Tattooing is more than skin deep - for small-town Waipatu man, Jahvan Apatu, the traditional Maori form, ta moko, embodies culture.

Ta moko is historically ritualised and depicts an individual's cultural belief, links and story.

Mr Apatu said many practitioners of moko could simply look at a moko and immediately gain an understanding of what it was about and where the designs came from.

"Moko for me is about culture, it is about language, it's about history, it's about connection of people, it's about a passion for the art form."


He said moko provided a sense of connection and most significantly, being an art form, allowed Maori people to claim a sense of ownership.

"Moko embodies culture quite simply for me, moko was one of many mediums, a written language, which in turn for me creates culture."

Mr Apatu grew up in the small settlement of Waipatu, Hastings, attending Mangateretere Primary School and Havelock North Intermediate before going on to Maori Catholic boarding school Hato Paora College in Feilding and later finishing his senior years at St John's College, Hastings.

During his final years of high school he began a bachelor of Maori studies and continued his tertiary education at the University of Waikato.

Initially enrolling in a bachelor of science he was soon led into a world of arts and headed to Gisborne for a diploma in visual arts then a bachelor of Maori visual arts.

The artist's passion allowed him to participate in Mokopapa Wnanga which lead to a resurgence of moko and more significantly moko kauae (Maori chin tattoo).

He then took the practice abroad to the Netherlands where he lectured about moko and held Maori art workshops. "The experience [was] great, having to deal with an interpreter to translate what I was lecturing about, two to three-hour-long lectures."

Initially, about 50 people attended, he said, with this number quickly growing to a full house of about 350 students.

Mr Apatu said practising the art form was a "sense of harmony".

"For me it is such a peaceful, humbling experience."

The moko he does is detailed and intricate, and also includes contemporary elements.

He now lives in Gisborne and is looking to extend his art education through a Master's of visual arts.

While supportive of Maori Language Week, the fluent reo speaker said: "Aue, if we can have a New Zealand Music Month, I can't see why we can have a reo i nga wa katoa."

"It's very important to embrace our culture as well as the language, these two elements co-exist together, for me as long as there is language there will always be culture."