Age-old grievances indelibly etched into modern Maori

TA MOKO is back. One hundred years after vanishing, apparently forever, the full facial tattoo of Maori men is making an unexpected reappearance in New Zealand,a sign of the resurgence of Maori consciousness.

When British Europeans, or Pakeha, arrived in New Zealand at the end of the 18th century they were greeted by Maori men of rank displaying facial tattoo, ta moko. Early travellers, from Captain Cook onwards, recorded their admiration of this painfully acquired and elaborate adornment. European settlement saw an unprecedented escalation of tribal, as well as colonial, warfare and the settler government initiated repressive legislation to combat Maori rebellion. The tattooed face came to exemplify rebellion and with the Tohunga Suppression Act of 1906 ta moko was relegated to the pages of history.

The 1970s, however, saw a shift in the political consciousness of Maori people, culminating in acts of civil disobedience over old grievances. Art became a vehicle to reassert racial identity and Maori art flourished, contemporary and traditional. One result of this was the unexpected resurgence of ta moko in New Zealand, or Aotearoa, "the land of the long white cloud", as the Maori call it. Young Maori males, in defiance against what they see as an unfair political and social system, are once more assuming the mantle of the moko. Although the popular image is of angry tattooed Maori males with obvious gang affiliations trying to incite public unrest, this is not the true extent of ta moko in the Nineties. For example, Hohepa Potini, who lives in Otaki, 60 miles north of Wellington, wanted to have a moko after the death of his mother.

"I wanted to have it done by my 21st birthday," he said "and I approached my grandparents and another tribal elder to discuss it. They encouraged me to follow my conscience which I did, eventually meeting a tohunga, an expert. The moko took four seasons, working in the summer months, with traditional greenstone and bone instruments. It was a drawn-out and painful process. I would be lying prone on the ground.Sometimes I experienced the sensation of leaving my body, floating above it, or I would see myself out at sea in a waka [canoe] fishing. . .

Moko has always been a mark of chieftainship; the designs have social and spiritual significance, both for the wearer and the tohunga, or village shaman, who controlled the custom. The practice, which became woven into an esoteric lore, provided a link to the ancestors and gods of the past. Each moko represents key events in the life of the wearer or his tribe - its complexity depending on the individual's status and his ability to carry the weight of generations pierced into his skin. Ta moko was first and foremost about the prestige, or mana, of one's forebears - and for the Maori, mana was everything.

Today the sight of a young man with full moko in a busy street brings home the differences that have resurfaced in a country which, for a hundred years, convinced itself it was on the road to social and racial uniformity.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is an excellent, large partially ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Primary Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...

Ashdown Group: Lead Web Developer (ASP.NET, C#) - City of London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Lead Web Develo...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee