Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Ta Moko

Click image(s) to see the larger version(s).

This image comes from the Flickrstream of Nariposa and is licensed under Creative Commons.

The above image includes a fine example of Moko, the traditional Maori form of tattoo. Historically, Maori tattoos were made by chiseling lines in the skin, as opposed to puncturing, and then rubbing pigment into the lines. Pigments were made from caterpillar fungus and the darker, facial tones were made from soot and ash. Receiving Moko was an important step into adulthood and was usually accompanied by many rites and rituals. An individuals Moko not only signified status but was considered vital to attracting a mate. From Wikipedia:
Men generally received moko on their faces, buttocks (called raperape) and thighs (called puhoro). Women usually wore moko on their lips (kauae) and chins. Other parts of the body known to have moko on it include the foreheads, buttocks, thighs, neck and backs of women, and the backs, stomachs and calves of men.
Moko includes distinct patterns and designs that proclaim that the wearer is not only of Maori descent but also a lot about their history. Whakapapa is the genealogical aspect while Kaupapa expressed family or tribal stories or lessons. The beautiful and intricate designs are so fascinating that they became a danger to natives in the past.

When the islands of New Zealand were being colonized examples of Moko became so popular among the invaders that many Maori were murdered, sometimes by their own people, so that wealthy Europeans could boast ownership of the art. Historically, the heads of deceased Maori warriors were kept and dried out of respect for the dead. The Europeans liked the heads so much that some Maori began tattooing the faces of slaves and immediately beheading them and then selling them for profit. Eventually, this trade got out of hand and many Maori stopped receiving Maori altogether in order to avoid being killed. Moko also became less and less acceptable to the growing white society. For these reasons Moko almost completely died out.

Since the 1990s, however, a renewed interest in Moko has surfaced and grown as many native Maori are reviving the ways of their ancestors. Although the old form of application isn't used much anymore the symbolism and cultural importance of Moko is still very much alive. For many Maori, especially the younger generation, receiving and proudly displaying Moko is a way to reclaim their cultural identity and show family and tribal pride. As Moko is such an integral part of Maori identity it is usually considered distasteful and deeply offensive for non-Maori to wear Moko.

However, there is a similar style of tattoo design, called Kirituhi, which looks like Moko but does not contain any of the historical Maori symbolism. It has the same general shapes, style and feel of Moko but does not include Whakapapa or Kaupapa. Kirituhi is, therefore, the respectable route for a non-Maori to take if one wishes to incorporate Maori style design into their tattoos but does not wish to offend, or steal from, the Maori people and culture.


INTPanentheist said...

It's really awesome to see people reclaiming their ancestry this way!

Livia Indica said...

I agree!