maori tattoos

Say hello to the Navy’s first Moko tattoo

The changing face of New Zealand’s Royal Navy is a Maori one.

After two decades of service, Rawiri Barriball is the first person to have been given clearance to wear a full-face Maori tattoo.

Barriball had to apply under special Navy law first for approval, which was granted in December.

“I've always felt I was going get it, I just wanted to achieve a few things first, my own goals, and one of them was doing 20 years' service." He says.

People’s reaction

The tattoo is striking, and took Rawiri’s brother aprox 10 hours to complete.

But Rawiri noticed how people reacted differently to him almost immediately.

“When I left my brother's house, straight away you can see the reaction of people. Even body language, which I was prepared for, but the way people talk to you, it changes," he said.

“I guess with my job being a seaman combat specialist… We're face to face with people that we're trying to help different parts of the world, if they see something as in moko they might be a bit intimidated I guess."

Barriball hoped his moko would help breakdown the stigma around facial tattoos.

"I know there's a bad rap with people having moko... the more people that get it the more it will be accepted," he said. 

"It's not something you should be scared of - I'm just like any other human being."

See Sunset for a Maori tattoo

If you’re interested in getting a Maori tattoo design, then you should come see Tristan at Sunset Tattoo.

Tristan is of Te Rarawa descent, from the Hokianga in the far north. He graduated from the New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts institute in 2014 with a diploma in Whakairo Rakau (traditional wood carving). Not long before Tristan graduated, he approached Tom about learning the craft of tattooing and bringing his knowledge of carving and Maori art over to the medium

Tristan is now tattooing full time with Sunset, and specializes in Ta Moko, Blackwork, pattern work, geometric and dot-work tattoo styles.

Te Moko - The art of Maori tattoos

The styles and methods of tattooing in 21st century New Zealand are extremely diverse. From traditional Maori and Pacifica styles, through to modern Anime, the style is varied, but tattooing first began in New Zealand with Ta Moko.

 

The early days of Te Moko

It’s impossible to establish when Ta Moko started as there are no written records pre-colonisation, as there was no formal Maori written language. Instead, historians have had to rely on archaeologists and the accounts of the first European settlers. Excavated sites have found tattooing tools dating back to the very earliest settlers, with some of the tools the same as the ones used in Samoa. Although the patterns and designs vary throughout the Pacific when it comes to tattoos, the technique of rhythmically tapping a bone chisel, lashed to a small wooden shaft remains the same.

Some of the earliest accounts of tattooing in New Zealand were by Sydney Parkinson. Parkinson was Captain James Cook’s artist on board the Endeavour, when it landed in Poverty Bay in 1769. He sketched and painted local Maori displaying their Moko, and described in detail the different styles and patterns he witnessed.

The Explorers noticed that Maori women were not as extensively tattooed as the men. Their upper lips were outlined, usually in dark blue, and their nostrils were also very finely incised. The chin moko was always the most popular, and continued to be practiced even into the 1970s.

Telling a story through tattoos

Ta Moko facial tattoos aren’t just for decoration, they also tell a story. A person’s ancestry is indicated on each side of the face. The left side is generally (but not always, depending on the tribe) the father's side, while the right-hand side indicates the mother's ancestry. If one side of a person's ancestry was not of rank, that side of the face would have no Moko design. Likewise if, in the centre forehead area there is no Moko design, this means the wearer either has no rank, or has not inherited rank.

Talk to Tristan

If you’re interested in getting a Maori tattoo design, then you should come see Tristan at Sunset Tattoo.

Tristan is of Te Rarawa descent, from the Hokianga in the far north. He graduated from the New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts institute in 2014 with a diploma in Whakairo Rakau (traditional wood carving). Not long before Tristan graduated, he approached Tom about learning the craft of tattooing and bringing his knowledge of carving and Maori art over to the medium.

Tristan is now tattooing full time with Sunset, and specializes in Ta Moko, Blackwork, pattern work, geometric and dot-work tattoo styles.

A quick history of Maori tattoos

The styles and methods of tattooing in 21st century New Zealand are extremely diverse. From traditional Maori and Pacifica styles, through to modern traditional, the style is varied, but tattooing first began in New Zealand with Ta Moko.

Ta Moko tattoos

It’s impossible to establish when Ta Moko started as there are no written records pre-colonisation, as there was no formal Maori written language. Instead, historians have had to rely on archaeologists and the accounts of the first European settlers. Excavated sites have found tattooing tools dating back to the very earliest settlers, with some of the tools the same as the ones used in Samoa. Although the patterns and designs vary throughout the Pacific when it comes to tattoos, the technique of rhythmically tapping a bone chisel, lashed to a small wooden shaft remains the same.

Captain Cook arrives

Some of the earliest accounts of tattooing in New Zealand were by Sydney Parkinson. Parkinson was Captain James Cook’s artist on board the Endeavour, when it landed in Poverty Bay in 1769. He sketched and painted local Maori displaying their Moko, and described in detail the different styles and patterns he witnessed.

The Explorers noticed that Maori women were not as extensively tattooed as the men. Their upper lips were outlined, usually in dark blue, and their nostrils were also very finely incised. The chin moko was always the most popular, and continued to be practiced even into the 1970s.

Ta Moko facial tattoos aren’t just for decoration, they also tell a story. A person’s ancestry is indicated on each side of the face. The left side is generally (but not always, depending on the tribe) the father's side, while the right hand side indicates the mother's ancestry. If one side of a person's ancestry was not of rank, that side of the face would have no Moko design. Likewise if, in the centre forehead area there is no Moko design, this means the wearer either has no rank, or has not inherited rank.

Talk to Tristan about a Maori tattoo design

If you’re interested in getting a Maori tattoo design, then you should come see Tristan at Sunset Tattoo.

Tristan is of Te Rarawa descent, from the Hokianga in the far north. He graduated from the New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts institute in 2014 with a diploma in Whakairo Rakau (traditional wood carving). Not long before Tristan graduated, he approached Tom about learning the craft of tattooing and bringing his knowledge of carving and Maori art over to the medium. Tristan is now tattooing full time with Sunset, and specializes in Ta Moko, Blackwork, pattern work, geometric and dot-work tattoo styles.

When researching your Maori tattoo design, it’s a good idea to come talk to Tristan first. A little knowledge about Maori culture and Maori tattoo design will help you make an informed choice about what it is you want. The art of tattooing is a rich and historic part of Maori culture, and is therefore deserving of respect. In Cultural terms, each Maori tattoo design had a deeper meaning, represented a milestone, or told its own story.

The original tattooing method consisted of cutting into the skin, rather than inking the top layers. This method has been documented as one of the oldest in the world, going back generations. Today it isn’t quite as painful or dangerous, and people don’t need to be heading off to war in order to get one. Maori tattoo design are more popular than ever, with more and more complex patterns and designs adorning everyone from housewives to CEOs.

So if you’re interested in a Maori tattoo design, come and see us at Sunset Tattoo. Book an appointment with Tristan, even if it’s just for a chat about your options. Our studio is relaxed, cosy and clean; everything you want in a tattoo studio.