These are the faces of men, tattooed in the traditional Maori fashion. I was first exposed to the Maori people when I learned about the New Zealand team the All Blacks. This rugby team uses interesting intimidation moves at the beginning of their games called the Haka. What really got me intrigued by these people were the pictures I’d seen of traditional tattooing on the face of Maori men.
After reading more about the history of the tattoo and its process, I found out that these markings were used in traditional Maori culture as markers of rites of passage, social prestige and rank, and were also thought to be attractive to women. Many rituals accompanied the tattooing process (called Ta Moko) which was typically started at puberty. This coming of age event entailed the use of a sharp bone chisel to cut into the skin and then a chisel to tap pigment into the skin. Makes our tattooing process look pretty wimpy, huh?
This painful process declined greatly in the 1860s with changing fashions and the desire to be accepted by white New Zealanders. Today, most tattooing is done by needles. What was really fascinating about this whole process is the fact that the Maori women were not tattooed to the same extent as the Maori men. Women would be tattooed some on their upper lips and also on their chin. I think this difference is due in part to the different social positions of Maori men and women. Men were brought up to be warriors and the more tattoos you had the more prestige you gained as the tattoos showed how fierce you were in battle. I would like to look into this area more to fully understand the implications of the different facial adornments of the Maori people.
Maori traditional ta moko is not only beautiful, but also serves as an interesting look at the different expressions of masculinity and femininity in Maori culture.