Skip to content

Maori Tattoos

by TattoosNear 30 Mar 2022

Withe the popular of temporary tattoos, some people try face tattoos, and to express themselves better, maori face tattoos are favorited by young people. it's great for party! However, many people are unaware that the tattoos they are obtaining are part of a culture and tradition, and because they are oblivious of this, they are committing cultural appropriation. Although aware of Maori tattoos, others obtain the artistic design and claim ownership, diminishing Maori culture and tradition.

Fortunately, many people are learning more about diverse tattoo cultures and the origins of certain traditional tattoo designs. There's always more to learn, so we've decided to go into greater detail on the cultural background and meaning of Maori tattoos. Let's get started without further ado!

To choose the best tattoo design, one must first learn about the history of various tattoos. When it comes to cultural appropriation and other concerns with cultural tattoos, the origin of a tattoo, its cultural and historical context, and its meaning can all significantly impact one's decision.

Maori Tattoo History

Maori tattoos, or moko tattoos, are facial and body art that originated in New Zealand. The Maori people were known as fighters and defenders of their homes for centuries before European explorers arrived. They frequently got facial and body tattoos to show their loyalty and desire to protect their land and tribe and their prestige, rank, and masculinity.

Fishers, seafarers, and extremely competent navigators were common among Maori people. They were also proficient in pottery, canoe making, plant gardening, animal hunting, and various other crafts.

Of course, when it came to tattooing, the Maoris were highly skilled. The story of the underworld princess Niwareka and a young man named Mataora is said to be the source of moko tattoos in Maori mythology.

Mataora tortured Niwareka, so she abandoned him and returned to the underworld. Mataora searched for Niwareka; however, his face paint was smeared, and his entire appearance was mocked during his voyage. Despite this, Mataora could locate Niwareka, who graciously accepted his apologies. Niwareka's father taught Mataora how to perform moko tattoos as a present, ensuring that his face paint never spills.

We can deduce from this account that Maori people practiced various forms of body art long before the moko tradition. Many people believe that the face and body art practice came from other Polynesian islands.

The Europeans were responsible for bringing the Maori people to the attention of the rest of the globe. This was not, however, a fortuitous meeting of two cultures. As is customary, Europeans saw an opportunity to take control of both the land and the Maori people in New Zealand. However, this time, Europeans were intrigued by the Maori people's look, particularly their facial and body tattoos. Their infatuation was so strong that they began hurting Maori people and returning home with their heads as souvenirs. Because of the white 'head hunters,' Maori people had to cease wearing moko tattoos.

Related Knowledge: Want to know what tattoo designs look good on you? fake tattoos for guys 🔗 are appealing because it lets you try out body art without the permanent commitment. It is also a fun way to change your appearance or experiment with different placements before taking the plunge and getting inked for real. This is an excellent choice for anyone thinking about getting a tattoo but wants to see how it would look first, or for someone who cannot get inked for whatever reason, including pain tolerance or health problems. The temporary tattoo is also cheap, easy to apply, and lets you express yourself without hassle. Choose from a wide range of symbolic designs or something simple or cute. The choice is yours, so have fun with it. 

Maori Tattoo Meaning

When it comes to the meaning of moko tattoos, they typically indicate one of the following: rank, status, tribe, masculinity, or status and rank for women. Moko tattoos typically signify the wearer's identity and important information about their tribe's location. Most moto tattoos are based on Maori ritual importance, expressed by utilizing spiral and curvilinear shapes.

Moko tattoos can have varied meanings and symbols depending on where they are placed. For example, if the tattoo is placed around the brows, it represents one's status in the tribe. The Hapu rank is symbolized by the tattoo around the nose and eyes (chief of the tribe). A tattoo in the center of one's forehead represents one's rank. A signature tattoo is placed beneath the one. When a tattoo is placed on the cheek, it represents labor. A tattoo symbolizes mana on the chin (status, influence, spiritual power, prestige, authority, control, and power). A tattoo on the jaw also represents one's birth status.

Even though moko tattoos are often associated with intimidation and aggression, as we can see, the meaning of these tattoos is far from that. These tattoos are designed to aid in identifying and gathering vital information about Maori people just by glancing at them.

Tattoos serve as identification, particularly when people meet for the first time. Due to their ancestral origins and ancient culture and how Westerners saw it, it is far from anything Maori people employ for aggression and intimidation.

The Europeans thought Maori people obtained tattoos on their faces and bodies to terrify their opponents in battle or attract women. War and cannibalism are all symbols that have been associated with moko tattoos. Naturally, as more people learned about Maori, we gained a better understanding of Maori culture and tradition and the history and significance of moko tattoos.

Unfortunately, some people still stereotype Maori culture and moko tattoos today. Nonetheless, a growing appreciation for the one-of-a-kind and magnificent moko tattoos demonstrates how, as a society, we are beginning to respect other people's traditions rather than simply slapping their culture on our bodies to get a cool tattoo.

Moko tattoos are more than just a collection of lines arranged in a pleasing design. These tattoos symbolize a person's identity, history, culture, customs, beliefs, etc.

Maori Tattoos New Designs

Moko, now often known as tribal tattoos, has been influenced by modern interpretations and cultural appropriation, primarily by Westerners. Even though knowledge and awareness about moko and Maori people are only a click away, some people are either unaware of or deliberately oblivious to the traditional significance of moko.

Unfortunately, people not linked to Maori tribes still obtain moko tattoos and utilize them in fashion and design to show 'how open and inclusive they are of diverse cultures.'

For example, in 2008/2009, the internationally renowned French designer Jean Paul Gaultier promoted his latest collection by using non-Maori models with moko tattoos. Many people found this choice of models to be quite insulting, particularly in an image where a female model with moko posed sitting with her legs open.

Gaultier then attempted to justify himself by stating that he thinks Maori culture to be wonderful and exotic and that he wishes that people in his nation recognized the same beauty (by hiring non-Maori models wearing his clothes and glasses, of course). Let's be honest: moko is just a fashion statement, and a means to get people's attention in this atmosphere.

Furthermore, the issue arises because New Zealand has a Maori arts board that oversees the fair use of the trademarked moko and Maori arts and crafts. It would have been different if Gaultier had consulted them before using moko in his collection. He hasn't, however. And you can guess how the Maoris felt about it: they felt degraded.

Let's fast forward to the year 2022. Orsini Kaipara, a senior Maori journalist from New Zealand, made history on Christmas Day 2021 by being the first news anchor to headline a national primetime show wearing a moko tattoo on her chin.

This would not have been conceivable twenty or thirty years ago, but Kaipara did it and made headlines worldwide. People learned about this in January 2022. They praised Kaipara's bravery in openly standing in front of cameras and how we now welcome diverse cultures and respect the symbol.

So, a lot has changed in the last 15 years, and it will undoubtedly change even more in the future. Cultural appropriation has become a major issue in recent years. People finally become aware of blatant cultural appropriation, a lack of education, and misunderstanding about certain cultures and traditions, particularly when employed by people of various origins and civilizations.

Sure, Westerners aren't used to seeing individuals with complete facial tattoos. They may be intrigued by the moko tradition, but that doesn't give anyone the right to hijack someone's culture and convert it into a cool tribal tattoo. Moko tattoos are precious to Maori people, serving as a link to their past and ancestors and an identity. When the Maori people are frantically striving to protect their culture, this shouldn't be a random person's tattoo project.

maori tattoos

Moko Designs Meanings

It is necessary to look at moko tattoos separately and examine their meanings to comprehend better the cultural and traditional background and significance of moko tattoos.

O Maui, Te Ora

This moko tattoo design is inspired by Maui folklore. Maui was the youngest of five brothers at the time. Maui's mother mistook him for a stillborn baby when she gave birth to him. She snipped off her bun, wrapped it around him, and tossed him into the sea. Eventually, Maui was discovered on the beach by a tohunga (an experienced practitioner of any profession or craft).

The tohunga naturally fostered Mauri and taught him his ways, and he grew up to learn a variety of methods and skills. Maui is said to have lengthened days, brought fire to the people, and virtually ensured humanity's immortality. This is primarily a narrative about Maui discovering New Zealand.

Nga Hau E Wha Nga Hau E Wha Nga Hau E W

Nga Hau E Wha translates to "the four winds" in English.

Now, this moko tattoo design represents the planet's four corners, or the four winds stated earlier. The four winds, which signify four spirits, all unite in one spot, is the tale behind the design. Many people believe that the four winds motif reflects people from all four corners. Because the tattoo's theme revolves around two powerful Maori gods, Tawhirimatea and Tangaroa, it also emphasizes the importance of showing reverence to god to grow and thrive in life.


Pikorua is a Maori term that means "connecting of two very distinct things," as well as "development" (like the earth and the sea, as they join in a popular Maori myth). Because of the tale behind the word's derivation, this is the most common interpretation of the word's meaning (and the tattoo design origin).

Ranginui and Papatuanaku, who are said to have been together since the beginning of time, are crucial to Maori culture's account of human beginnings. Rangi and Papa are two characters who occur in a creation story about union and separation, in which Rangi is the sky father and Papatuanuku is the earth mother.

The tattoo depicts life's journey and how 'all rivers lead to the ocean,' which is a metaphor for how we all return to mother Earth one day.

Te Timatanga (Te Timatanga) is a Ma

Timatanga means 'beginning, beginning, introduction, and commencement'. Te Timatanga tattoo tells the tale of the world's creation and how humanity came to be. The Mauri creation myth is based on the narrative of Ranginui and Papatuanaku, sometimes known as Rangi and Papa. Rangi and Papa now had a large family.

They desired greater independence and freedom as they grew older. Tumatauenga, in particular, decided to separate from his parents to have greater independence, which was a decision that all of the brothers sought to follow, except Ruamoko, who was still a baby at the time. As time passed, the brothers began to punish each other for supporting or opposing the notion. Some would use Storms to punish the brothers, while others would use earthquakes.

Overall, the tattoo represents something that all parents go through: caring for their children until they decide to start their own lives and distance themselves from their parents' pathways.

Moko Tattoo Symbols 

Many people believe that Maori tattoos are just random lines and designs. Each line design symbolizes a different symbolism and provides different information. Let's look at some of the most prevalent moko tattoo symbols and what they mean.

• Pakati – this motif is common in masculine tattoos and represents bravery and strength.

• Unaunahi - this tattoo design represents fish scales, and because Maori people are renowned for being excellent fishers, the tattoo design represents health and abundance.

• Hikuaua - this design comes from New Zealand's Taranaki region and represents prosperity and fortune.

• Manaia - Manaia, or the spiritual guardian, is depicted in this sign. The emblem comprises a human body, a fishtail, and a bird flying ahead of it. The heavens, land, and sea are all protected by the guardian.

• Ahu Ahu Mataroa - this symbol, which resembles a ladder, represents achievement, conquering barriers, and taking on new tasks in life.

• Hei Matau - also known as the fish hook emblem, the Hei Matau is a symbol that represents prosperity, as fish is the Maori people's traditional meal.

• Single twist patterns - comparable to the Western sign of infinity, represent life and eternity.

• Double or triple twist - represents the eternal marriage of two people or even two cultures. It is one of the most popular Maori symbols of togetherness; we stand by each other's side through the ups and downs of life, which is a lovely message.

• Koru – this spiral-like sign represents growth, harmony, and fresh starts. It's based on the symbolism of a fern leaf that hasn't fully unfolded (New Zealand is known to have the most beautiful ferns, which makes this tattoo even more meaningful and cultural).

Having a Moko Tattoo is a great way to express yourself.

It's hard to discuss Maori tattoos without addressing the subject of non-Maoris wearing moko. When it comes to this subject, cultural appropriation is a big concern. Maori tattoos are well-known for their beauty, and as a result, they are a popular tattoo choice for non-Maori people. Westerners are particularly fond of Maori tattoos. Most of the time, they have no idea what they're wearing, what the tattoo symbolizes, or that it has a cultural significance.

So, what's the issue here?

You are wearing a Maori tattoo as a non-Maori, showing that you are reducing the moko's complex historical and symbolic meaning to a simple line design that has nothing to do with you. Remember how we said that moko tattoos serve as a form of identification and recognition in Mauri culture?

This implies that moko tattoos are more than just decorative body art. They demonstrate who a Maori person is, their historical origins, standing, and more. Even though certain Maori tattoos are universal, the bulk is highly personal and unique to only a few families. They're similar to the private property passed down from generation to generation.

And you might be wondering if a non-Maori individual can have a moko tattoo.

To begin, let me state that Maori people enjoy sharing their culture. The majority of Maori people are unconcerned about non-Maori getting moko tattoos. Those tattoos, however, must be done by a Maori tattoo artist (who usually spends a lifetime learning the skill).

Only these tattoo artists are qualified to do Maori tattoos and ensure that all Maori iconographies are correctly applied. Otherwise, non-Maori tattoo artists make blunders and frequently adopt patterns and motifs distinctive to specific Maori families and tribes (like stealing their identity and personal property).

Kirituhi is a Maori-style tattoo created by a non-Maori tattoo artist or designed to be worn by a non-Maori individual. In Maori, 'Kiri' means "skin," and "this" means "to draw, record, adorn, or decorate with paint." Kirituhi is a Maori manner of sharing their culture with anyone who wants to learn about, understand, and respect it.

Traditional moko tattoos are not the same as Kirituhi tattoos. This is the case because the integrity of Maori tattoos is not intended for non-Maori people, and the integrity of moko must be preserved, acknowledged, and respected.

Kirituhi is the place to go if you're not a Maori and want a Maori-style tattoo. If you want to have a Kirituhi tattoo, research the artists. Look for a tattoo artist that has had moko training and understands the differences between moko and Kirituhi tattoos. Some tattoo artists claim to be practicing Kirituhi when they imitate moko tattoo designs and exploit someone else's culture.


Maori people fight to preserve their culture and customs daily. Moko's history and cultural significance indicate a centuries-old practice that all should appreciate since it provides insight into humanity's history. Yes, moko has a place in the modern world, but only because of the Maori people's compassion.

Non-Maori individuals can now enjoy the beauty of Maori-style tattoos without infringing on their culture, thanks to Kirituhi tattoos. Hopefully, our article has provided a thorough understanding of Maori tattoo culture and customs. Check out the official Maori websites for further information, especially if you're considering obtaining a Kirituhi tattoo.

If you're hesitant to commit to a permanent tattoo, temporary tattoos are an option. our under $10 temporary tattoos will help you finish the process. These tattoos will be painless, short-lived, and simple to remove.

Prev Post
Next Post
Someone recently bought a
[time] ago, from [location]

Thanks for subscribing!

This email has been registered!

Shop the look

Choose Options

Edit Option
Back In Stock Notification
this is just a warning
Shopping Cart
0 items