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No. 9 (Spring 1954)
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MOKO or MAORI TATTOO

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Fig. 2. A type of tattoo as seen by Captain Cook—from a drawing by S. Parkinson.

According to legend, Maori tattoo commenced with a quarrel between a husband and a wife in the ancient homeland of Hawaiki. The two people concerned were the man Mataroa, and the woman Niwareka.

Now, Niwareka was descended from the ancient gods of Polynesia and her father Ue-tonga dwelt in Te Po-nui, the world of spirits. To him went Niwareka, who was admitted by Kuwatawata, the keeper of the entrance. Mataroa followed, well dressed and penitent. He was forgiven and united to Niwareka; but Uetonga criticised his son in law's tattoo which could be rubbed off with the hand; so Mataroa consented to be properly tattooed from head to foot. Thus only would Ue-tonga consent to Niwareka's return to the world of man. The tapu of the tattoo was removed by Ue-tonga and the couple started on their homeward journey; but at the gateway Mataroa overlooked or neglected to make the customary gift to the janitor, Kuwatawata. Kuwatawata reported this mistake to Ue-tonga who thereupon placed the penalty of unrelenting death on humanity. But the designs of the tattoo remained to be copied by all.

Maori tattooing was no light operation; for it was carried out with a small bone chisel hafted to a handle which was tapped with a light piece of wood or even a fern stalk. A pigment, consisting usually of burned gum and black soot, was rubbed into the wound; and when the face healed, the deep lines of the tatoo furrowed the whole countenance. But it was a long and painful process during which

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Fig. 3. Modern facial tattoo.

both operator and patient were under a state of tapu.

The conclusion of the ordeal was a day of rejoicing when a feast was prepared and all congratulated the novice warrior and admired the lines of his tattoo. Neighbouring tribes might be invited, when speech-making, songs and games would be the order of the day. Usually, when a high-born girl had her lips and chin tattooed, a similar feast was held at the conclusion of the ordeal. At this time she would be adorned with the finest garments, necklaces would be around her neck, and her tattoo would be admired by all.

From the point of view of carving and design, the accompanying figure of a tattooed head is of considerable interest. (Fig. 1). There are two large cheek spirals, each with three pairs of lines radiating from a central point. Some-times there are three single lines in the spirals and sometimes only two. But usually some type of triple spiral is seen in face tattoo. This triple spiral is only rarely used in carving but may be found here and there on museum pieces. The student can trace the types of design on the forehead and to the left of the face. These are more or less identical with the kowhaiwhai or rafter pattern designs of the Maori carved house. On the left of the face are balanced koru types of umbrella or mushroom shapes. Koru is a term used for the simple curving stalk with a bulb at one end of it.

A large number of names have been recorded for the various designs which appear in tattoo. Some of these are synonyms, for not all tribes would use exactly the same term for the same design. The lines of tattooing at the side of the mouth are termed pakiwaha, pawaha or tapawaha. These lines encircle the mouth at the sides. Tattoo cheek spirals are known as kawe, as are lip spirals. Paepae is also applied to cheek spirals and koropetau is used for all spiral lines. The umbrella or mushroom pattern is termed kokoti. This is to be seen on the forehead and at the sides of the face. Pongoiangia or poniania are the tattoo marks on the sides of the nose. These terms are also applied to lower scrolls on the sides of the nose.

A rare type of tattoo seen by Captain Cook is here figured. (Fig. 2). This consists of ladder-like rows of short lines defined by narrow vertical spaces. Over all runs another blank space pattern which is derived from or allied to Maori rafter patterns. Here we may see the rafter pattern forming an S curve, one of the basic spiral forms in many wood carving scrolls. Note the old method of dressing the hair. This was one of the arts of ancient Maoridom in which specialists (women) often excelled.

Modern Maori tattoo is usually poor because there are no authentic types of standard tattoo easily available. Using a piece of charcoal or suitable pencil, a very satisfactory type of tattoo may be applied by omitting many of the detailed lines of the old time artist. However, this can only be perfected with practise, and it is hoped that basing their work on this very brief account, students may be able to improve their technique and copy more exactly the art of the old-time tohunga.