Tā moko is more than just ink etched into a person's skin.
In a simple summary it reflects a person's whakapapa and tells stories of who they are and where they come from - but its meaning and significance goes even deeper than that.
Tā moko was a topical issue in 2019 - on one hand we have seen people rejected from jobs because of their moko, on the other, journalist Oriini Kaipara made history when she became the first woman with a moko kauae to present a mainstream news bulletin.
Reporter Mikaela Collins shares the stories of Northlanders who wear moko and those who practise the traditional art; and writes about her experience receiving her first piece.
Images and video by Michael Cunningham
Hone Mihaka describes moko as being a bit like what is inside a pōhutukawa seed.
The seed is an ugly little thing, he says, yet inside is what it's going to look like in the future.
How many branches it's going to have, when the big red flowers will burst open, how big it will be - all contained within that little seed.
All it needs to flourish is the right environment.
"All those treasures that are hidden within will come forward. A bit like the moko which is already there. You don't need to go and ask for a moko, the moko that you eventually show the rest of the world - the taonga that's within you - will eventually come."
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Hone, who runs Taiamai Tours, wears mataora and tiwhana (facial moko); puhoro - which covers his thighs, back and buttocks; and he has a piece which spreads from his chest down to his arms.
He is proudly Māori but there was a time where he felt like his people had turned their backs on him.
"When you find yourself in a place where you feel like no one is helping you, you don't give two stuffs about your culture. So I can say I turned my back on my own culture."
After being raised by his parents and grandparents in his early years, Hone became a state ward by the time he was 10 or 11. He spent many years in boys homes in the 70s and then spent time in and out of the prison system.
"The places I went to were full of other Māori and Polynesian boys. At that time, in the 70s, I think I came across a handful of non-Māori. So we felt like we had been deserted by our own people therefore I was sort of like not only FTW but FTM too."
The turning point for Hone came when he was in an institute for adult males and was watching the news.
There was a festival at Okara Park in Whangārei and footage of the pōwhiri was being played. During the welcome an individual came out of the crowd and "had a go" at the men doing the wero (challenge) - as a result others started whacking this individual with taiaha.
"What made me change and start looking for my own culture was the comments being made that came from the other males that were in that home. They were suggesting that Ngāpuhi had lost their mana as a result of what had happened.
"Although I had turned my back on my culture I was none the less a Ngāpuhi and no one was allowed to rubbish a Ngāpuhi in those days."
And so Hone's journey to connect with his culture started.
As we sit by a creek, sheltered by trees, Hone tells us about his moko.
His first piece on his chest and shoulders and was done in 2004 or 2005; his puhoro was done in 2006; and his mataora and tiwhana were done by Te Rangitu Netana in 2015 in two separate sittings.
The tiwhana - the piece on his forehead - was completed in Holland at a gathering of some of the most wealthiest families in Europe, he says.
In a room full of gloss and glamour - models, designer clothes and expensive cars - Hone lay on the floor with pain vibrating through his head as the uhi (chisel) hit his face.
He looked up and asked Te Rangitu what was happening.
"He says it's amazing, no one is looking at any of the other stands everyone is standing around watching this.
"That night everybody in there was all focused on what was happening underneath bone and a piece of stick. One brown-skinned guy crouched over another brown-skinned guy writing his ancient stories and histories into his skin."
Hone says he proudly wears tribal ink and he loves all his pieces, but there is something special about wearing moko on his face.
"The mataora guides you in to the future and tiwhana protects you and looks after you on your journey," he says.
I ask Hone what it was like when he looked in the mirror for the first time after his mataora and tiwhana were completed? He smiles.
"I fell in love with myself. I looked in the mirror and I thought 'holy heck' honestly. I fell in love with my mataora. I love all of my others but there's just something different about my mataora and tiwhana."
He says moko is sacred.
"Moko is more than a tattoo. A tattoo is nothing more than an image of something but moko is a living breathing language. It's the history and stories of your own family."
Te Rangitu Netana
Te Rangitu Netana has been practising the art of tā moko for 29 years.
He is based in Buckinghamshire in the United Kingdom but hails from Kaikohe.
Te Rangitu says his interest piqued after his family moved to Auckland, but it was after receiving his first tā moko at 17 that he thought about becoming a practitioner of the art.
"There wasn't anyone that did tā moko and so I had to kind of go to an existing tattoo shop and it was really Dad that designed everything, and that's when the question of it came up to me."
Te Rangitu says receiving that moko "opened things up" for him.
At the time, Kaikohe wasn't the greatest place for young men and choices were limited, he says.
A lot of his friends and cousins were looking at gangs and drugs and Te Rangitu admits he had a pretty low self-esteem.
"My upbringing being from a staunch Māori family - I took that for granted until I received my moko. It kind of brought me back to a way of thinking about my tūpuna and who my tūpuna were, and who I was as a person.
"It empowered me and it gave me a chance to actually say no to a lot of things that were influences around us, and that's when I made the decision that that's what I wanted - especially for my cousins and my relations," he says.
But becoming a tā moko artist wasn't straight forward.
He started formulating his own plan - the first step was to get an apprenticeship at a tattoo studio. This wasn't easy as many had gang affiliations, Te Rangitu says.
"I kept on the low and I learned how to sterilise and build the machine and make needles and I had to be clever about it. At the same time there was a lot of dodginess around it and it taught me what I don't want to do."
As soon as he finished his apprenticeship he knew he was leaving it to the dust.
"I needed to learn the tools and stuff like that. The machines they were alright but for me I actually wanted to learn more about traditional tools."
Te Rangitu was eager and keen to learn. He ended up meeting renowned Samoan tattooist Paulo Sulape at a show and struck up a conversation with him.
Te Rangitu started visiting his house a lot and they became friends.
"I was a bit of a stalker I reckon. I was hungry for that information and at the time there wasn't many people that were even doing tā moko."
Te Rangitu would also hitchhike up and down the motu (country) to different wānanga to feed his hunger to learn.
There he was able to listen to tā moko artists like Gordon Hatfield, Laurie Nicholas and Derek Lardelli.
It also gave him the chance to practise tā moko as he did not get to, or want to, when he was doing his apprenticeship in tattoo studios.
"I still don't think in a way tā moko belongs in a tattoo shop, in a Pākehā realm. I still believe we need to bring back our protocols and have it in the original state," he says.
When asked to describe what tā moko is, Te Rangitu pauses.
In a simple form, he says, tā moko is your whakapapa.
But it goes deeper than that.
"For me it's like turning your insides out and what you see is what you get. I wear my moko kanohi (facial moko) over here in England and other people see it, I don't - I feel it. I'm super proud of wearing it."
He says traditionally tā moko was one of five or six forms of written language for Māori.
"The way we looked at language, many things spoke - the birds; animals; wind and rain. We understood where we sat within our environment. We understood how we affected the environment and how the environment affected us," he says.
He tells me tā moko relayed where a person was from and who they were - their mother, father, hapū and iwi.
During a pōwhiri the role of the warriors presenting the wero was to read the moko of the manuhiri, he says, so they knew who was coming in and could pass on that information to the taumata (speakers' bench).
"Language was everywhere, you didn't just hear it but you felt it. A lot of times we didn't even talk and that's the thing with moko - moko is a language without words and it's the unspoken thing."
Te Rangitu has been in the UK, where his wife is from, on and off over the years but this time round he has been there for five years.
He says his clients range from Māori living in the UK, to non-Māori.
'I kinda feel better us do it on them than some other guy. At least I have a responsibility to kind of educate them in a way. I can't give them our whakapapa even if I wanted to, I can't give you a Māori whakapapa. But you have whakapapa," he says.
Ana Mackie is of Te Waiariki, Ngati Takapari, Patuharakeke and Te Akitai descent - those are hapū of Ngātiwai and Ngare Raumati.
She wears moko kauae (moko worn by women on the chin) which she received in 2017 from Anikaaro Harawira, at the same time her cousin Keatley Hopkins received a mataora.
She says the pair are the young ones on their marae and they are both following in the footsteps of their people.
"We jumped on board as young tamariki and we started realising its more to trust boards, it's more to life as Māori than living within these policies and frameworks, and it just keeps dismantling us and all we're doing is fighting within each other.
"So we thought what better to feel better about being Māori than uplifting and revitalising moko."
At the end of 2016, Ana and Keatley decided they would receive moko in 2017.
Moko kauae, Ana says, is the birthright of Māori women.
"It became so disregarded that the last of our woman who wore it we only remember as hierarchy older woman. But that perception [that moko has to be earned] only comes from colonisation. We as Māori are born with that right."
The year between when Ana decided to receive moko kauae, to when she actually received it was tough for her, she says.
"We went through a lot of transformation, a lot of doubt and self esteem issues. We weren't eating and sleeping because we were evaluating ourselves and our work.
"How are people going to look at us, and what's this going to cause for us, and what's that going to cause for our whānau and hapū? A lot of emotional stuff came about but that made us even stronger because you find yourself."
Ana says one of the reasons she wanted to wear moko kauae was to encourage wāhine to heal.
She was in a car accident at 15 and as a result she is in a wheelchair. She was medically well and was being given what she needed, but her soul was not healing, she says.
"The only way I came through that was art, expression and culture; and reconnecting to the marae, the land, the environment and just being a Māori."
After all the pressure she felt in the lead up to receiving her moko kauae, when Ana looked in the mirror after it was completed she cried, she was scared and then there was instant relief.
"I'm a mum and I'm part of a hapū that see me as a strong significant person in our whānau, so it was kind of like a significant moment where I felt I was transformed into the right place at the right time for the right reasons."
Paitangi Ostick has a presence about her.
She evokes this feeling of peace, yet at the same time you can sense her unwavering strength.
She is a multimedia artist and her studio hints not only at the talent she holds, but the person she is.
Based at her home in Waitangi, it looks across to the ocean in which she swims every day - she says she is a fish and her love for the moana comes from her Ngātiwai side.
The studio is filled with art in various forms - each piece beautifully crafted by Paitangi, each medium serving a purpose.
She tells me about three striking paintings of wāhine wearing moko kauae - Paitangi's moko kauae - orange, yellows, greens and blues run throughout the images. They depict different ancestors and reflect different aspects of herself, she says.
She also points out a piece of black maire she is in the process of transforming into a taiaha for a kaumatua.
And then there is the space dedicated to tā moko.
"I was that person who was always a bit of a tutu," she says.
Paitangi grew up in Mangere East but has been in Waitangi for 16 years.
Her father was a Yorkshireman, her mother Māori.
She taught herself how to carve when she was only 8-years-old and still has the first bone carving she ever did.
"I stole all my fathers tools, he ended up buying my tools when I was about 11, I'd sit there for hours," she says.
When Paitangi first purchased a tattoo machine, it wasn't for herself it was for her partner, who passed away 11 years ago, as she thought he'd be a great tattooist.
"I would tutu with the machines with him and he was a beautiful artist. Then he passed and for me it was like 'ah, this wasn't for you to do. It was mine' so that's basically how it started," she says.
Paitangi says the knowledge base she has is innate, and moko is full of life.
"For me, a painting - that's dead, it's just static, there's no life in it. Where as moko is fed by our blood and it feeds us and it doesn't stop growing," she says.
"I love that saying that the ancestors will know who we are by the writing on our skin. So when I leave this world I can go with nothing but my moko - the writing that talks about my children and my tribe and my grandson who died."
Paitangi herself wears moko kauae and puhoro.
But she hadn't planned on having any ink.
"Hell no I wasn't getting tattooed. I was like a skinny chef - an ink free bloody tattooist. People would look me up and down like 'what ink have you got, you haven't got ink.'
"I was never getting tattooed ever and then I was gifted moko 11 years ago."
Paitangi finds a photo of herself and hands it to me. She asks what I see in her moko kauae, I struggle but when she points out it's an owl I can't unsee it.
"Hineruru is the messenger bird. So it's my association with the dead, and I've always been told that I walk within that space of light and dark. As I've got older I've learned to accept that spiritual part of who I am.
"The space that runs through the middle is manawa and manawa is your heart. Every moko should have a manawa line, that's that blood flow - it connects me to the physical and the spiritual.
"The other one, one of my kaitiaki I love so much, is the stingray so this is the tail going into the wings," she says, pointing to her moko kauae.
Paitangi was asked to wear her moko kauae by elders and a year later they also asked her to wear puhoro.
Both came with challenges.
When she received her moko kauae she was questioned about who she was, why she was there and who said she could receive one.
When she received puhoro she was questioned whether she had the right to wear it as a wāhine.
"Kingi [Taurua] said to me - you do realise if there was no wero, there is no mana to the kaupapa and then I got it."
When the idea of doing a feature article on tā moko was first mentioned, I didn't plan on actually receiving one.
And then I got on the phone with Paitangi.
I had called to ask if a photographer and I could visit her to speak to her about her mahi and her experiences wearing moko kauae and puhoro.
Not once during that conversation did she suggest I should get a piece done, but when I hung up the phone I could not get the idea out of my head.
I've always wanted a piece in memory of my uncle, who passed away in 2009, and after speaking to Paitangi I felt like it was time, and I felt like she was the right person to do it.
The day we travelled to speak to her there was a region-wide power cut, she joked we could use uhi instead, but by the time I had finished interviewing her, the light in her studio had turned on which also means the tattoo gun would work.
As I put down my notebook and pen to transition out of work mode, Paitangi pulls back her hair and puts her glasses on - transitioning into her zone.
Once all the tools are ready, she sits down with a pen and notepad in hand to record my story.
Paitangi always works face to face - if you message her and ask her to send through a design, it won't happen.
The first question she asks me is "what's important to you, what is this piece of work about?"
I tell her about my uncle and how he loved anything to do with the ocean; I tell her about the inside jokes we shared; I tell her about the pain that came after he left.
I also tell her about two major surgeries I've had, and that I want that journey to be depicted.
I then sit down in the chair at her workstation and she turns on music -her playlist includes Te Matatini ki te Ao; He iti by Kaaterama; and Kei hea rā koe? by Uruwhetū Tāne.
Paitangi uses a pen to freehand the main lines of the design on my wrist first and explains what each motif represents. She asks if I'm happy with it before she goes in with the permanent ink.
But before we start she hands me the niho of the tohora - a whale's tooth.
"For me this holds the mauri and the energy," she says.
She then turns off the music.
"I'm going to do a karakia and sing you a waiata I wrote last year. This song is for uncle and it was written for a person who is matakite and it talks about the connection we have even though they've gone. That love will always connect you."
When she finishes her song, she says a karakia and resumes playing the music.
"Hā ki roto, hā ki waho," she says - reminding me to breath.
I wasn't sure what to expect but as the needles hit my skin for the first time I felt relief - like the built up anticipation around receiving moko and how painful it may be, had just been released.
During the hour it takes to complete the piece we talk and laugh.
When it's finished I look at it and it feels right, like it's always been there.