The Ancient Art Form of Maori Tattoos

Maori tattoo designs have nearly wilted into oblivion due to the homicidal practices of early European colonists in New Zealand. The striking and elaborate designs imprinted on the faces of Maori led connoisseurs, collectors and business to desire the acquisition of the heads of departed Maoris for their value as collector items. Regrettably, these ‘deceased’ Maoris were, in fact, murdered for their heads.

However, after so many years, there has been renewed interest in these ancient and fascinating designs of Maori tattoos. And while the Maoris had their faces engraved for cultural reasons, most artists and tattoo designers desire these intricate drawings for their opulence and exquisiteness. The designs on Maori women’s faces reflected beauty while those on the faces of male warriors denoted might and bravery. Every element of the design was intended to convey a specific property of the wearer to those who see the tattoo. In general, these included the wearer’s way of life, his or her beliefs and principles and his or her family and values. These tattoos were much more than simple designs to the Maoris. These tattoos depict the type of person the wearer is and hence, no two individuals have the exact same design. They were called Ta Moko and unlike the tattoos of today which are inked into the skin, these were chiseled deeply within the skin.

Obviously, modern tattoo wearers will simply have them inked into the skin – in a normal way, but using the deep designs of the Maoris. Also, most of these pieces of art will be on arms, legs or the body rather than on the face. Maori women had their noses, lips and chins covered with tattoos whereas men had their entire faces enveloped in tattoos. In fact, some Maori men had their entire bodies covered with tattoos. While not an exact replication of the Maori culture, because most modern tattoos are only on body parts and not faces, the revival of the Maori art of tattoos is a step forward in appreciating the exotic splendor of the designs and a show of respect to this lost culture which was expressed via tattoos. Not only were the designs unique, but also, the concept of these markings differentiating and denoting qualities of the wearer was exceptional. Bringing back the Ta Moko is a way of ensuring that this innovative society is remembered and actually becomes a source of inspiration for artists and tattoo designers the world over!