Resurgence of ta moko among Maori women: study

By Yvonne Tahana

Doctoral student Mei Winitana, whose ta moko incorporates a puwerewere, or spider's web pattern, says some women are adding to their designs over time. Photo / Alan Gibson
Doctoral student Mei Winitana, whose ta moko incorporates a puwerewere, or spider's web pattern, says some women are adding to their designs over time. Photo / Alan Gibson

A Te Whare Wananga o Awanuiarangi doctoral student claims 40 per cent of Maori women have or are thinking of getting a ta moko, but men have largely usurped the cultural practices around getting tattooed.

Mei Winitana's thesis involved combing through the results of 129 online surveys where she asked participants about their views of Maori women and ta moko (which relates to tattoos on the body) or moko kauae, which is on the lips and chin.

She also interviewed 15 women who lived here or in Australia, and a group who had lived across the Tasman and returned.

One theme that emerged strongly was that there was confusion around the tikanga of getting a moko.

One interviewee said her request to have her ta moko completed on her marae was turned down because of conventions around the spillage of blood, because it was considered tapu.

"There were other respondents who said you should not indulge in sex during that particular time, or if you have your mate wahine [period], you should not have it done," Ms Winitana said.

"My challenge to those women was 'Na wai i ki?' Who actually said that? Were they men?"

"I actually said to this woman: 'What a lot of humbug'."

Academics were responsible for the blurred tikanga discourse, Ms Winitana said. Sir Hirini Moko Mead and Te Rangi Hiroa (Sir Peter Buck) had both noted moko kauae signified noble birth, contradicting early Europeans who observed it at all strata of Maori society.

Not one of the women who participated in the survey had a moko kauae, and Ms Winitana said she believed they were put off by the supposed dos and don'ts attached to them, such as not drinking or smoking if they had one done.

Author Ngahuia Te Awekotuku's seminal Mau Moko and other research in recent years had gone some way to making it okay for women to talk about the art form passionately, she said.

Ms Winitana said her research found some women were getting the ta moko simply for its beauty; however, the majority who got one did so because it enhanced their identity and linked to their genealogy, whanau, hapu and iwi.

Women were also adding to their ta moko over time to mark special life events, making it a very organic process.

Ms Winitana said she liked to present the image of ex-Pussycat Dolls singer Nicole Scherzinger - whose bottom was photographed after being painted - to Maori at conferences to get discussion going.

"Some find it totally repugnant - it's taking and abusing cultural images - to the other end of the spectrum who thought it was really beautiful.

"The best response I've ever had was from two kuia at a conference who said: 'Can I remind you, after she's had five kids, nursed her babies and she's got stretch marks and saggy boobs, will she still look like that?'

"They spoke such good sense."

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E ai ki tetahi akonga takutatanga o Te Whare Wananga o Awanuiarangi e 40 orau o nga wahine Maori kua whiwhi ta moko, kei te whakaaroaro tonu ranei kia taia ratau, haunga te kaha whai a te tane i tenei ahuatanga.

Ko nga mahi o te tuhinga roa a Mei Winitana he tatari i nga hua o nga uiui tuihono 129 e patai ana i nga kaiwhai wahi mai mo o ratau whakaaro mo te wahine Maori me te ta moko (nga moko o te tinana), moko kauae ranei. I uiui ano ia i nga wahine 15 e noho ana i tenei whenua, i Ahitereiria, a, me etahi i noho i Ahitereiria ka hoki mai.

Ko tetahi ahuatanga i tino puta ko te noho rangirua mo nga tikanga e pa ana ki te whiwhi moko. Hei ta tetahi kaikorero i whakahehia tana tono kia taia ia ki runga i tona marae na nga tikanga o te maringi o te toto, na te mea ki etahi whakaaro he tapu tenei.

Hei ta Winitana, "Ko te ki a etahi kaore e pai te ai i taua wa, kei te pa mai te mate wahine ranei kaua koe e taia ki te moko".

"Ko taku ki aua wahine 'Na wai i ki?' Na te tane tera korero?"

"Katahi au ki atu au ki tetahi wahine: 'katahi na te korero rorirori."

Na te hunga matauranga i whakaporearea i a tatau tikanga e ai ki a Winitana.

E ai ki Ta Hirini Moko Mead raua ko Te Rangi Hiroa he tohu te moko kauae i te kawai rangatira o te wahine, a, e tukituki ana tenei i nga tirohanga a nga Pakeha tuatahi i ki he ahuatanga tenei i kitea whanuitia i roto i te ao Maori.

Kaore tetahi wahine i uiuitia i whai moko kauae, a, e ai ki nga whakaaro o Winitana na nga tikanga pohehe i whakaporearea i nga whakaaro o nga wahine, ara kaore e pai te inu waipiro, te kai hikareti ranei ina whiwhi moko kauae te wahine.

E ai ano ki a Winitana na te whakaputanga o Mau Moko e te kaituhi a Ngahuia Te Awekotuku, me etahi atu rangahau onatata nei i whai kaha ai te wahine ki te korero hohonu mo tenei ahuatanga toi.

I ki a Winitana kei te taia etahi wahine ki te moko kia ataahua ai ratau, engari ko te nuinga i whai ta moko hei whakau i to ratau tuakiritanga me te hono ki to ratau whakapapa, whanau, hapu, iwi hoki.

Na wai, ka whakawhanuitia e nga wahine o ratau moko hei tohu i nga ahuatanga nui o to ratau ora. He pai ki a Winitana te whakatakoto i te whakaahua o te kaiwaiata tawhito o Pussycat Dolls a Nicole Scherzinger hei take korero ma te Maori i nga hui, nona te tou i whakaahuahia whai muri i tona peitatanga.

"He tino anuanu ki etahi, he takahi i te mana o nga ahua ahurea, engari ki etahi atu he tino ataahua."

"Ko te whakautu pai rawa i rongo au na etahi kuia tokorua i tetahi hui, i ki raua: 'Kia mahara koutou, ka whanau ana tamariki e rima, me te whangai ano i a ratau, ka makoha tona kiri, ka wheoro ona u, ka noho pai tonu tona ahua? Marama ke raua."

- NZ Herald

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