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The Maori tattoo or traditionally also called ta moko is one of the most popular tattoos par excellence. Recently, such tattoos have even been quite trendy again. Both men and women like this type of tribal tattoo and often get it on different parts of the body. Today, of course, the method of tattooing differs significantly from the traditional one used in Polynesia and New Zealand by the native tribes. Nevertheless, we would like to say a few words about the ancient tradition of Maori tattoos at this point.

The Polynesian Maori Tattoo is back in fashion

Who are the Maori anyway?

This is what the indigenous people of New Zealand who originally came from Polynesia are actually called. No one can pinpoint exactly when the Maori first set foot on the shores of New Zealand. The fact is, however, that this people had an intact culture that was rich in unique customs and customs that were completely unknown and incomprehensible to Europeans.

Tatting was such a ritual. This has always been considered sacred by the Maori and was felt to be a very special initiation.

The Maori were also quite a combative people, made up of many tribes that often fought wars. Around the middle of the 18th century, the life of the Maori changed rapidly due to the colonization of New Zealand by the Europeans, who not only brought their guns with them, but unfortunately also their diseases. Here you can read even more exciting facts about the history and the indigenous culture of the Maori.

Maori women with facial tattoos

Traditional Tattoo Art

The only one who knew the secret of Maori tattoos was always the tohunga ta moko, which means tattoo master. He was one of the most respected and wise people of the tribe and had the exclusive right to tattoo the tribesmen. Because the head was considered the most sacred part of the body in Maori culture, the Warriors decorated their faces with tattoos. In contrast to men, women only have tattoos on their chins and lips. Traditionally, the Maori do not use needles for tattooing as they do today. On the contrary - the instruments used by tohunga ta moko were special knives and chisels, also called (uhi).

Ornate Sleeve Maori Tattoo for Men

As a rule, these were made from albatross bones, shark teeth or stones. And so the Maori tattoos were not stung, but literally carved into the skin. Traditional tattoo ink was obtained exclusively from natural substances - wood ash, caterpillars infected with a special fungus, or dam resin mixed with animal oils.

Tatoosing started in childhood and this process lasted until old age. The most important events in the life of the tattooed person were told through different symbols and characters, as well as their status, we alth and character.

A young Maori warrior with a typical Ta Moko on his face

The most important Maori tattoo motifs

Every single Maori tattoo is unique and very complicated. And although each tattoo is tailored to each person's specific facial features and life story, there are some symbols and signs that are very defining and typical of the Maori tattoo. Most of them are still very often and happily stung with this type of tattoo today and are preferred by many people. Examples include - Geckos, Tikis, Enata Signs, Turtles, Shells, Manta Rays, Shark Teeth, Waves, Stars and Sun.

The so-called Marquesas Cross is also traditionally very popular and shows the four world directions. This symbol also represents balance and harmony and is said to bring stability and calm to the tattooed one. Men can still get this symbol nowadays, especially as a tribal upper arm tattoo combined with other signs and elements.

Maori tattoo - the focus is on the Marquesas cross

The Tiki is one of the most important and most frequently engraved characters even today. Originally it represents the first human and depending on the organs drawn - eyes, nose, mouth etc., the tattoo is also attributed certain different meanings.

A tiki with a stylized Combined spearhead

We all know and love the gecko. These cute New Zealand lizards represent good luck and protection from disease. In the Maori tradition, it is believed that geckos can speak to the gods and are therefore considered sacred beings. Individually or as part of larger tattoos, geckos generally look very effective and quickly become eye-catchers.

Chest and shoulder tattoo with gecko symbol

Manta ray are among the most popular maritime symbols in Maori tattoo designs. Very often engraved all over the back and decorated with numerous smaller motifs. Rays stand for strength and assertiveness. A brave warrior, for example, is perfectly justified in wearing such a mark.

Manta ray as back tattoo

Turtles are considered the best navigators in the ocean throughout the Polynesian region and as such these creatures are seen as symbols of longevity, luck and perseverance.

Turtle tattoo combined with small shark teeth

All other sea creatures are also revered by the Maori tribes and perceived as vital. For example, dolphins stand for friendship, harmony and joy and squid symbolize high intelligence and inexhaustible knowledge.

The sun stands, similar to that in European or other ancient cultures, for grandeur, power and we alth and often for the divine.

Lower leg Maori tattoo with stylized sun

Discover other Maori tattoo symbols in our picture gallery and learn more about their meaning. Think about which characters are more suitable for you and which ones you might want to get engraved in the near future.

What body parts are you okay with? Maybe your job or lifestyle doesn't really allow for getting a tattoo on an exposed part of your body? Or maybe just the opposite?

The editors wish you lots of fun looking and searching!

Maori sleeve tattoo idea for men

Fine thigh tattoo for women

Or also very subtly on the shoulder

Find out which Maori Tattoo is right for you!

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