Title: Robley: Te Ropere, 1840—1930

Author: Timothy Walker

Publication details: University of Auckland, 1985, Auckland

Digital publication kindly authorised by: Timothy Walker

Part of: The Moko Texts Collection

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Robley: Te Ropere, 1840—1930

Whakairo tangata

page 181

Whakairo tangata

[Note added by NZETC as annotator:]

Description: Tattooed Thigh Skin (1) Moko; or Maori Tattooing” figure 13.

This image is not available for public viewing as it depicts either mokamokai (preserved heads) or human remains. The reasons for non-display are detailed in the policy regarding display of images of mokamokai. If you would like to comment on this decision you can contact NZETC.

page 182

1. Tattooed Thigh Skin

Robley No. 31A

AMNH Collection 80.0-667


Purchased from a London leather shop, 1894.

No History.

Sold to AMNH, 1907.



the pattern was called “Puhoro” — This skin was found in a London leather shop in 1894 by the artist. It is rare, and none in the British Museum; is figure 13 in “Moko; or Maori Tattooing” (diminished to ⅔rds).”

“Resembles the drawing in Dumont D'Urville's voyages which is copied Fig 16 “Moko”.” [Robley (w/c) ATL A80/7]


Moko; or Maori Tattooing”. [Robley:1896] figure 13.

2. Tattooed Thigh Skin

AMNH Collection 80.0-673


Purchased c.1898.

No History.

Sold to AMNH, 1907.

page 183

[Female Whakairo Design]

  • w/c on white paper

  • 368 × 268 mm.

  • sign.: (w/c) lower right “H.G.Robley”

  • AIM Collection PD48(44)

Recto: (w/c, R's hand) lower page
“Pattern of tatu on mons veneris of a Maori woman of rank taken by Dr. Shortland and verse of a song on this tatuing of the chieftainess Rangi te a Pakura, obtained by Mr Elsdon Best, N.Z.I.
“Kei puta atu hoki tawa kai nga taruki i Tutaeahua ka paia pukutia mai e nga nana o te tara Whakairo o Rangi-tea-Pakura … e … ha/ see notes on back.”*
Verso: (ink, R's hand) whole page
" “Moko” is the tattooing of the face
“Whakairo” is the tattooing of the body
Dr Shortland's was the only drawing of this tattooing existing — this tattoo existed in Fiji and New Zealand. The one drawing of this tatu existing was taken by Dr Shortland — the writer. the donor was Dr Hocken, a great collector who gave [me] the drawing for my book, Moko or Maori tatu — [sketch] this rare sketch given me by Dr Hocken, copies taken by Baron von Hugel [?] Cambridge, & Wellington Museum & & copy 10/-.”

Notes: “The design was sent me in time [for the publication of “Moko; or Maori Tattooing.”] by Hocken … but I was afraid to print.” [Robley-Fildes: 1920 VUW Fildes Collection/10]

“Tattooing by pricking (not cuts) on a Maori woman of rank.” [Robley (w/c) Cant. Mm E-121-9/No. 38]

“It is correct however that Maori women's blue markings on the body were pricked in by female artists — skin remaining smooth.” [Robley: n/d AIM MS256]

Baron von Hugel was the Curator of the University Museum of Ethnology, Cambridge. [Robley-Mair: n/d ATL qMs/1898–1922]

* David R. Simmons gives this waiata extract — supplied to Robley by Elsdon Best — as: “Kei puta hoki tawa nga tarouke i Tuteahua ka paia pukutia mae e nga nana o te tara whakairo o Rangi Te Apakura … E … Ha,” and translates it thus: “Lest the struggles of Tuteahua succeed they will be stopped secretly by the tattoo marks on the tattooed vagina of Rangi Te Apakura.” [Simmons: 1893 p.240]

page 184

NB: Robley painted a number of copies of this work. As well as the two further examples in the Auckland Institute and Museum Collection — PD48(40) & PD48(43), the following Collection include examples of this subject:

  • ATL A33/25

  • Cant. Museum E-121-9/No.38

  • Hocken Library M1488 (Page 468)

  • Hocken Library MS488 (2 copies)

  • VUW Fildes NZ Portfolio/2

Auckland Institute & Museum PD48(43)

Auckland Institute & Museum PD48(43)