Maories Tattoos

In this article we will learn everything related to Maories tattoos that have become one of the most sought-after designs.

But first we need to know where this style of art comes from that is transmitted in the tattoos.

The Maories are an indigenous race of New Zealand. And they are characterized mainly in a style of body art called Moko. What is now known as Maori Tattoos

In this culture tattoos are considered as a rite of passage, because since antiquity is a very revered ritual practice, started inadolescence.

It should be borne in mind that the Maori consider the head as the most sacred part so generally the facial tattoo was a common practice where they expressed all respect and admiration for this part of the body, making true works of art on the face with tattoo, even covering it in its entirety.

This represented a symbol of rank in society, social status and reputation.

The characteristics of these tattoos make the existence of two equal tattoos practically impossible.

The Maori designs are also characterized because they are very complex, the most common forms are traces of curves and spiral patterns with other symmetrical elements and much detail.

Maori artists are known as “tohunga ta moko,” which means “moko specialist.

These artists are highly respected in their communities and are also called “tapu” (sacred).

Most of them are men.

The story goes that when western culture came into contact with the Maori people, they were fascinated by their tattoos, and it is said that they went so far as to market their decapitated heads and exhibit them in museums.

In exchange for weapons, some of these Maori tribes beheaded rival tribes to offer the heads in exchange.

Beheading was a common practice in wars, and the heads of enemies were kept as trophies and symbols of power.

This age-old practice in Maori culture has been disappearing over the years, but it seems to be recovering as a token of pride representing Maori culture.

An interesting legend of the origin of Maori tattoos

It is said that the origin of the Maori tattoo occurred in an underground world called Uetonga where a young warrior named Mataora fell in love with Niwareka who was a very beautiful princess who lived in this underground world, so much so that Niwareka decided to rise to the surface to marry him.

Mataora did not know the art of tattoos, so he only painted on the skin his designs.

However, Mataora mistreated the princess and she decided to return to her subterranean world Uetonga. The warrior felt guilty and decided to go back to the world of Niwareka to find her and apologize to her and her family for the wrong he had done.

Finally he managed to be forgiven and decided to stay there for a while, but during his stay the drawings on Mataora’s skin were unpainted by the adversities of time, and became deformed, causing the people who saw them to make fun of him.

That’s why Niwareka’s father who was the king of Uetonga taught him the art of “ta moko” to tattoo permanently, and then when the husbands decided to go up into the world above, Mataora taught these skills to the Maori people.

How the first Maories tattoos were made

The process of tattooing in Maori was much more complicated and painful because they did not use needles as in conventional tattoos, but tattooed knives, chisels made with shark teeth and sharp stones.

The inks used were made with natural products. For example, black colors were obtained from burnt wood, and other softer colors were extracted from caterpillars infected by a type of fungus and also burnt kauri gum mixed with animal fat.

These pigments were stored in decorated containers called OKO, which were family treasures and were sometimes buried when they were no longer used.

The black pigment of burnt wood was mainly for facial tattoos, remember that the main part of the body to tattoo was the face. And the other colors were used for other areas of the body less respected.

But first you had to study the person and then decide which tohuga ta moko was right for them.

It is said that the whole process was very painful because first cuts were made in the skin through which the chisel submerged in pigment of the chosen color was introduced.

There was also another way of submerging the chisel directly into the pigment and then piercing the skin with it, striking the ends with a mallet.

Therefore, deep scars were frequent after each session.

People subjected to this tattoo ritual could not eat with their hands nor talk much with other people who were not being tattooed, shouting of pain was unthinkable because if he did it represented a sign of weakness.

The food was given through tubes in order to avoid possible contamination of the face, until it is completely cured.

I want you to watch this video showing the Maori tattoo technique.

What is the meaning of the Maories Tattoos?

These tattoos have as important a meaning as the traditional tattoo. Maori tattoos represented the rank and social status of people. For example, a person with a low social status could not wear a tattoo on his face.

Maori tattoos were also a kind of language in which the person who had them referred to their social position, achievements, ancestry, marital status, etc.

It was frowned upon not knowing how to interpret a person’s power and position through his moko.

In addition the facial tattoo was divided into 8 sections of the face

The area around the eyes and nose, called Uirere, was exclusive to determine rank in the tribe.

* The center of the forehead, called Ngakaipikirau, was for the general grade of the person.

The area below the eyebrows, called Ngunga, was for position.

The chin area, called Wairua, was for prestige.

The temple area, called Uma, established the current marital status or the number of women he had had.

The area below the nose, Raurau, designated the person’s signature, used in property purchases.

The cheeks, they were called Taiohou, was to mention the trade to which the person was dedicated.

The zone of the jaw reflected the birth of the person.

In addition, each person’s ancestry was specified on both sides of the face, with the left side for the father’s family and the right side for the mother’s family.

It was important to have a dignified ancestry as an indispensable requirement for the realization of the moko. If this ancestry by one of the parts did not have sufficient rank, that part of the face would be without tattoo, and if the person did not have any rank, the central part of the forehead would be without tattooing.

Design elements in Maori tattoos and their true meaning

As you can see there are several elements that are repeated in Maori designs, and this because of their meaning.

Design elements in Maori tattoos and their true meaning

As you can see there are several elements that are repeated in Maori designs, and this because of their meaning.

Here are some of the most common ones:

Koru (Spiral)

It means a new beginning, harmony and growth. Taken from the symbolism of a deployed fern leaf, as New Zealand has some of the most beautiful fern in the world.

Hei Matau:(Hook):

Its meaning is prosperity. It is said that there was an abundance of fish, which for the Maori the possession of a hook was a sign of prosperity. It also means a symbol related to strength, determination and good health.

Simple Torsion:

It means the way of life, and symbol of eternity.

Double or triple torsion:

It means the union of two people for all eternity. Although there are problems in the relationship and will be united for the rest of life.


It means sign of protection, as a spiritual guardian and bearer of supernatural powers. It is represented as a being with the head of a bird, the body of a man and the tail of a fish, and its function is to be protector of the sea sky, land.

Hei tiki:

It is known as a good luck charm, and also symbolizes fertility.  Tiki has always been considered that way since ancient times. The Maori think it represents a human embryo before birth.

The Sun:

It expresses leadership and success.

The Arrows:

Sign of strength, courage and wisdom of everyday life

The Shells:

It is related to material wealth.


They represent the union and love of families.


It is related to death and the afterlife.


The meaning depends on the type of animal and its qualities, so it represents, for example the turtle that represents peace and tranquility, whale tail, protection and strength, the lizard, means as image of the God who protects and the shark protection.

In their tattoos, they also use different patterns that have different meanings.          

– Hikuaua: Sign of prosperity.

– Unaunahi: Fish scales that means abundance and health

– Ahu Ahu Mataroa: Means talent and achievements in sports and represents new challenges.

– Pakati: or coat of dog skin, is the courage and strength and was widely used in wrestlers.

– Taratarekae: They are the teeth of whale, meaning strength and sensitivity.

Maori Tattoos in the West

Throughout the world, Maori designs did not go unnoticed, which is why they were incorporated among the favorite styles in the various tattoo studios.

The art of tattooing is still being done in Polynesia, and now in the West, more artists are still doing moko. Today you can get your tattoo done with traditional tools, if your degree of fanaticism is high, but it is normal to use modern tattoo guns to avoid pain.

In the West, Maori tattoos are called Kirituhi and only maintain with the original aesthetics in the design and although they are completely detached from the mystic and sacred part this does not cease to be a magnificent art.

Both the style and the symbology are maintained to this day.

Maories Tattoos for Men and Women

The traditional Maori tattoo is more common among men than women but is currently used for both.

Women generally like subtle and less loaded designs, men prefer tattoos with a more aggressive and loaded look, with more eye-catching designs and more encompassing skin.

Places on the skin to get a Maori tattoo

As we said the ideal place to realize was the face, in antiquity, the truth is that today and especially in the West are performed in another part of the body as the arm, and legs.

Due to the type of design of Maori tattoos, they are usually of medium and high size to be able to make a more detailed drawing.

For space themes, the preferred place for men to get this type of tattoo are the shoulders, arms and back, while women choose the area of the legs, which is also a place with plenty of space, but more discreet,

It is strange to tattoo your face and only people who practice it is considered an unusual practice.

There are all sizes and designs, all of which reflect what Maori culture means.

Maori Arm Tattoos

Tattooing the arm is one of the preferred fashions today, and just theMaori style, will always be a good alternative especially when these are placedon the forearm.

Maories shoulder tattoos

The shoulder is also one of the most common body sites for a Maori tattoo. It is an ideal area for making a true work of art. The more daring use this part of the body and arm to make a larger stroke, so the combination of shoulder and arm is excellent.

Maori Leg Tattoo

The leg is a good place to get a tattoo, perhaps less often than the arm, but it is still a good place to do a Maori tattoo. In addition to being a wide place where all art can be transmitted with good results.

Maories Back Tattoos

The back is the area with more space where you can make real works of art, are fewer people who have had a tattoo compared to the arms but here you can achieve better results. It’s just a matter of being creative.

Maories small or minimalist tattoos

Maori Tattoo Photos

Below is a gallery with many Maori designs that can inspire you or pickup ideas for your next tattoo.