Maori Tattooing in New Zealand

Tattooing – more specifically Maori tattooing – was brought to New Zealand from Polynesia by the Maori tribes. Their distinct kind of tattoo known as “moko” which is a tattoo on the chin, has become quite popular in recent years. Some artists have also incorporated traditional Maori designs and concepts in their own New Zealand tattoo artwork.

The original Maori tattooing was a rite of passage for Maori people. It combined the use of sharpened chisels made from albatross bone and natural indelible ink. The process was long and  very painful. Now, the traditional Maori tattoo has become synonymous with the “New Zealand tattoo”. It is unique in appearance because the process calls for carving the skin, leaving it with grooves after healing.

How It Gained Popularity

Most New Zealand Tattoo styles are Maori tattoos, or at least inspired by them. Recent studies show that there is an ever-growing popularity of tattooing among New Zealander females rather than with males, which may surprise some people. Another study claims that one in every five adult New Zealander’s are tattooed.

This goes along with the fact that, while Maori males declined in practicing facial tattoos during the mid-1900’s, the females continued to do so. The growing popularity seems to be focused on the younger generation, but a good number of older individuals also take part in the art-form.

New Zealanders, fondly called ‘Kiwi’s’, have such an affinity for tattoos because they see it as expressions of patriotism, as well as personal and cultural identity. Aside from the Maori tattoos, which are usually restricted only to those of Maori descent, Kiwi’s often choose patriotic designs for tattoos, such as a map of New Zealand.

The map of New Zealand along with very striking and sometimes random designs and Maori inspired tattoos often make up the bulk of New Zealand tattoo designs. It is meant to show a rebellious attitude, often to conform to New Zealand stereotypes. It also shows affiliations and tastes. It is sometimes even done for the sole purpose of social deviance and a display of rebellious attitude – although this does seem to be fading quite rapidly as tattoo art becomes more widely accepted and sheds it’s social stigma.

Another reason for the frequency and popularity of New Zealand tattoo is the ethnic group – Maori – considers tattooing to be a sacred rite that connects them to their ancestors. The Maori have such close ties to the art of tattooing, which they call “ta moko”. For a Maori to not have one was once seen as a disgrace.

The traditional methods of Maori tattooing have recently experienced a revival especially for those Maoris who seek to preserve their cultural heritage. The Maori have an established group that deals with the issues surrounding their art form, called Te Uhi a Mataora.

Despite its popularity, there seems to be a division between acceptance and disdain for tattoos in New Zealand. Some areas generally don’t mind tattooed individuals, but some are wary and even fearful of them; often associating tattoos with gangs and other criminal activity. Despite the mixed reception, tattooing still proves to be very popular in New Zealand.

Maori tattoos are a distinct kind of tattoo found only in New Zealand. Their uniqueness, originality, as well as craftsmanship and history all contribute to its wide appeal and interest. For some people, getting these kinds of tattoos are not simply for aesthetic purposes. It is a spiritual journey of self-expression and discovery.

Zealand Tattoo can provide you a wide selection of designs that are not only limited to the Maori and Polynesian inspired tribal arts, but can also extend to other tattoo designs.