The long history of Ta Moko, or Maori face and body tattooing, has been maintained over generations of Maori tribes in New Zealand. Each tattoo is unique to the wearer, and the ceremony and meaning of Ta Moko is passed through generations of Maori tribes.
Ta Moko originates from a love story, which focuses on the cultural beginnings of the practice, and is deeply embedded in the culture of New Zealand.
It is the story of a love affair between a young man, Mataoroa, and Niwareka, a princess of the underworld and daughter of a tohunga ta moko. Niwareka wanted to explore the world above and there she met Mataoroa. They fell in love and were married. Knowledge of ta moko did not exist in the world, therefore Mataoroa simply wore designs painted on his body, rather than being chiselled.
One day Mataoroa mistreated Niwareka, so she returned to her father in the underworld. Seeking her forgiveness, Mataoroa pursued his wife into the underworld, enduring many trials and obstacles to reach her. But when he finally found her, the paint on his face was smeared from his efforts. Upon seeing this, Niwareka’s people, who had chiselled faces and permanent designs, laughed at him.
Ashamed of this reaction, Mataoroa asked his father-in-law to teach him his art. Impressed with his commitment, Niwareka forgave her husband, and they both returned to the world above, with Mataoroa taking with him the knowledge of ta moko.
This practice is considered a sacred ritual, and the education of the origin is as important as the tattooing process itself. The way of life, attitudes and character of the tattoo wearer is learned by the tohunga ta moko, or tattoo expert, making this experience both meaningful and personal.
The art of ta moko can be translated across many subjects, from pottery to clothing and art. However, the traditional act of chiselling the skin or (creating texture along with the tattoo), is one of deep meaning. It is intended to be both beautiful art and a promise. This is a ceremony in which the tattooist pays respect to his ancestors and requests their permission to place the Ta Moko on the tattoo wearer. Passed on through generations of Maori tribes, it is Te Rangitu Netana’s hope that the true meaning of tattoo practice in Ta Moko is brought to the UK.
As Ta Moko is regarded as a dedication to the ancestors and also an act of respect for your own journey in life, weaving your story into the skin, it is a responsibility for all involved to acknowledge the long history of the practice.
Bringing his many years of skills, Te Rangitu Netana, the Ta Moko Tattoo expert, is now based in Colchester, in the UK, and hopes that this ancient message is passed on with every one of his unique designs.