Maori Tattoos are the traditional tattoo of the indigenous Polynesian people from New Zealand. Their form of body art, called moko, is what we commonly know as Maori tattooing. This art from is originally from Polynesia. Maori tattoo art is considered sacred to the people. In Maori culture, the head is the most sacred part of the human body. Because of this, the facial tattoo is the most popular area. The head is shaped in curves, so facial tattoos were composed of curved shapes and spiral patterns. Many times, these tattoos would cover the whole face. This was a symbol of rank and social status.
In Maori tattoo, no two tattoos are the same. Being extremely intricate and elaborate, it displays the artistry and craftsmanship of the culture. Tattooing was considered a rite of passage, a sacred ritual. It would start at adolescence and continue as important life milestones were reached. The traditional Maori tattoo artist would use knives and chisels made from sharpened bone, shark’s teeth, or sharp stones to tattoo instead of a needle. The type of knife or chisel used depended on the pattern the artist was creating. Their inks were made from natural products. Burnt wood could be used for black pigments, and lighter pigments were created from such things as caterpillars or burnt Kauri gum mixed with animal fat. The Maori would store their inks in a vessel called the oko, which would become family heirlooms. Oko are many times buried when the artist is not using them.
True Maori tattoos are very painful. It is created by incising deep cuts into the skin. The chisel then adds pigment by tapping it into the cuts. Another way would be to dip the chisel into the pigment and inserting it into the skin by striking the end with a mallet. Instead of the normal smooth surface of modern tattoo, this method would leave grooves after the skin would heal. Because it was so painful, only certain parts of the body could be tattooed at one time, This made for a very lengthy process! The tribal pattern tattoos that the Maori used are so beautiful and cool looking that Maori and non Maori get them tattooed. Of course, most non Maori get their tattoos done with a modern tattoo needles as opposed to the traditional way of using a chisel and knife.
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