The Moko

According to mythology In Māori, the Moko tattoo began with a love story between a young man named Mataora (meaning "face of vitality") and a young princess from the world of darkness named Niwareka.

Moko tattoo

The Moko 

One day Mataora hit Niwareka. Niwareka then fled to join his father's kingdom, a kingdom called Uetonga. Mataora, heartbroken and repentant, set out to find Niwareka. After many trials, and having overcome many obstacles, Mataora finally arrived in the kingdom of Uetonga. But, after his long trip, the paint on his face was dirty and damaged.

Niwareka's family laughed at Mataora's pitiful appearance. Humbly, Mataora pleaded for forgiveness from Niwareka, and she finally granted it. Niwareka's father then offered to teach Mataora the art of Moko tattooing. At the same time, Mataora learned the art of Taniko - which consisted of lining the edges of coats with braids of all colors.

Mataora and Niwareka then returned to the human world, bringing back the art of moko and that of taniko.

The head was considered to be the most sacred part of the body, and since tattooing caused blood to flow, the tattoo artists, the “tohunga-ta-oko”, were particularly “tapu” people. All high ranking Māori were tattooed and those who were not were considered to be people of no social status. In addition, the moko made the warrior attractive to women.

Moko tattooing began at puberty, accompanied by many rites and ritual ceremonies. The instrument used for tattooing was a bone chisel, either with a serrated edge or with a straight, very sharp edge. The first tattoo operation was to make deep cuts in the skin.

Then, we dipped the chisel in a soot pigment, such as the burnt gum of the native gum tree, the Kauri (large conifer of the forests of the north of the North Island, with a slender bole and a very high crown, which can become giant), or the soot of burnt caterpillars. Then the pigment was hammered into the skin. It was extremely painful and very long; Often leaves from the native tree, the Karaka, were placed over the tattoo's swollen incisions to speed healing.

Wars were frequent, and the Warrior had little time to recover. During the healing time, it was often impossible to eat because of the swelling of the face. To achieve this, liquid food was poured into a wooden funnel, until the warrior was again able to eat normally. During tattooing, we would play the flute and recite poems, to help ease the pain. Although tattoos were mostly done on the face, the North Auckland warriors got tattoos in a spiral pattern on the buttocks, and often up to the knees.

The work of the tohunga was surrounded by a certain ritual and religious practices. This is what gave it a priestly character. The tohunga could specialize in a discipline: sacred knowledge, ritual ceremonial, history, legends and genealogies, or even: relationships with spirits and demons, but, in fact, everyone had to have skills in other areas.

The tohunga-magicians underwent a long physical and mental training. Their trade with the gods was believed to give them supernatural powers. So they were influential advisers to tribal councils and important chiefs who wielded great power from their ancestry.

We consulted the Tohunga, who wondered the future by throwing a stick made of "raupo" (typha angustifolia, a species of reed very common in New Zealand.)

Can be called Tohunga, any person skilled and expert in an art: for example the construction (of canoes or houses), tattooing, wood carving, etc. The work of the Tohunga was surrounded by a certain ritual and religious practices. This is what gave it a priestly character.