Mau Moko: The world of Māori tattoo

Mau Moko: the World of the Māori Tattoo

“Cultural diversity is as necessary for humankind as biodiversity is for nature. In this sense, it is the common heritage of humanity and should be recognized and affirmed for the benefit of present and future generations.”

Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity, UNESCO, 2001.


In the traditional Māori world, the moko, or facial and body tattoo, was part of everyday life. Everyone had some patterning on their skin. Men wore elaborate designs on their entire faces; women’s were usually less complex but elegant, and both sexes had extensive body work.

After almost disappearing in the 20th century, Māori skin art is now experiencing a powerful revival, with many young urban Māori displaying the moko as a gesture of ethnic pride and identity.

Mau Moko: the world of Māori tattoo, published by Penguin, is the result of many years of research by a team at the Māori and Psychology Research Unit at the University of Waikato, including Professor Ngahuia Te Awekotuku, Dr Linda Waimarie Nikora, Mohi Rua and Rolinda Karapu. The book’s scholarship is enhanced by historical images, traditional Māori representations, and the superb portrait photography of Becky Nunes.

The research examined both the traditional and present day use of moko, and explored the cultural and spiritual issues surrounding this body art. Early historical records and manuscript materials were used to review the history and technology of moko, and present day moko wearers and artists were interviewed, and invited to relate dozens of powerful and heart-warming stories. Community participation was an essential element in bringing the research together, as well as in taking the stories, the taonga, and the research back to the people.

External funding gratefully acknowledged: Marsden Fund.


This page has been reformatted for printing.