04 / Moko

The widespread practice of tattooing by the peoples of the Pacific astonished early European visitors. The moko, or Māori tattoo, was applied with a chisel and used pigment made mostly from the soot of burnt wood, often mixed with kauri gum. In 1769 Sydney Parkinson, official artist on James Cook’s Endeavour, drew a portrait of a ‘New Zealander’ with a full moko – one of the earliest drawings of a Māori. Cook himself recorded this description: ‘The marks in general are spirals drawn with great nicety and even elegance. One side corresponds with the other. The marks on the body resemble foliage in old chased ornaments, convolutions of filigree work, but in these they have such a luxury of forms that of a hundred which at first appeared exactly the same no two were formed alike on close examination.’ In pre-European Māori culture, moko signalled status and rank as well as serving to attract the opposite sex. Men generally received moko on their faces, buttocks and thighs; women, on their lips and chins.

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