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The Coming of the Maori



The tattooing art prevailed throughout Polynesia, except on Niue and some atolls. A Maori myth states that Mataora was tattooed in the under-world by his father-in-law Uetonga to replace his transient face painting with a permanent design. On his return to the human world, Mataora taught the craft of Uetonga, the craft (mahi) of tattooing (ta moko).

The technique of tattooing was similar throughout Polynesia. A many-pointed piece of bone attached to a handle at approximately a right angle
Fig. 85. Tattooing implements.a, hafted implement (Bishop Mus., no. 1533); b, blade of a; c, serrated blade (Bishop Mus, no. C. 3821).

Fig. 85. Tattooing implements.
a, hafted implement (Bishop Mus., no. 1533); b, blade of a; c, serrated blade (Bishop Mus, no. C. 3821).

was dipped into a thick pigment of soot and water and lightly tapped with a stick mallet over the selected skin area. The soot was obtained by burning oily kernels of the candle-nut, and a piece of bark cloth was used to swab the blood which oozed from the punctures. The technique was brought to New Zealand but the soot was obtained by burning the resinous heart wood (kapara) of the white pine and, in the north, the gum of the kauri pine. In the absence of bark cloth, the swabs were composed of soft flax fibre. The process of tattooing was termed ta moko, ta being the act of striking with the mallet and moko, the resultant pattern. The tattooing comb retained the Polynesian name of uhi (uwhi), to which the Maori added the figurative term matarau (a hundred points) in the poetic name of uhi matarau.

The Maori uhi resembles a miniature hafted adze, for a small branch was selected as a handle with a joined branch forming a toe to which a bone blade was lashed with transverse turns of a two-ply fine cord. In a page 297Bishop Museum specimen (No. 1533), the handle is 5 inches long and the toe 1.1 inches. The blade made of bird bone is 1.75 inches long and 0.25 inches wide with a slightly convex cutting edge ground from the back like an adze, and without teem. It extends along the whole length of the toe and projects free for a little over half an inch (Fig. 85a).Three instruments in me British Museum figured by Robley (61, p. 48), have similar handles which establish a form peculiar to New Zealand. The width of me blades varied, one in the Bishop Museum (C. 3821) being as narrow as ⅛ inch, and wider ones were formed of two pieces of bone lashed together laterally through perforations near the adjoining side edges as shown by Robley (61, p. 49) in a drawing after Polack. The tattooing artist thus had a number of instruments for different parts of his designs. In some instruments the bone blades were formed into comb-like teeth (Fig. 85c) as in other parts of Polynesia, others had a plain cutting edge (Fig. 85b)which is unique for New Zealand.

Fig. 86. Pigment containers.a, b, pumice, side and upper views (Bishop Mus., no. 1522); c, carved wood (Oldman coll., no. 496).

Fig. 86. Pigment containers.
a, b, pumice, side and upper views (Bishop Mus., no. 1522); c, carved wood (Oldman coll., no. 496).

The mallet was termed mahoe according to Robley (61, p. 49) who states that some had a broad, flattened surface at one end to wipe away the blood, though flax fibre was also used. A similar expansion on Tahitian mallets may have been used for a similar purpose. A piece of fern stalk was sometimes used as a mallet.

A container with a rounded cavity was made of pumice to hold the prepared pigment. A specimen in the Bishop Museum (No. 1522) has a rounded bottom crossed at right angles by two deep grooves, which extend upwards to the rim (Fig. 86a, b).The actual cavity is 40 mm. by 37 mm. at the rim and 27 mm. deep. The pumice material was evidently selected because it was easy to shape. Some more elaborate pigment containers were made of wood and a well-carved specimen from the Oldman collection is shown in Figure 86c.

Though the general technique was old, the art patterns developed along independent lines. A comparison of the available tattooing patterns page 298from the various parts of Polynesia shows so much divergence that no adequate clue remains of an original pattern shared by all. Thus independent evoludon in designs has taken place in the various island groups, presumably after they were settled from common centres.

The patterns which accompanied the early settlers must have been much simpler than those in vogue at the time of European contact. A very simple pattern of short, straight lines survived in the South Island and White (104, vol. 1, frontispiece) figured one termed moko kuri. The pattern consisted of groups of three short, parallel lines so arranged on the face that each set was at right angles to its neighbours and conveys the impression of plaiting in a check design. It is interesting to know that the Hawaiians used a check pattern in small squares with the alternate squares filled in. The moko kuri did not require the services of a very expert artist, and it may have survived in the South Island for that reason.

The extraordinary development of wood carving in the North Island opened up a vista of new motifs and designs, and a curvilinear art was developed in tattooing as well as in carving. The identity of the curves and double spirals in both arts indicates that one borrowed from the other; and, of the two, it seems more likely that inanimate wood rather than sensitive skin was the medium upon which the new art motifs were first tried out and established. But in addition to supplying art motifs, carving influenced the mechanical process of reproducing these motifs on flesh. Maori tattooing differs from the smooth punctured results of tattooing in Polynesia, in that the main lines of the designs are deep or sunk below the surface so that the spaces between parallel lines appear as ridges, to some extent similar to the designs on wood. It was thus apparent that such lines were incised and not punctured. This effect had led to the theory that the lines were cut with an implement such as a stone flake or a shark's tooth used like a scalpel in making continuous incisions. The correct solution lies in the fact that the Maori tattooing artists took a further cue from the carving experts and ground down or sharpened some of their bone blades like an adze with a plain edge without teeth (Fig. 85a, b).With such implements, the tattooer, on tapping with the mallet, cut through the skin instead of puncturing it and by the continued application of the narrow cutting blade, he had more control in forming his incised design than if he had tried to use a primitive scalpel. The toothed implements were used for filling in and for subsidiary motifs.

Various parts of the body and limbs were treated throughout Polynesia, but the Samoans and Tongans specialized on a close design from waist to knees that resembled close fitting shorts. In the Marquesas and Mangareva, the tattooing of the lower limbs was extended down to the feet, like tights. Pictorial records from the Society and Cook Islands are scanty but Williams (108, frontispiece) gives a picture of the Rarotongan page 299chief Te Pou with full tattooing extending to the feet. Though the pattern may be imaginary, the skin area may be correct. The distribution indicates that tattooing of the waist-to-knee area may be old enough to have been introduced into New Zealand, where it was continued. The Maori waistto-knee design was termed răpě, and it consisted of large double spirals over the buttocks and gluteal region with an oblique linear design on the thighs. The use of the double spiral shows that, though the tattooing area may have been old, the design was new.

Face tattooing was present in the Marquesas, Mangareva, and Easter Island, but absent in Samoa and Tonga. In the Marquesas and Mangareva, it consisted of wide horizontal bands. In central Polynesia, the face tattooing was meagre. The Maori face tattooing was full with a combination of various motifs assigned to particular parts, each motif having a specific name. Tattooing commenced on one side of the face, and sometimes the other side was completed later on in life. The half tattoo was termed papatahi (one side), and many old men never completed their tattooing owing to the custom going out of fashion. Women had a distinctive pattern on the chin and, more rarely, some smaller motif elsewhere. For the various tattooing motifs and designs, see page 322.

A wooden feeding funnel was invented locally for use when the swelling around the mouth and lips made ordinary feeding a painful process. As the elaborate face tattooing was confined to chiefs, it is probable that their social position stimulated the invention and led to their being decorated with fine carving. Some of them are exquisite examples of Maori art (Pl. XXIII).

Tattooing was a chiefly decoration and its social importance encouraged the acquirement of skill by experts, who were well rewarded for their services. A statement has been made that different patterns constituted heraldic devices which distinguished different tribes. That this is an assumption based on an English background is proved by the fact that chiefs invited tattooing artists from other tribes who had acquired a reputation for their particular designs. The visiting artist reproduced the design of his particular school, and if it was a tribal device, the patient would have been branded with the distinguishing pattern of the artist's tribe, which is absurd.