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Maori Style Tattoos

Ta Moko - Polynesian / Maori

As a cultural practice tattooing (tā moko) was brought by the Māori from their Eastern Polynesian homeland, and the implements and methods employed were similar to those used in other parts of Polynesia.

It is thought that in traditional society many or most high-ranking persons were tattooed, and those who went without tattoos were seen as persons of lower social status. The receiving of tattoos constituted an important milestone on a person's journey to maturity and was accompanied by many rites and rituals. In both men and women, the patterns used were highly significant of a person's rank, skills, knowledge, personal life history, tribal affiliations and genealogy. Apart from signalling status and rank, another reason for the practice in traditional times was to make a person more attractive to the opposite sex.

Tā moko is the permanent body and face marking by Māori, the indigenous people of New Zealand. It is distinct from tattoo and tatau in that the skin was carved by uhi (chisels) rather than punctured. This left the skin with grooves, rather than a smooth surface.

It was brought by Māori from their Eastern Polynesian homeland, and the implements and methods employed were similar to those used in other parts of Polynesia. In pre-European Māori culture, many if not most high-ranking persons received moko, and those who went without them were seen as persons of lower social status. The receiving of moko constituted an important marker between childhood and adulthood, and was accompanied by many rites and rituals. Apart from signalling status and rank, another reason for the practice in traditional times was to make a person more attractive to the opposite sex. Men generally received moko on their faces, buttocks (called raperape) and thighs (called puhoro). Women usually wore moko on their lips (kauae) and chins. Other parts of the body known to have moko on it include the foreheads, buttocks, thighs, neck and backs of women, and backs, stomachs and calves of men.

When Polynesians first arrived in New Zealand, they found a land teeming with birdlife, including the giant moa. The richness of this food resource led to this period being known to archeologists as the 'moa hunter period'. However, over-hunting led to the extinction of the moa and several other species, including a giant eagle which preyed upon the moa.

As a result of the moa's extinction, the culture changed and became what is often known as 'classical Māori' culture. Horticulture became much more important, and it is likely that inter-tribal warfare also increased as iwi competed for scarce resources. This is shown in the increased frequency of fortified pā, although there is debate about the amount of conflict. Various systems arose which aimed to conserve resources; most of these, such as tapu and rahui, used religious or supernatural threat to discourage people from taking species at particular times or from particular areas. During this time performing arts such as the haka developed from their Polynesian roots, as did visual arts, particularly carving and weaving. The language underwent some changes, and dialects emerged, with the dialect of the Otago region being particularly distinctive. However, these all remained similar to other Polynesian tongues, to the point where a Tahitian man on one of Cook's voyages could communicate with Māori that the party encountered.

Since 1990 there has been a resurgence in the practice of moko for both men and women, as a sign of cultural identity and a reflection of the general revival of the language and culture. Not all moko applied today is done using a tattoo machine. Recently there has been a strong revival of the use of uhi (chisels). Women too have become more involved as practitioners, such as Christine Harvey of the Chathams, Henriata Nicholas in Rotorua and Julie Kipa in Whakatane. Te Uhi a Mataora was recently established by practitioners to discuss issues facing the art form, such as the practice by non-Māori, an issue which is increasingly of concern to Māori.

With thanks to wikipedia for the above

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