Visitors to Te Awahau Nieuwe Stroom got a rare glimpse into the world of tā moko at the weekend when a master of the art gave a live demonstration.

The "tap, tap, tap, tap" sound of a chisel rang around the museum as Tohunga whakairo and tā moko (master carver and tattooist) Heemi Te Peeti brought to life the ancient art for public viewing.

Te Peeti performed a facial tā moko for Paora Te Hurihanganui using traditional methods so authentic that the chisels he used were expertly carved from the wing bone of an albatross.

"Traditionally, birdbone chisels were used to create tā moko," he said.


The tapping sound of the chisel hammer was heard first which led onlookers around the corner to the tā moko table where Mr Te Hurihanganui was lying.

Te Peeti is the only tā moko artist in the country continuing with traditional methods.

That included piercing the skin with the fine bone chisels and dipping them in ink as he went. He tapped with one hand while guiding the chisel with the other as it pierced the skin on Te Hurihanganui's face.

Mr Te Peeti was of Ngāti Raukawa Te Au ki te Tonga, Ngāti Rangiwewehi, Te Ati Haunui-a-Paparangi and Ngai Tūhoe affiliation.

He had strong links to Horowhenua and attended primary school in Shannon before going to St Paul's College.

He said he wanted the demonstration to inform the public and provide a living presence and spiritual dimension to Ngā Hau Ngākau.

"Tā moko has a spiritual aspect and I saw a connection between the artwork at Ngā Hau Ngākau, which depicts Māori bird ancestors, and te uhi Mataora, the tools of male facial tā moko," he said.

Horowhenua District Council advisor Awhina Tamarapa said Mr Te Peeti was one of few tā moko practitioners to have mastered the use of traditional uhi (tools), with most using a modern tattoo gun.


Terry Hapi performed a karakia to begin proceedings and during the demonstration Mr Te Peeti was able to answer questions.

Meanwhile, Te Peeti featured prominently on television a few years ago in a Waka Huia documentary that explained the spirituality and meaning behind tā moko.

He was taught to be a carver at a young age by a whānau member and that progressed in time to an introduction to tā moko by Ōtaki man Tim Hunt.

Te Peeti's own tā moko depicted trench warfare, an art for which his ancestors were revered.

"And it's about staying in the background and being at peace," he said.