Why Maori Women Tattoo Their Chin And Lips In Black Colour?


The Maori are the indigenous Polynesian people of mainland New Zealand. They arrived in New Zealand roughly between 1320 and 1350. They developed their own distinctive culture, language, rituals, values and mythology. In Maori language the word “Maori” means ‘normal’, ‘natural’ and ‘ordinary’. According to the 2018 census, there were around 775,836 people in New Zealand alone who identified themselves as Maori, making up to 16.5% of the population. In addition to that, more than 140,000 Maori reside in Australia. There are more than 392,820 females who take pride to be a part of the Maori ethnic group. There are small communities that reside in the UK (8000 approx.), USA (3,500 approx.) and Canada (1000 approx) Maori are active in all aspects of society and culture in New Zealand including politics, media and sport.

File:New Zealand Maori Girls (1898).jpg
Wikimedia Commons/Edward Reeves

Maori women were quite well known for their intricate chin tattoos and black lips. They were not only desirable for their exquisite look but also because each tattoo had a different meaning that each woman represented. It is considered as a manifestation of their true identity. 

It was believed that every woman wears a moko (tattoo) on the inside which resides close to their heart; and when they are ready, the tattoo artist simply brings it out onto the surface. 

This moko process is quite personal. Tattoo artists prefer to draw straight onto the person, because it is an exchange of a superior energy. It sure pains a lot but people were and are willing to sustain it. Although it depends on the threshold the individual has for pain. This process is taken very seriously as it is working on the contours of the person’s body and translating their story. 

These incredible tattoos tell the background and stories of the wearer. Moko is a visual language that connects the wearer to their ancestors and stories. It is said that there is an internal calling from deep inside which signals you to have a moko. These tattoos are drawn on the face as the face is believed to be the most sacred part of the body. And to wear the moko on your face is to bear an undeniable declaration of who you really are. It also represents the wearer’s family heritage and their social status. It is noted as a rite of passage which marks the passage between girl and adulthood.

Every woman has their variations about how the moko makes them feel. For one, it might be confidence, whereas for others it might be empowerment. It is seen as a commitment to yourself and to your ancestors. These tattoos symbolize that the women have lived full lives with various patterns denoting different milestones including graduating, marriage, childhood, and even commemorating the death of loved ones. These tattoos have a very deep rooted meaning for women. They respect and look after their heritage with great pride and honor. It is the matter of integrity, identity and prestige. This process is considered highly ritual for women and men alike. 

During the process of tattooing they tried their hardest not to cry out in pain as during those days, the moko was made by using equipment such as swords and other sharp objects. Showing any sign of pain was considered as weakness and the Maori tribe took pride in being the bravest. Having a high threshold for pain meant that they were very much respected within their community.

The tattooing was always accompanied by music, singing and chanting to help soothe the pain. The black pigment was made out of burnt wood which was solely used for facial tattoos.

In this world where every new object or piece of information becomes old news in a matter of days, it is astonishing yet satisfying to see that such ethnic groups have managed to firmly hold their ground in a fast paced world. By tattooing their faces, the women are not only leaving a mark in their minds about their heritage, but also their forthcoming generation who might then carry forward this enriched and soulful process of moko. By keeping tight bonds with the people of same ethnic groups, they have proved that pride and relevance runs in their blood and that along with having a high threshold for pain, they also are positively sensitive towards their culture.

Fun fact, not a single tattoo that the Maori have drawn is similar. Each tattoo represents a different aspect of life. They are each designed in an intricate manner to fill the purpose of personalised involvement in their holy process. Each tattoo has a different tale to share. Each woman has a different memoir to convey. This magnificent and delicate growth that is covered by a pattern of different tattoos knows no bounds when it comes to showing the true essence of beauty.

Also check out, How Much Do You Know About Asian Halloween Tradition?


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