Maori tattoo, aka Moko, is a form of body art practiced by indigenous Maori people in New Zealand (Maori name: Aotearoa). Like other tattoos of Polynesian islands, Maori tattoo designs are one of source patterns in tribal tattoo designs.
Traditionally, men generally received moko on their faces, buttocks and thighs . Women wore moko on their lips and chins as well as forehead and throat. Like other Polynesian tattoos, moko used to be representation of one’s social rank or status. It is an important rite of passage for the milestone to step into adulthood from childhood. Moko is a visual statement that connects the wearer to their whakapapa (genealogy).
It’s a painful process to get moko although there’s revival of traditional tattooing process in recent years. Moko is different from modern tattooing puncturing the skin with needles, in that it is carved into the skin using uhi (chisels), leaving the skin with grooves, rather than a smooth surface.
Maori Symbols and meanings in tattoos
Maori tattoos feature intricate spiral or round patterns with many mysterious Maori symbols. There are meanings behind these symbols and often unique meanings for the tattoo.
Koru – loop, a spiral shape originated from the shape of an unfurling fern leaf grown in New Zealand. Kori symbolizes new life, growth, peace and harmony.
Hei matau – fish hook shape, representing strength, good luck and prosperity, fertility and safe journey over water.
Hei tiki – a neck ornament as a talisman to the Maori people, usually made of greenstone and carved in an abstract form of a human. Tiki shape is often found in many of tattoo designs. According to Maori legend, Tiki was the first mortal person who created the first woman after his image. It stands for fertility & good luck, protection from evil spirits.
Today Ta moko is much more than a fashion statement, and representation of one’s identity as a Māori. Māori inspired designs are called kirituhi. Electric machines are used to make the process more smoothly and less painful. Placement is also extended to other parts of body, arms, shoulders, etc. Moko can be seen as a cultural identity and is visual language that connects to old culture. Now let’s take look at the collection of 35 amazing MoKo and Maori inspired tattoo designs.
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35 Amazing Maori Tattoo Designs