The Decadence of Moko
regard to the rapid decadence of the art of tattooing, it has been already mentioned that the missionaries long ago discouraged the practice as a mark of heathendom. Yate
Fig. 118.—Maori father and son, the latter without tattooing.
says that in all mission stations tattooing has been forbidden, and that it is generally understood that any person coming to live at a mission station must no longer submit himself “to such a savage and debasing performance.” Nowadays, the art is no longer practised among the men, and living examples of it
are only to be found amongst the older generation. With the death of King Tawhiao
on August 27th, 1894, at the age of 70, one of the last really fine specimens of moko was lost to the
Fig. 119.—Unfinished moko.
(From a sketch from life by the Author, 1866.)
world. Though not completely covered with tracery, he might have been any age; for where moko is elaborated time can write no wrinkles. The art will soon have to be studied in the dried Maori heads preserved in many museums and private collections. And since as an art moko is vanishing, I have done my best to write some account of it before its remembrance quite passes away; though I have by no means exhausted this interesting subject and more yet remains to be written on it. As early as 1835, Darwin
, in the famous journal of the expedition of H.M.S. Beagle
, records that the practice of moko was diminishing; but that as it was the
badge of distinction between chief and slave, in his opinion it would not probably very soon be disused. Its effect of preventing the usual signs of age from showing themselves in wrinkles has been mentioned, and it should be added that moko has the corresponding result of adding an appearance of premature age to the face of a young person. European civilisation, new wants and order of things, obliterated the distinctions which prevailed, upset all their social order, and reduced the entire race to one dead level of social inferiority in the presence of the Pakeha.
By degrees tattooing went, and now in a short time it will
Fig. 121.—Unfinished tattoo.
(A sketch, 1866.)
Fig. 122.—Partly tattooed.
(A sketch, 1866.)
disappear. I noticed in 1864–66, as I have elsewhere mentioned, that there was the beard and moustache on those whose faces already bore moko, except among the older men. One singular result ensued during the period of transition. Such of the natives
as were converted before their moko was complete discontinued the task and remained as they were, moko being incapable of obliteration.
The effect is curious, not to say ludicrous, when they appeared partly tattooed and partly plain.
Speaking of the year 1847, the Bishop of Waiapu (the Right Rev. William Williams
, D.C.L.) gives an account of an incident which throws some light on the decay of moko. There was a quarrel on the east coast about a native woman, a widow, being married. The discontented party fired a gun and gave notice
that tattooing should be revived for the purpose of annoying the members of the church, and a young man was that morning submitted to the operation. And tattooing continued daily for some weeks. So strong was the inclination of the young people to be made like their elders in appearance that very many went off to receive their moko in spite of the opposition of their friends; the Christian party made a determined effort to dissuade their relations,
Fig. 124.—Photograph of Maori wearing hair over tattoo.
and subsequently refused to hold intercourse with them when their efforts had proved fruitless. This state of things went on for more than six months, when a reconciliation took place.
Fig. 125.—Old man wearing hair over tattoo
(From life by the Author, 1865.)
Fig. 126.—Incomplete tattoo, hair grown over markings.
(From a sketch from life by the Author.)
Fig. 127.–Slight tattooing with hair.
(Sketch by Author, 1864.)
Photography came into use just in time for the recorder of moko. The deeper cut patterns come out best; for “chiselled” moko makes thick and deep lines on the flesh, leaving scars which
photograph well, while the lightly traced marks do not appear so distinctly. One often notices that a photographer has inked in the lines, a magnifying glass shows where he has failed to follow them accurately; or one sees the native just touched up with the brush to give the requisite strength and make the pattern come out well. These are generally a little incorrect. I took many portraits
Fig. 128.—A Maori sailor (1865).
(Sketch from life by Author.)
Fig. 129.—The engineer of the Gate Pa.
(From a sketch from life by the Author, 1864.)
when among the natives. There was difficulty in seeing much body-tattooing, as clothes were worn invariably. There are not many correct illustrations of it extant, nor many specimen skins in the museums, which illustrate the facial patterns plentifully. I give a list of some museums possessing good examples of moko at pp. 197
I have, however, traced off one good thigh pattern, and give
some portraits, copies, and photographs—one a war dance, another a fallen warrior in the fern. The effigies in wood show a quantity of good limb and body tattooing. Our last native visitors to England were a small contingent, including a girl amongst them, brought over by the Salvation Army in 1894. They were paraded in London. I sought them out in the hope of sketching a mokoed New Zealander once more from life; but in vain. The “major” of the party informed me that only girls here and there kept up tattooing and that the men had done with it. Then I realised that moko was done for and that the art vanishes. Would it be semi-barbarous to say
“Heu moko præteritos si referat Jupiter annos”?
Fig. 130.—Wounded Maoris (with slight tattooing).
(Sketch in the Rifle Pits 1864, by the Author.)