The Maori Tattoo – The Most Important Symbols And Their Meaning

Editor   July 18, 2017   Comments Off on The Maori Tattoo – The Most Important Symbols And Their Meaning

The Maori tattoo or traditional as well Ta moko Is one of the most popular tattoos. Recently, such tattoos have been quite popular. Both men and women like this kind of tribal tattoos and often get stuck in different body parts. Nowadays, of course, the tattooing method differs significantly from the traditional ones used in Polynesia and New Zealand by the indigenous tribes. Nevertheless, we would like to take a few words about the ancient tradition of the Maori tattoos.

Which are the Maori at all?

Thus the indigenous people of New Zealand, which originally came from Polynesia, are called. No one can name exactly when the Maori first set foot on the coast of New Zealand. The fact is, however, that this people had an intact culture rich in unique customs and customs which were quite unknown and incomprehensible to Europeans. Such a ritual was tattooing. This has always been regarded as sacred by the Maori and has been perceived as a very special initiation.


The Maori were also a very fierce people, consisting of many tribes, who often waged war. Around the middle of the 18th century the life of the Maori has changed rapidly, through the settlement of New Zealand by the Europeans, who brought not only their rifles, but unfortunately also their diseases. Here Read more exciting facts about the history and the indigenous culture of Maori.

Maori women with facial tattoos

Traditional tattoo art

The only one who knew the secret of Maori tattoos was always that Tohunga ta moko, Which is as much as tattooing masters. He was one of the most distinguished and wise men of the tribe and had the exclusive right to tattoo the tribe members. Because the head in the Maori culture was considered the holiest part of the body, the warriors especially decorated their faces with tattoos.

Women, in contrast to the men, have rather tattooed only the chin and the lips. Traditionally, the Maori do not use needles as they do today. On the contrary, the instruments used by Tohunga ta moko Special knives and chisels were also used ( uhi ) called.

As a rule, these were made from albatros bones, shark teeth or stones. And with that the Maori tattoos were not engraved, but literally carved into the skin. The traditional tattoo ink was exclusively made from natural materials – wood ash, with a special fungus infected caterpillars or dammer resin, mixed with animal oils.

The tattooing started in childhood and this process lasted until old age. Through different symbols and signs, the most important events in the life of the tattooed person were narrated, as well as their status, prosperity and character.

A young Maori warrior with typical Ta Moko on his face

maori-tattoo-young-warrior-face tattoo

The main Maori tattoo motifs

Every single Maori tattoo is unique and very complicated. And although each tattoo has been adapted to the specific facial features of each person and their life history, there are already some symbols and characters that are very distinctive and typical for the Maori tattoo. Most of them are also often used to tattoos and are preferred by many people. These include, for example, geckos, tikis, enata signs, turtles, mollusks, mantaroches, shark teeth, waves, stars, and sun.

The so-called Marquesas Cross Is also traditionally very popular and shows the four world directions. This symbol also stands for balance and harmony, to give the tattooed stability and peace. Men can also be found today this symbol, especially as tribal upper arm tattoo also combined with further characters and elements.

Maori Tattoo – the Marquesas cross in the center

Maori tattoo upper arm men tattoo

The Tiki Is one of the most important and most frequently engraved signs even in modern times. Originally it represents the first human being and depending on the organs drawn – eyes, nose, mouth, etc. – the tattoo also has certain different meanings attributed.

A Tiki combined with stylized spearhead

Maori tattoo idea tribal motive men tattoo

The Gecko We know and love everyone. These cute lizards of New Zealand stand for happiness and protection from disease. In the Maori tradition it is assumed that geckos can speak with the gods and therefore also as holy beings. Single or as a part larger tattoos look geckos also in general very effective out and become fast to the hingucker.

Breast-shoulder tattoo with gecko symbol

Manta rays Are among the most popular maritime symbols in the Maori Tattoodesigns. Very often on the whole back engraved and decorated with numerous smaller motifs. Rays stand for strength and assertiveness. A brave warrior, for example, is justified in bearing such a sign.

Mantarochen as a back tattoo

Maori tattoos women tattoo tribal back

turtles Are considered the best navigators in the ocean in the entire Polynesian area and thus these creatures are perceived as a symbol of longevity, happiness and endurance.

Turtle tattoo combined with small shark teeth

Turtle motif upper arm tatto man

All other marine inhabitants are revered by the Maori tribes and perceived as vital. For example, dolphins For friendship, harmony and joy and squid symbolize high intelligence and inexhaustible knowledge.

The sun As in the European or other ancient cultures, for sublimity, power and wealth, and not infrequently for the divine.

Artistic sleeve tattoo for men

Men's maori tattoo shoulder arm

Discover more Maori Tattoo symbols in our picture gallery and learn more about their meaning. Think about which signs are more likely to be relevant to you and which ones you might want to have in the near future.

Which body parts are right for you? Perhaps your work or lifestyle does not really allow you to wear a tattoo on an open body? Or perhaps quite the opposite?

The editorial team wishes you lots of fun!

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Or even subtly on the shoulder

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