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Moko; or Maori Tattooing

A Landing in Auckland

A Landing in Auckland.

In 1863 the 68th Regiment was ordered to leave Burmah for active service in New Zealand, and with the headquarters' staff went Ensign Robley, landing at Auckland from the transport Australian on the 8th January, 1864, in wet and wintry weather conditions, he having the honour of carrying ashore the Queen's colours. So soon as the regiments were quartered in Albert Barracks-square to the tune of their own quick step, Ensign Robley went into the embryo city, where he purchased a Maori vocabulary and Judge Maning's fine book on Maori life and the war in the North, called “Old New Zealand.” This work had just then been published. From a study of both of them he obtained his first insight of Maori customs and a knowledge of the language, which, by further study, led to him becoming an authority on these subjects. Prior to this the war had spread into the Waikato, and by April, 1864, it had in a way been terminated, whereas General Cameron removed his headquarters to Tauranga, where an outbreak was threatened, the 68th Regiment, commanded by Colonel Greer, being ordered there. The campaign that soon followed was made memorable by the disastrous reverse for our troops at Gate Pa and the victory at Te Ranga. Ensign Robley, who was now a lieutenant, and an Instructor of Musketry, served through the whole of this campaign, and was able to leave on record scores of drawings and water-colour views, depicting scenes he went through and personalities met. That he came through the campaign unscathed is a matter for wonder. It would seem as if through his sojourn in the East the mystification mysticism of that part of the world had somewhat impressed him, for he relates that prior to leaving for New Zealand a friend of his, an old yellow-robed Bhuddist monk, in whose monastery at Rangoon he had been permitted to make sketches, prevailed upon him to have pricked on his right arm a sacred red emblem which would make him invulnerable to the hurt of all weapons. This General Robley afterwards humourously characterised as quite a one-sided arrangement, and unfair to the Maoris.

Following the capitulation of the Maori chief William Thompson in June, 1865, the necessity of retaining the British troops in New Zealand no longer prevailed; the country had been won over to the self-reliant policy, whereby the termination of the war was to be effected by the employment of colonial-raised troops, and amongst other regiments that were evacuated was the 68th, which was ordered to Cape Colony and Zululand, in 18[gap — reason: illegible].Home. In 1870 Captain Robley linked up with the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders, subsequently serving with them in South Africa It was whileen in 1884 in Zululand that Lieutenant Robley first met an officer who became famous in the Great War, Major-General Allenby, and their friendship has continued to the present time. From Cape Colony the 68th Regiment was ordered home, Lieutenant Robley obtaining a transfer to the 1st Batallion Argyll and Sutherland[unclear: ,] Highlanders who for a period were quartered at Stirling, and Sso proud was he of his connection with this famous regiment, of which he subsequently became Colonel, that he wrote and published its history, extending from 1794 to 1887, in which latter year he retired with the rank of Major-General and took up his residence in London, where he has ever since resided.

The leisure he now enjoyed gave him the opportunity of further pursuing the search for knowledge of all that appertained to Maori life and customs, and in 1896 he published that remarkable and unique work entitled “Moko, or Maori Tattooing,” the first part of which relates to its subject name, while the second half of the book, named “Mokomokai,” is devoted to dried Maori heads. It should be explained that the word “tattoo” is not a New Zealand Maori word, but a Polynesian one; a native of this country, in early times at any rate, would refer to the moko, not tattoo, lines on his body, while the word “mokoamokai” simply means “dried head.” This valuable work is enriched with numerous illustrations, many of which the author is responsible for, and it is well it is so, as photography was not at all suitable for placing on record the wonderful facial and body delineations of this now vanished art of the Maori. It is extremely doubtful if there is now a native to be found whose face is well covered with tattoo, while twenty-five and thirty years ago cases were fairly numerous. The two subjects which comprise this work are quite akin, as every dried head would have an elaborate facial design. It is true, however, that when European and American museums were keenly desirous of obtaining specimens, and the demand for such exceeded the supply, many a poor unfortunate Maori slave or prisoner, whose face perhaps bore no tattoo scroll and line pattern, was killed for the express purpose of having his face incised with the art of the tattooer. This is referred to as post-mortem moko, and can be recognised as such through the cuttings in the flesh not healing as they would in life, but remaining striated, while another curious fact relating to it, and not generally known to those who have seen specimens in our Dominion museums, is that if the head was that of a friend the lips would be brought together in the process of embalming, while in that of an enemy they would be drawn far back, exposing the white teeth in the paroxyism of death.