Tattoo – A friend in death?

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The Rise of the Maori Tribal Tattoo

By Ngahuia Te Awekotuku
University of Waikato, New Zealand

Body adornment – swirling curves of black on shoulders, thighs, lower back, arms, upper feet, rear calves – has become an opportunity for storytelling as well. Some symbols represent children born, targets reached, places visited, and increasingly, memories of special people who have passed away.

In August 2006, Te Arikinui Dame te Atairangikaahu, affectionately known as the Maori Queen, died after a long illness.

Her people were devastated. Many wanted to commemorate her in a special way, and 16 women chose to memorialise her by taking a traditional facial tattoo. I was humbled to be one of them. There are now more than 50 of us, mostly older and involved in the ceremonial life of our people. It is a fitting memento mori.

But moko, most of all, is about life. It is about beauty and glamour, and its appearance on the bodies of musicians such as Robbie Williams and Ben Harper is not unusual. Although it is often contentious, raising issues of cultural appropriation, and ignorant use of traditional art as fashion.
However we must also acknowledge that Maori artists are sharing this art – they are marking the foreign bodies.

The important reality remains – it is ours. It is about beauty, and desire, about identity and belonging. It is about us, the Maori people.

As one venerable elder stated, more than a century ago, “Taia o moko, hei hoa matenga mou” (Inscribe yourself, so you have a friend in death).

Because it is forever.

Read the whole article published on the BBC website September 21st 2012  here

Posted by Evelyn


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