May 10, 2021

Maori News & Indigenous Views

The Cultural Awareness Required for a Māori Tattoo

2 min read

Are these spiritual tattoos insensitive for an outsider or not?

Traditional Māori tattoos, known as tā moko, carry a lot of spiritual and mythical meaning. Designs adapted from this ancient New Zealand art form are not necessarily offensive — provided you know what you’re getting. By Thalita Alves (Source: Medium)

The first step towards cultural awareness is getting your terminology right.

Kirituhi is the official name for a Māori-style tattoo either created by or made for a non-Māori person. The name comes from the words kiri (skin) and tuhi (to write, to adorn or to decorate). These custom-made designs are inspired by traditional conventions and can carry their own special meanings.

Anyone can get kirituhi, no matter where they come from or their cultural upbringing: they have been created so that Māori can share their customs with the masses.

Tā moko, on the other hand, is strictly ‘Māori only’. It is more than an art form or a fashion statement: the wearer is telling a story about their genealogy (whakapapa) as they use landmarks and ancestral symbols to depict their tribal affiliations (iwi) and social standing. It is also worth noting that not all Māori tattooists can etch mokos — the ones who do it are generally trained in wood carving first, in order to become fully aware of symbolism the art form carries.

moko worn on the face is viewed an an undeniable statement of Māori identity, as the head is believed to be the most sacred part of the body. Men and women alike can get facial moko, though the placement of these designs will differ according to gender. Women typically wear moko on their chins, and occasionally on their upper lip, forehead, nostrils and throat. Male moko usually cover the entire face and are divided into eight different sections that represent their father’s and mother’s rank and position as well as their own.

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