Maori Tribal Tattoo Designs


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Tribal Tattoo Designs

The Maori are considered as an indigenous people, that have originated in New Zealand. They are also known to have a form of body art or tribal tattoo design, known as moko, but more commonly referred to as the Maori tattooing. This art form was brought to the Maori from the land of Polynesia and is also considered to be highly sacred.

Since, Maori people consider the head to be one of the most sacred part in human body, so the most popular on the kind of Maori tattoo was the facial tattoo, that was composed of all the curve shapes as well as spiral like patterns. Often this tattoo cover the whole face and is also an important symbol of rank, social status, power as well as prestige.

For Maori tribe, tattooing was considered as a rite of passage, which also mean that it was highly revered as well as ritualised. The tattooing would also begin usually during the time of adolescence.

One of the great thing about the Maori tattoos is that to this day, none of the two tattoos look alike. All Maori tattoos are one of its kind. They are highly intricate as well as detailed and also display the craftsmanship and the artistry of not only the artist but also of the Maori culture.

In the Maori tribe, the tattoo artist is known as the ‘tohunga ta moko’ which basically means moko specialist. The tattooists are respected, and is considered a ‘tapu’ which means inviolable or even holy. ‘Tohunga ta moko’ were to be mostly men, but there are some women who took up the family practice.

Tribal Tattoo Designs

Maori Tattoo Designs And Meanings

The design of ‘Te Ora O Maui’

The design of ‘Te Ora O Maui’This myth or legend that surrounds the idea of Maui was about the last child who is born after five boys. When he was born, the mother thinks that he was a stillborn so she then cut off her topknot, or the bun, wrap him in it and then threw him out to the sea.

Maui then eventually washed up to the shore and was then found by a tohanga who then brought Maui up and taught him many types of important things like on how to live off the resources from the land as well as the transformation into a bird.

Maui do learn many techniques quite very quickly and also became an expert at whatever he learned, particularly into the art of navigation. Maui also achieved many great accomplishments during his lifetime such as from the slowing down of Tama Nuitera as well as giving the world longer days, obtaining the fire from Mahuika or the God of Fire and also securing immortality for the man kind from the maiden of the great darkness, Hine Nuitepo.

This design represents the Maui fishing up or even discovering Aotearoa, the Maori name for New Zealand.

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The design of ‘Pikorua’

The design of ‘Pikorua’The term ‘pikorua’ in Maori is basically mean growth and the joining together of the two different things e.g. the earth as well as the sea.

Maori people believe that they came from Mother Earth and that one day they will go back to her, as so does the tattoo design depicts all the rivers that eventually lead to the ocean.

So it is also believed that in life, we take different paths and there are also many different types of bends that we all do end up into the same place. This tattoo is the representation of life and its journey.

The design of ‘Nga Hau E Wha’

The design of ‘Nga Hau E Wha’This tattoo is the basic representation of all the four corners of the earth, that is, ‘nga hau e wha’ – the four winds.

Tawhirimatea’ and ‘Tangaroa’ are known to be the two Maori gods that have the power to destroy anything in the path as they have done in so many occasions. It is about respecting what God has given to us, regardless how big or even small you are.

‘Aotearoa’, is known to be the place for every body of all the races as well as creeds. ‘Tamanuitera’ also represents new growth as well as warmth and ‘Hei Matua’ is about the strength as well as prosperity in whatever you desire to do and ‘koru’ is about the continuation of all of these things.

The design of ‘Te Timatanga’

The design of ‘Te Timatanga’According to Maori tribe, in the beginning there was Rangi and Papa and they had many children. As when the children’s started to grow old they needed more room to move.

One day, Tumatauenga then decided that he want his parents to part, this can allow them to have the light and also they can move around freely. All the Gods as well as the brothers tried to part with the parents, exception of Ruaumoko who was then a baby in his mothers womb together with Tawhirimatea, who also opposed the idea. Firstly, Tumatauenga tried and he failed and then finally came Tanemahuta who was successful.

Tawhirimatea, who opposed the idea went on to live with his father and he also periodically punishes his brothers with the storm. In addition, there is Ruamoko who still live with his mother and also from time to time punishes Tana with the earthquakes.

Despite this very little amount of information that we have onto the origins of Maori tattoo, it has a very rich recorded history. Many books have been published on this subject of Maori tattoos from the first time European’s saw it. The major lack of definite origins also seem to add a more mystique to this captivating form of early art. Perhaps it is this mystery which has also made the Maori tattoo to endure.

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Common Maori designs

Koru (spiral):

Koru (spiral)The koru helps in depicting the new beginning, growth as well as harmony, which is taken from the symbol of an unfurled fern leaf. New Zealand is considered to have some of the most beautiful ferns in this world.

Hei matau (fish hook):

Hei matau (fish hook)In Maori the meaning of hei matau, is most commonly known as fish hook that symbolises prosperity. Maori people use fish in many of the traditional food dishes. Fish are so plentiful to the Maori’s that in the simple ownership of the fish hook means prosperity. The fish hook also represent the strength, determination as well as good health, that provides safe journey over the water.


ManaiaThe Manaia is also known as the spiritual guardian, or the carrier of the supernatural powers. Traditionally it is being depicted as a bird like figure with its head as a bird, and body of a man as well as a tail of the fish. It act as a provider as well as protector over the sky, earth and the sea. Just like a bird that is sitting on the shoulder, looking after the spirit, as well as guiding the spirit where it is also supposed to go whenever the time comes.

Hei tiki:

Hei tikiIt is most commonly known as the good luck charm or the tiki and is also considered to be the symbol of fertility. It is assumed to be of clear thinking, loyal, perceptive as well as knowledgeable, the strength of the wearers is its character. The tiki is known to be a talisman to the Maori people, and also has been regarded as a good luck charm from the ancient times. The Maori also believe that the tiki represent the unborn human embryo. The most valuable tiki’s are carved from the greenstone and were also handed down through the generations as a treasured possessions.

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Example of Maori tattoo on women:

Female back tattoo

Female back tattooBack piece

Back piece