The Maori: Yesterday and To-day
Chapter XI. — Moko: The Tattooing art
Moko: The Tattooing art.
The ancient and world-wide practice of facial and bodily adornment by means of tattooing attained its highest pitch of perfection in New Zealand. The Japanese probably are the greatest artists in the indelible decoration of the torso, back and limbs, but the Maori was pre-eminently the face-carver of mankind. The Samoans to-day retain the leg and hip tattooing which is so closely done that it has been mistaken for a garment.
The Marquesans were wonderful tattooers, with a remarkable cross-bar device which gave the warrior the appearance of looking out through a prison window; but the art is almost extinct there. Long vanished, too, is the practice of tattooing the male Maori; it is the women, always more conservative than the men, whose pride in the olden ngutu and kauwae patterns—lips and chin—preserves the knowledge of an art peculiarly characteristic of the Maori race.
Carving and tattooing were closely allied arts and many of the patterns in tattooing were reproduced in the chiselling and painting of the wooden carvings of ancestral heroes. The double spiral was a favourite design. A well-tattooed old Maori was quite an art gallery of admirably symmetrical devices, and the finely-cut designs of scroll work and of curves within curves on cheek and nose and forehead and chin gave an added force and barbaric dignity to the brown man's face.
The tattooing artist at work: A scene on the King Country frontier. [From a painting by G. Lindauer.
The painting by Lindauer reproduced as an illustration to this chapter represents the operation of tattooing a young chief's face. The subject, or patient, is lying on a whariki or floor-mat of flax, in the front of a raupo reed wharé. His left cheek page 139 has been operated upon, and his right is now being done. The tohunga, in a squatting position, holds in his left hand his small chisel, its blade dipped in the blue pigment with which the deep-cut lines are to be coloured; in his right hand is his little tapper or mallet, a flax-bound fern-stick, and between the thumb and the forefinger of the same hand is a piece of blue ngarahu or pigment. Round the little finger of the left hand is wrapped some soft flax tow; this is for the purpose of wiping away the blood. The operator, himself a well-moko'd man, is chanting his tattooing-song, bidding the patient be strong and endure the pain with a stout heart—kia kaha, kia kaha, kia manawa-nui, and so on. Of tattooing-songs there are many; the favourite one is that in which the exclamation “Hiki, hiki, Tangaroa!” occurs at regular intervals; this would seem to recognise Tangaroa, the Maori Neptune or Poseidon, as the god of the tattooing art.
Sitting facing the man being operated upon is an old chief with a partly tattooed face; he too is chanting the tattooing song. The original of this figure was a veteran warrior of the Upper Waikato, by name Tupotahi, first cousin to the fighting-chief Rewi Manga Maniapoto. Tupotahi fought heroically with his tribe in the famous pa at Orakau in 1864, and was wounded there. His home was on the banks of the Puniu river—the olden aukati line, or border—not far from the township of Kihikihi, where Lindauer sketched out this picture from life.
A fully tattooed Maori of the Sixties: Tomika te Mutu, Chief of Ngai-te-Rangi, Tauranga.
[From a drawing by General G. Robley
The best tattooed Maori seen and sketched was Netana Whakaari, of Waimana, a chief of the Ngai-Tama and Tuhoe tribe. Netana (Nathan) was a tall, lean soldierly man, with the erect bearing of the old-time toa. His deep-set keen eyes glittered with something of the ancient fire and restlessness from under thickly tattooed brows. Like all the old men of his tribes, he was on the war-path for several years in the period 1864–71. His age was about eighty-five; an estimate based upon his statement that he was a boy so high—indicating the height of a child four or five years of age—at the time of the Treaty of Waitangi. His well-shaped rather small features were closely engraved with dark-blue lines of moko on forehead, eyebrows, nose, cheeks, lower lip and chin. The moko pattern on the chin was not easily traceable owing to the short beard. The most remarkable feature of Netana's face-engraving was the break in the two middle rows of tiwhana or bow on the forehead. This interruption in the pattern is not often seen in Maori tattooing; I can recall many instances of incomplete marking in that the curving lines are carried only a short distance up from the starting-place between the eyebrows, but it was most unusual to find them continued again after a break of an inch or two and then carried on in a symmetrical zigzag to the side of the head. I think this variation in the tiwhana lines is peculiar to the Arawa and Tuhoe and some of the Bay of Plenty people. It is to be observed in the tattooing of carved figures in the Arawa country; an example is the elaborately moko'd Hou-taiki effigy at the foot of Ngati-Whakaue's flagstaff on the marae at Ohinemutu.page 143
Te Menehi, of Kawhia, a King Country tattooing expert, photographed about 1880.
Netana told me that he was tattooed before the beginning of the first Taranaki war (1860). The operation was performed at Tauarau, the principal village of Ruatoki; the artist, a tohunga-ta-moko, was a hunchback Maori. Both the uhi-toroa (albatross-bone chisels) and the rino (iron chisels) were used at that time. The operation was a tapu ceremony, and it was done preferably in the Takurua, the winter season. The artist was always well-paid; the choicest foods, such as preserved birds, were brought to his quarters. In Netana's case the work occupied about two weeks. The tattooer did not repeat any karakia as he worked, but he chanted songs during the process of engraving to distract the patient's attention from the pain and made him look pleasant (kia parekareka te tangata). The first part incised and pigmented was the rerepehi, the curving lines from nostril to chin; each cheek took a day. Next the tiwhana, the “rainbow-like” curves on the forehead over the eyebrows, were drawn; this section took two days. Then the nose was tattooed—the straight lines from bridge to tip of nose, the ngu or spiral lines on the sides near the eyes, and the poniania or spirals following the curve of the nostril. The lips and chin followed. Netana found the most painful sections of the operation were the work on the tip of the nose and the lower lip.
There are still tattooing artists who practise the olden method of making incisions with the cutting instruments. Two years ago a tohunga-ta-kauwae tattooed many women at Waitotara and elsewhere on the West Coast with an uhi made from the wing-bone of the albatross (toroa). The tool, tapped with a stick, cut in from 1/8 inch to 1/4 inch deep, and as the blood flowed out of the wound the black pigment was forced into it. The women who underwent this painful ordeal had compensation in the knowlede that their chin adornment would be the genuine thing, the deeply-chiselled tohu of their foremothers. This tohunga tattooed thirty or forty young women at Waitotara; his fee was from £2 to £3 each, according to the artistic work required.
Girls who wish to be tattooed usually have the operation of ta-kauwae performed soon after they are married. The tattoo is the adornment of the young matron. Three or four years ago an expert from the Wairarapa district visited the West Coast villages between Wanganui and Taranaki, and a number of young married women had their chins and lips tattooed. A Maori who lived near New Plymouth when asked why he had not been in the town for some little time, explained that the tohunga-ta-kauwae had been visiting his wife, and that it was his duty as the husband to sit on her feet during the process, to keep her from flinching and moving.page 147 page 148
The native-born pakeha New Zealander reared in the neighbourhood of Maori communities has grown up accustomed to the sight of the moko, and there are, no doubt, many like the writer who greatly regret the passing of the grand old warrior tattoo, and who regard the lingering fondness of the conservative women for the kauwae as a national trait which should be encouraged. Scientific sympathy with the perpetuation of ancient artistic craftsmanship should certainly extend to this, the most characteristic race-emblem of old Maoridom.
There was another item of personal decoration, but it was rarely used; this was the mata-huna or face mask. The late Mere Ngamai, a venerable lady of Te Atiawa, who was born on Kapiti Island, told me of the mata-huna worn by her grandfather, the Puketapu (Taranaki) chief Rawiri te Motutere. Rawiri, a warrior of the early part of the nineteenth century, who died about 1860, had a very page 149 light skin for a Maori—he was an urukehu or “fair-hair”—and his face was beautifully tattooed. He was very proud of his complexion and of his perfect moko, and he wore on special festive occasions, and also when travelling, to shield his face from the sun, a mask made of the thin but strong rind of the hué-gourd. This mask was tattooed exactly like the moko on his face, and it was decorated at the sides and top with black and white feathers. It was fastened at the back of his head with cords of flax. Great was the admiration at public gatherings when bold Rawiri, tall, straight, martial, paraded up and down with taiaha in hand, addressing the assemblage through the mouth-opening in his grim black-tattooed mata-huna mask waving with feathers, the wonder and delight of his fellows.
[By courtesy of Auckland Museum.
The largest Maori war-canoe in existence. The “Toki-a-Tapiri” (82 feet long, 6 feet beam), made in 1835. (See page 151.)