Maori tattoo
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Maori tattoo:
sketches with a long history
and deep meaning

A Maori or moko tattoo looks impressive and can tell a lot about its owner.

These tattoos resemble rough contour ornaments where each element has a deep symbolic meaning. So, what do the Maori sketches hide? In this article, we will consider the variety, meanings and peculiarities of Maori tattoo designs.

Maori tattoo
Maori tattoo
Maori tattoo

Short historical excursion
into Maori tattoo

The Indigenous people of New Zealand are known as Maori, and they are famous for their tattoo culture called moko.

Note that these body illustrations completely differ from the tattoos you used to see before.

Maori tattoo peculiarities:

  • Maori tattoo technique: The process of getting a moko tattoo was cruel and painful. The tattoo elements were literally scratched on the skin, which resulted in blooding, wounds, and even inflammations. However, Maori treated the process of getting a tattoo as a sacral and the day as inmost.
  • Instruments and materials used for Maori tattoos: As you may guess, Maori didn’t use needles. The tattoo artists applied various chisels, also called the uhi made from sharp and plain stones, bird bones or shark tees. The sharp tools were used for making deep cuts onto the skin, and the plain ones for applying the colour. The inks for Maori tattoos were made from such natural products as burnt wood, bugs, and burnt gum. The tattoo material was rolled into balls, wrapped in rat skins, and buried in the ground to prevent it from drying out and fading.
  • Traditional Maori tattoo location: Since Maori view the face as the most sacral part of the body, it was the main location for moko tattoos. Men used to get full face tattoos, while women usually had only lips or chin tattooed. What’s more, in some tribes, female moko tattoos could be done on the chest, waist, lower abdomen, and thighs.


Maori tattoo
Maori tattoo

What do we know about
Maori tattoos' meaning?

Maori tattoos were done as an indicator of social status.

Only people of “upper layers” could afford facial illustrations. Interestingly, Maori tattoo artists were untouchable and highly respected in society. Newbie tattoo artists practised on people who couldn’t afford professional specialists, since it was believed that imperfect moko is better than no moko at all.

Today, people all around the world can get a Maori tattoo and create a unique sketch with a special meaning. Many experts say that it is impossible to find two identical Maori tattoo designs because of the elements' variety. So, let’s consider the most popular ones below.

  • Koru – this symbol resembles a spiral and denotes personal growth and evolution. The element is frequently done to mark a new milestone or important life period;
  • The sun – symbolises a source of energy and is usually viewed as a reminder of life and death balance;
  • Slope: the element protects a tattoo owner from negative experiences and brings good luck;
  • A turtle – this cute animal is associated with strong health and longevity. A Maori tattoo with a turtle helps its owner to accumulate energy and spend it wisely;
  • Twists – it is a symbol of eternity and a life path that looks like the number eight. This figure may have several twists that usually mean especially close relations of the tattoo owner with other people;
  • A fish hook – Maori love fish and associate this tool for fishing with prosperity and well-being.


Maori tattoo
Maori tattoo
Maori tattoo

The best locations for
Maori tattoos in 2024

Though Maori mainly had facial tattoos, now you do not necessarily need to follow this rule.

The tattoo location usually depends on the sketch style and size. And since Maori tattoo designs are created individually for each person, you can experiment with sketch placement and appearance.

Among the best Maori tattoo locations to consider are the following:

  • Maori tattoo on arms: Since moko look massive and usually include repetitive elements, they are frequently done on hands. You can place the Maori tattoo design on the forearm or get tattoo sleeves, which is very trendy nowadays;
  • Back or shoulder Maori tattoo: Maori associated tattoos on the back with their past. Therefore, for such tattoos, they used elements denoting their origin, ancestors, craft etc. However, you can create any sketch you want, since Maori tattoos stretching from the shoulders to the blades look very impressive;
  • Chest Maori tattoo: Contrary to back sketches, in Maori culture, tattoos on the front side of the body define the future of the person. For that reason, it is a good idea to create a chest Maori tattoo design using the elements that denote health, prosperity, and love;
  • Leg Maori tattoo designs: This location will be a perfect option for those who want to become more confident, determined, and emotionally stable since tattoos on the lower body strengthen the connection with the Earth.


Maori tattoo
Maori tattoo
Maori tattoo:
do or not to do

Maori tattoo designs look interesting and even mysterious.

Such body illustrations have deep sacral meanings that may not be obvious to other people. And that is what makes moko special!

Maori tattoos will be a good option for men and women due to the variety of sketch elements. Maori associated the left side of the body with female energy and the right with male vibes. However, your tattoo – your rules. So, listen to your heart and make up the Maori tattoo design of your dreams!

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