According to Archaeological evidence, in New Zealand, tattooing came from Eastern Polynesian Culture. Maori tattoos are very important and people who were without tattoos considered to be without status or worth.
The meanings of Maori tattoos were more than decorative – they were a show of strength, courage and status. All symbols have a meaning; a tribal link that tells the background and stories of the wearer. Moko is a visual language.
The lines of a Moko accentuate the lines of the face to emphasise the expressions. The tattoos were a symbol of integrity, Maori identity and prestige and also as a reflection of history.
Maori tattooing would start at adolescence and used to celebrate important events throughout the person’s life.
The first tattoo marks the growth from childhood to adulthood and done through a series of rites and rituals. Having tattoos also made them attractive to women.
Women were not as heavily tattooed as men. If a woman were to be tattooed it was usually either the upper lips outlined in dark blue or the chin, being the most popular. Also their nostrils were finely incised.
“MAORI TATTOO ART IS DIFFERENT FROM TRADITIONAL TATTOOING IN THAT SENSE THAT THE MAORI TATTOO WAS CARVED INTO THE SKIN WITH A CHISEL, INSTEAD OF PUNTURED”
A complete face tattooing was very time consuming. And is unfairly seen as intimidating, regardless of the wearer's intentions. A good tattoo artist would carefully study a person’s bone structure beforehand.
The first stage when giving a tattoo is the graving of deep cuts into the skin.
Then a chisel was dipped into a type of pigment such as burnt Kauri gum or burnt vegetable caterpillars then tapped into the skin.
To get a tattoo was a painful and long process. To heal the swollen tattoo cuts, often leaves from the native tree were placed onto the skin. Also, to help with the pain, flute music and chant poems were performed.
Not only were tattoos placed on the face, swirling double spirals on both buttocks often leading down to the knee, were common.
Instead of needles, they used knives and chisels either smooth or serrated. Ink applied by incisions. The chisels were made from Albatross bone.
There are 2 types of tattoo ink. For the body; the colour was from an organism that’s half vegetable; half caterpillar. For the face; darker ink made from burned wood.
Tattoo needles settled in by the 19th Century.
Because of the bold statements used in Maori tattoo designs, it is growing in popularity.
Modern tattoos are now found on the body and not much the face.