Maori Tattoo Meanings: The Story in the Skin

traditional maori face tattoo of young man

Maori tattoo meanings are just as profound as the bold and beautiful designs. These tattoos are some of the oldest tattoos in history. They are also possibly the most culturally significant. These gorgeous works of art are more than just patterns, however. A tattoo of such significance to the culture must have some deeper meaning.

Tattooing in Maori Culture

maori chest tattoo of strong man's body

The entire concept of tattooing is sacred to Maori culture. According to mythology, the art of tattooing was a gift to the princess of the underworld, Niwareka, and the face of vitality, Mataora. The gift was given to the couple by the princess’s father, the King of the Underworld. They were given the gift after Mataora beat the princess, who then went running to her father. Mataora begged for forgiveness and fought to reach his princess, covering his beautiful face in dirt. It was then that the princess’s father showed the culture how to tattoo.

Because of this mythological explanation, Maori tattoo symbols and meanings can reflect spiritualty and worship. Actually, the Maori term for tattooing is “Moko.” “Moko” is also the Polynesian word for the appearances of gods through lizards. Perhaps these cultures did connect in some way.

The Tattoo

Unfortunately, tattooing was the most painful and dangerous in this culture. In order to tattoo, the skin was cut with sharp bones and filled with ash or other pigment. The open wounds took months to heal. Recipients had to be spoon fed liquefied food because the pain of chewing with these face tattoos was unbearable. Infection was also a dangerous factor. Why they put themselves through such agony, you might wonder.

The Maori endured this awful pain to have deep, symbolic stories become a part of their flesh. The tattoos represent the person they are tattooed upon. They signify his accomplishments, status, and family ties. They serve as an identification card. In traditional culture, it was considered an insult to not be able to read ones tattoos.

The Maori warrior tattoo pictorially describes the accomplishments in battle of the wearer. One’s tattoo scars share in detail what the battle scars equivocate. Only warriors, men with money, and nobles could afford to wear these tattoos.

The tattoos were meant to be descriptors. The Maori people wore their stories on their skin for the world to see. In a similar way, people today get tattoos of symbols that are unique to them. A dagger to one person may mean a willingness to fight. To another, a dagger may be symbol of pain and suffering. Consequently, these tattoos can be difficult to decode from an outside point of view.

Today, the tattoos could be old designs or stories that a person just happened to like. Often, wearers are unaware of the story in their skin. Maori tattoo meanings are infinite as are the stories and lives of the people who create them.

To Show the world that you are great; get a Maori tattoo!

12 Photos of the Maori Tattoo Meanings: The Story in the Skin

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