Tattooing has deep roots in Polynesian culture, and each
of the various Polynesian races of the South Pacific has a unique blend
of tattoo or tatau.
Wood carving constitutes a large part of Maori art, with
the traditional meeting places on the
marae adorned with
carved poles that relate the tribes ancestry and history.
Over time these master carvers translated their skills
to the skin. Traditional Maori tattooing was actually achieved by
carving the skin and flesh with a sharp stick and natural pigments were
used to accentuate the designs carved into the skin. After the arrival
of the Europeans, gunpowder was also used for pigment, and sticks were
abandoned in favor of chisels!
Tattooing was tied closely to rank, and the
higher the rank, the more the body was tattooed. In New Zealand, the face tattoo
(ta moko) could only be worn by those of high rank, principally
tribal chiefs. Maori women of
rank had their chins and lips tattooed. The Maori chief Te Pehi Kupe
said during a visit to England in 1826, "Europee man write with pen his
name Te Pehi's is here," pointing to his tattooed face. The completion
of the moko could take up to a year of painful and dangerous work.
lower back through the buttocks and down to the knees were frequently
tattooed as well in what is called puhoro. The shape of the
tattoo on the buttocks was invariably a swirling pattern.
The colonizing British and Europeans brought with them Christian missionaries
who considered tattooing "the devil's art". The missionaries
successfully outlawed tatau and the art form almost died out.
Fortunately the tattoos of the Maori at this time in New Zealand's early
beautifully chronicled by the painter
Charles F. Goldie. See some examples of
Goldie's paintings of New Zealand Maori with tattooed faces.
been a flourishing revival of traditional tattooing in New Zealand over
the last 20 years.
Tattooing the body was also
practiced by the aboriginal
tribes of Scotland, the Picts, who tattooed large parts of their
bodies. Both men and
women fought the Romans side-by-side naked displaying their tattoos to
intimidate the enemy.
Pictures of Tattoos in Multiple Languages
Discretion Advised: Some pictures may contain nudity
English: Tattoo /
ta moko face tattoo
Gay Men with Tattoos