauri gum mixed with animal fat to create lighter pigments. Maori used to store these pigments in ornate containers called oko that became family heirlooms.

The black pigment was solely used for facial tattoos, while other pigments made from bugs or burnt gum were used for outlines and other less revered tattoos.

However, modern Maori tattoos have evolved significantly and are done with needle-based machines rather than traditional tools and methods.

Maori Need To Maintain Sanctity

Maori tattoos are considered sacred; therefore, the ones undergoing the process, and involved in the process, had to follow strict rules. Like, they were not allowed to eat with their hands; they could not talk to anyone aside from the other people being tattooed. Maoris were not allowed to cry while getting inked, as crying was a sign of weakness.

Besides, people undergoing facial work had to abstain from sexual intimacy and avoid all solid foods. Maori people used to eat from a wooden funnel to prevent foodstuffs from contaminating the swollen skin. They would continue to eat from a wooden funnel until their facial wounds fully heal.


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Ta Moko And Social Status

Only people of high rank or status were allowed to get Maori tattoos. Without any high-ranking social status, such as slaves, a person was strictly prohibited from having facial tattoos. Besides being the mark of social status, the Maori facial tattoos were also used as identification cards. For men, face tattoo signified their status, position, accomplishments, ancestry, and marital status. The male facial tattoo was divided into eight sections of the face, which are as follows:

Ngakaipikirau: The center of the forehead used to show a person’s general rank.

Ngunga: The area under the brows showed a person’s position.

Uirere: The area around the eyes and nose showed the person’s sub-tribe rank.

Uma: The temples’ area represented his marital status (especially, the number of marriages).

Raurau: The area under the nose represented the man’s signature that was used while buying property, signing deeds, and officiating orders

Taiohou: The cheek area that showed the nature of the person’s work

Wairua: The chin area that represented the person’s prestige

Taitoto: The jaw area that showed a person’s birth status

Besides, a person’s ancestry is also indicated by each side of the face, like the left side represented the father’s side, and the right side displayed the mother’s side.


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Maori tattooing is one of its kind body artwork that is known worldwide for its unique features. The unique thing about Ta Moko is – all the tattoos that are made to date are different. These tattoos are very painful because the facial area is susceptible to pain. Having a Maori tattoo is not easy for an ordinary person. If you are planning to have ta moko design, give it a nice thought before you get one!

Happy Tattooing…. ☺ ☺

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