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

The Patterns

page 115

The Patterns

To begin with, Moko must be approached frontally.

The standard structural patterns of Mataora Moko are arranged about the central, vertical waiora line which runs down the face from the hairline to the chin. Usually left as an uncarved and unpigmented line over its entire length, the waiora is seldom more than 5 mm in width. As well as providing the axis about which the standard designs are — generally speaking — symmetrical, the waiora line effectively divides Moko into two halves; the left side and the right side. Broken only at the mouth and the under-side of the nose, the waiora also articulates Moko vertically and by extension, relates the Head to the verticality of the body (and vice versa).

The lower half of the face — below the eyes — is decorated in a number of circular and spiral motifs; the four cheek spirals (upper and lower), the rerepehi lines which circle the mouth and the small spirals of the nose patterns.

The kowhiri spirals on the upper cheeks originate in the kumikumi lines at the nose, immediately below the inner corners of the eyes. After echoing the line of the lower eyelid, they describe an ever decreasing double-spiral to the centre of the cheek. (In a number of cases the right kowhiri spiral is replaced by horizontal, ornamented bands which run from the kumikumi to the paepae design of the right ear7.)

In a similar, though inverse manner the lower cheek spirals — korowaha — have their origin near the lower extremes of the page 116 rerepehi lines. From there they are carried outwards and, in a double-spiral form continue to the centre of the lower cheek.

The spaces left between the korowaha, kowhiri and rerepehi designs are known as the wero.

The rerepehi lines describe a semi-circle from the outer nostril to the tip of the chin (where they either run into the kauae designs or meet the waiora line). Viewed frontally the left and right rerepehi delineate a ‘circular’ motif; surrounding and accentuating the mouth.

The areas above and below the mouth, defined within the rerepehi lines, are among the ‘spaces’ left by the structural designs of Mataora Moko. The hupe — above the upper lip — and the kauae — below the lower lip — are more freely articulated; there is a great diversity evident in their design. In most cases the kauae arises — at least in part — out of the lower rerepehi lines. Less frequently the hupe runs into the upper rerepehi.

The lips are often tattooed.

The designs applied to the nose have the effect of apparently diminishing its relief. The upper ngu spirals — immediately inside the inner corners of the eyes — unwind from their centre and run down the shaft of the nose towards its tip. There they turn outwards into the pongiangia spirals which cover the nostrils. The areas left on the shaft of the nose are tattooed with a notched pattern that is known as whakatara. The flattening effect of the nose designs is due to the ngu spirals visually equating the actual relief of the similarly decorated lower nose

A number of Moko designs feature a small motif on, or immediately above, the bridge of the nose. This is usually referred to as the kohiti.

The patterns on the upper face — above the eyes — introduce a dynamic aspect to the more static spirals below them.

The lines of tiwhana — usually four above each eye — echo the line of the eyebrow, exaggerating their form as they radiate upwards from the inner corners of the eyes. (At this point the lines curl under the eyebrow in a device known as rewha.) Following the line of the eyebrow the tiwhana descend at their outer limit, finally leaving the face at the temple as a series of horizontal, page 117 parallel lines. At the outer corners of the eyes the lower lines of tiwhana curl under the eyebrow. Usually embellished with secondary koru motifs, this device is known by the term kape. The finely detailed koru motifs tattooed within the lines of tiwhana at the outer tip of the eye are referred to as pukaru.

The ‘V’ shaped forehead design tattooed between the upper tiwhana is known as the titi. While the structure of titi patterns is generally constant, different examples bear a wide diversity of detailed motifs. At times the left and right halves of the titi are asymmetrical, although this is not usual. Descending from the hairline, the titi design introduces the waiora line to the patterns below.

The effect of these standard, frontally-perceived, patterns is to enhance and dramatise the points of sensual entry and emission. In darkening the tone of the skin the eyes and the mouth are highlighted: the expressive power of facial gesture is modified.

The division, by the waiora lines, of Moko into right and left halves is essential to an understanding of the Art. While the frontally perceived patterns are generally symmetrical in their detail and arrangement, the areas under the ears are invariably asymmetrical.

Two people looking at different sides of the same Moko will see different designs.

The patterns immediately before the ears, the paepae, are the most diverse within Moko. The putaringa patterns below them are frequently articulated as extensions of the paepae. A close examination of various examples of Moko will reveal an endless range of patterns in these areas.

The motif commonly formed in the space between the putaringa and the outer edges of the two cheek spirals is known as the kokiri and is in general quite regular.

page 118

The patterns outlined above refer to a hypothetical standard example of Mataora Moko. Actual designs may differ from this model — to a greater or lesser degree — without ceasing to be described by that term.

While these patterns describe the full extent of standard Mataora Moko, it is by no means certain that a Moko design is incomplete if not finished to this degree. Those designs in which, for example, only one half of the titi, or only one side of the lip has been tattooed suggest that the absence of patterns may have some positive significance in some cases.

The possibility that a number of the Mokamokai Robley collected were tattooed with inauthentic designs does not preclude their adherence to the structural ‘rules’ of Mataora Moko. It is in the areas in which the Tohunga ta moko was freer to articulate original patterns — ie. the paepae, putaringa, kauae etc — that the uncertain nature of these Moko designs might be apparent.

page 119

7 The Moko of the figure in the Te Hau-ki-Turanga House (National Museum of New Zealand) generally accepted to be a personal portrait of that House's principal carver, Raharuhi Rukupo, features a remarkable example of this variation.