Ta Moko are traditional Maori tattoos, worn by both men and women. They have deep cultural and emotional importance, as they let you show your mana and whakapapa (roughly, your prestige and heritage), connect people to their history and identity, and are works of art and beauty. A really good bit of reporting on the revival and reclamation of ta moko:

The History of Aotearoa New Zealand podcast has an really in-depth four-part episode on Ta Moko, starting with “The Maori Quill” – how tattoos were originally chiselled before steel needles were introduced, the cultural significance, and Europeans’ reactions to ta moko. The colonial government forced Maori tattooing to stop, but it never truly died out, and has seen a huge revival in recent years.

Here’s also an excellent short video on the emotional journey and healing that comes from ta moko, focusing on moko kauae – women’s chin tattoos.

As part of the revitalization and reclamation of Maori culture, there are now a lot of high-profile people with ta moko. This includes politicians, like the current Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nanaia Mahuta, and the co-leaders of the Maori Party, Rawiri Waititi and Debbie Ngarewa-Packer. Just last month, Oriini Kaipara became the first newsanchor with ta moko to present primetime news:

An unfortunate quirk of history also means that many historical moko have been lost – when early photography first arrived in Aotearoa, the wet plate method of the 1850s rendered the tattoos invisible. A few years ago, a really fascinating exhibit came out where Maori leaders sat for portraits with both modern cameras and historical wet plate ones. The contrast runs deeper than just a tech problem, it makes an excellent metaphor for the erasure and revival of ta moko and Maori culture.

You can see more at the website for Puaki or at My Modern Met’s article “Portraits of People Whose Traditional Māori Tattoos Disappear in Wet Plate Photos“.

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