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

[moko nomenclature]

page 106

Mataora Moko
The Patterns

page 107

page 108

Moko Nomenclature (Male)

It is not possible to formulate an absolutely correct list of the names used to identify elements in the Mataora patterns of Moko. Systems of nomenclature, derived from varying tribal traditions, have tended to be somewhat elastic — a factor evident in the interpretations of given names by early recorders. [see “Maori Art” Hamilton: 1896–p. 313].

It has been common for a name, used by one commentator to identify a particular design, to be transferred to an adjacent design by another writer. Those names which have survived tend to be generally descriptive of physiognomical features, rather than being specific titles for the moko designs engraved thereon. It is probable that a number of the more specific names have passed from knowledge.

The names used throughout this thesis are those Robley, aided chiefly by Elsdon Best, saw as being the most appropriate. As this system of nomenclature was settled upon at a late stage in Robley's studies, many of his drawings and notes employ slight variations on the names given here. Details of these differences are outlined in the notes on the following pages.






















Kauae (Kauwae)




Kowhiri (Kowiri)






Korowaha (koroaha)









page 109

The Nature of Moko Nomenclature

The following notes, drawn largely from “A Dictionary of the Maori Language” [Williams: 1975], are intended to amplify the origin of names used to identify the various elements of Moko. Where alternative names are known, these have been listed in the relevant sections. The naming of Number 12–14, in particular should be noted.

1. Titi [Williams: 1975] “1: n. peg, pin … titi roa, a long wedge for splitting wood.
2: Comb for sticking in the hair.
3: Long streaks of cloud … [see ‘kapua’ below]
4: Radiating lines of tattooing on the centre of the forehead.
5: v. i. Stick in (as a peg etc.)”
Kapua [Williams: 1975] “1: Cloud, bank of clouds …
2: Part of the titi pattern in tattooing.”
2. Tiwhana [Williams: 1975] “1: v.i. Be curved
2: n. Lines of tattooing over the eyebrows.”
Whana [Williams: 1975] “1: v. i. Recoil, spring back
2: Kick.
NB: Robley also referred to the forehead designs (titi and tiwahana) as being known as Te Tonokai:
“That is, a chief on being asked by a servitor if ready for meal, simply got a movement of the tattoos = “bring food”. [Robley: n/d. AIM MS256]
3. Paukaru [Williams:1975] “1: n. Fine lines of tattooing on the temple, at the outer end of the eyebrows.”
NB: from pu = origin, base, foundation; and karu = eye [Williams: 1975]
3a. Kape [Williams: 1975] “Kape (ii), n. 1: Eyebrow …
2: Tattooing below the eyebrows
3: Eye socket.”
4. Rewha [Williams: 1975] “1: n. Eyelid
2: Eyebrow …
3: Tattoo marks above the eye …
4: a. Squinting
5: v. i. Raise the eyebrows as a sign of assent, etc.”
page break
Robley's personal ‘work’ copy of “Moko; or Maori Tattooing” is extensively annotated. The page reproduced above shows his changing system of moko nomenclature. Hocken Library MI 488 p. 78

Robley's personal ‘work’ copy of “Moko; or Maori Tattooing” is extensively annotated. The page reproduced above shows his changing system of moko nomenclature.
Hocken Library MI 488 p. 78

page 110
5. Kohiti [Williams: 1975] "(= kowhiti) 1: v. t. Pick out, pull out …
2: v. i. Rise, as a star; appear, as the new moon.
3: n. New moon.
4: A place where fern root has been dug.
5: A pattern in tattooing.”
NB: Robley also, on Elsdon Best's authority, referred to this mnark as ‘Tore’. [Robley-Best: 1906 ATL Best Scrapbook qMs/3].
6. Ngu [Williams: 1975] “1: n. Squid.
2: Egg case of paper nautilus.
3: Some marine animalcula.
4: A person unable to swim.
5: Tattoo marks on the side of the nose.
6: Ghost …”
7. Whakatara Robley misinterpreted this as Wakatara and translated it as meaning “the seats of a canoe”.
“There is a misconception here. Mr Elsdon Best had informed the author the word is Whakatara, & while it cannot have the meaning implied is the Maori name for the lines on the bridge of the nose.” [Fildes: 1921 p. 100].
[Williams: 1975] “Whakataratara v. t. Make rough, notch, fit with a barb …”
[ornamentation with notches]
8. Pongiangia [Williams: 1975] -“Pongiangia, pingiengie, n. Tattoo marks on the lower part of the nose. // poniania.”
-“Poniania, n. 1: Lower part of the nose.
2: Tattoo marks on the side of the nose.
3: A pair of feathers thrust one from each side through the septum of the nose, and worn during a haka.”
9. Hupe [Williams: 1975] “n. 1: Discharge from the nose …
2: Tattoo marks at the point of the nose.
3: A pattern in carving.”
NB: Hupe refers to the designs on the upper lip (ie beneath the nose) rather than at the point of the nose.page 111
10. Kauae [Williams: 1975] “kauae, kauwae, n. 1: Jaw.
2: Chin.
3: Tattoo marks on the chin.
4: A pattern in carving = whakakauae, pukauae.”
11. Kumikumi [Williams: 1975] “n. 1: Beard …
2: White throat feathers of the parson bird.
3: Byssus of mussels etc.
4: Black whalebone of the right whale.
5: Tattoo marks (Shortland says under the eyes).”
NB: This is likely to be derived from the third definition given by williams. The Byssus of a mussel is “The tuft of fine silky filaments by which [such molluscs] attach themselves to the surface of rocks.” [Shorter Oxford English Dictionary: 1950].
12. Kowhiri [Williams: 1975] “v. t. 1: Select.
2: Whirl round.”
NB: The upper cheek spiral is more usually known as Paepae, a name Robley used until 1907, when Elsdon Best suggested Kowiri as the more correct title. [Hocken Library MS488] Best transferred the ‘paepae’ label to the design between the cheek spiral and the ear, previously known to Robley as the Putaringa. This latter name was transferred to the design immediately below it, until then referred to as the Pu. Although most of the early Authorities favour Robley's original system of nomenclature in this area, the system he finally adopted, at Best's suggestion, would appear to be more appropriate.
13. Paepae [Williams: 1975] “-Pae 1: n. Horizon …
5: Any Transverse beam …
8: Circumference …
13: Lie on one side …
19: v. t. Surround with a border …
-Paepae 1: n. Beam, bar … Threshold …
2: Dish, open shallow vessel
3: Upper curl of tattooing on the cheek.
4: A pattern in wood carving …”
NB: Most Authorities identify the Paepae as being the upper cheek spiral, an identification Williams supports. It is in the sense in which this design, between the ear and the cheek spiral, serves as a ‘border’, that the Best/Robley identification is based. Best was working from names supplied by Tuhoe tohunga.page 112
14. Putaringa [Williams: 1975] “n. Tattoo marks under the ear.”
NB: from pu = origin, base, foundation; and taringa = ear. [Williams: 1975]
Robley also records Pupuwai as a name for this design.
15. Korowaha [Williams: 1975] “Kaoraha = Korowaha, n. Large curl of tattoo marks on the cheek.”
NB: from koro = noose or korokoro = throat, loose, slack; and waha = mouth, entrance, voice. [Williams: 1975]
NB: Robley refers to the outer lines of the koroaha spirals as Rito.
16. Rerepehi (Williams: 1975] “n. tattooing on the breech, and beside the mouth.”
NB: Best also advised Robley that this design could be called Pakiwaha. [Hocken Library MS488]
17. Wero [Williams: 1975] “1.: v. t. Pierce, spear …
2: Throw a spear, dart, etc…
8: Tattoo marks on the cheek …”
18. Kokiri [Williams: 1975] “1: v. t. Dart, throw, thrust …
3: rise in a column, as smoke …
4: n. Spear
8: Lines of tattooing on the cheek.”
19. Waiora [Williams: 1975] “n. 1: Health, soundness.
2: Spaces between lines of tattooing.”

Supplementary Tattooing Terms

The following list of Tattooing-related terms comes from Robley's collection of notes collated with the aim of publishing a second edition of “Moko; or Maori Tattooing”. Supplied largely by Best, who was primarily informed by Tuhoe Tohunga, this list should be viewed as a supplement to the Moko nomenclature detailed above. All definitions are from “A Dictionary of the Maori Language”. [Williams: 1975]



Kokotiki — Tattooing on the cheeks.


Tapawaha — Tattooing on the cheek.


Rehe — Tattoo marks over the eyebrows.


Ngutu — Lip. [Robley Ngutu pu rua to describe the tattooing of both lips. There appears to be no support for this term.]

Whakairo tangata


Puhoro — Tattoo marks on the thigh or arm.


Pakituri — A pattern of tattooing for the thigh = Puhoro.


Paeturi — Tattooing on the thigh.

page 113

Porori — Tattoo marks on the breech.


Rape — Tattooing on the breech.


Rito — Tattooing on the buttocks, between the Rape.

Tattooing Terms (General)


Muhu — Incorrect, faulty of carving.


Kurumatarehu — Tattooed man.


Piha — A pattern of Tattooing. [lattice]


He rangi paruhi — A face fully tattooed.


Tukupu — Tukipu — Covering completely, spread over.

He moko tukupu — [fully tattooed face].


Papatea — Having no tattoo marks on the face.

page break
Female figure detail of Cat. No. 178 Koruru See page 357 Hawkes Bay Art Gallery & Museum MMC 802

Female figure
detail of Cat. No. 178 Koruru See page 357
Hawkes Bay Art Gallery & Museum MMC 802

page 114

Moko and Whakairo Nomenclature (Female)

Robley's investigation into the tattooing of women was less comprehensive than his study of male moko. This was largely due to his reliance on Mokamokai for information relating to tattooing. Female Mokamokai were rare, and of the two examples Robley saw during his lifetime, at least one was tattooed in an atypical manner. [see page 176]

Robley's many notes and drawings do not significantly add to the information on the tattooing of women which he presented in the relevant chapter in “Moko; or Maori Tattooing”. [Robley: 1896]

Aided principally by Elsdon Best's Tuhoe informers, Robley collated the following list of names for the designs used in the tattooing of women. It should not be seen as definitive.

All definitions, except where otherwise noted, are from A Dictionary of the Maori Language”. [Williams: 1975].



Hotiki — Tattoo marks on the forehead of a woman.


Pihere — Tattoo marks on the side of the mouth.


Hupe — Tattoo marks on the upper lip. [Robley: 1896]


Ngutu — Lip. [Robley uses Ngutu pu rua to describe the tattooing of both lips. There appears to be no support for this term.]


Whakatehe — Tattoo marks on the chin of a woman.

Kauae — Tattoo marks on the chin.

Kauae tehe — Woman with tattooed chin.

Whakairo tangata


Puhoro — Tattoo marks on the thigh or arm.


Haehae — Parallel grooves between lines of dog-tooth pattern in carving.


Tauri — A Tattooed band roung the wrist or ankle.


Takitaki — Tattooing on the calf of a leg.