His hands shook as he battled the pain, but Hamilton teacher Paora McGrath had been waiting for the right time to receive the peha since his grandmother gave him her blessing in 2001.

Mr McGrath's peha - a moko of the back, buttocks and lower legs - represents his whanau and Ngati Ruru links and is almost complete after four days of sessions and nearly 24 hours of painstaking work.

"Yes it hurts, it feels like you're being branded. On a pain scale of one to 10? Try about a 20."

The work was being carried out at a Te Wananga o Aotearoa ta moko symposium in Hamilton yesterday.

And Mr McGrath was not the only one with painful tales to tell.

For nearly two days Te Ataarangi Poutapu endured the pain as others looked on and cried.

The 60-year-old grandmother from Turangawaewae Marae was one of 23 women who commemorated the passing of Te Arikinui Dame Te Atairangikaahu (The Maori Queen) through a kauae (chin) moko in 2007.

While it was a proud day for Mrs Poutapu, for some it was too much.

"It was quite emotional ... women were crying tears of joy as they were getting them and children were in the meeting house crying because they thought we were in pain," she said.

Mrs Poutapu, who spoke to school students yesterday at the symposium in Hamilton, said the intricate lines of her moko represented her work as a community education liaison officer and role as an entertainer.

"A lot of people have commented positively about it ... some of the kids I deal with said 'oh could you get your lips coloured in too?"' she said.

Ngati Pikiao ta moko artist Richard Francis said the revival of ta moko had exploded in the 13 years he had been practising the art.

"When we grew up you didn't see moko, it wasn't normal," he said.

"But these days you've got doctors and lawyers wearing them - they've become an accepted part of society."

He said gang members had worn moko through the 1970s and 80s for its adversarial connotations.

Arapeta Takoko of Ngati Porou said more non-Maori were also wearing Maori art on their skin, although the patterns were non-tribal.

The skin art form for non-Maori is known as kirituhi and not as ta moko.

"You have Kiwis who are fourth-generation New Zealanders with an obvious connection to the land and they want to display that," he said.