Tattoos, ta moko and traditions

I’m going slightly of my usual themes in this post – no scones or cats – but still kind of about NZ.

Yesterday when I was browsing through Facebook, I came across a photograph and story in my newsfeed from one of my friends about her new tattoo.  She, her sister and mother, had just all had matching tattoos.  The three of them now live in three different countries, and they decided to have this tattoo as a symbol to show that they will always be family, no matter where they live.  The design chosen was of a cherry tree that had been in the back yard of the sisters’ home when they were growing up.


Now, I know some people don’t like tattoos.  I don’t have one myself but members of my family do. While there are some that are pretty ugly or tasteless (such as the one on the back of someone’s neck who I sat behind on a plane once, which read ‘Made in Denmark’), many can be quite striking in their simplicity or beauty, and most often reflect the character of the person.

The history of tattooing itself, of course, goes back thousands of years. Tattoos are an important part of cultural life in many societies, including of course for the Māori here in New Zealand. Interestingly, the word ‘tattoo’ as we use it in English is derived from the Tahitian word ‘tatu’.  If I remember correctly from a radio programme I heard a while back, tattoos disappeared in European society for a period in history, and that the tradition was revived once seafarers came back from voyages in the Pacific, hence our use of the Tahitian word.

Moko, traditional Māori tattooing, is actually different from what we know as tattooing. Where as a tattoo is applied with ink and needles, moko involves scarring and marking the skin.  The symbols used have a meaning, and quite often a tribal link that tells the story and background of the wearer.  Picture source here.


The cherry tree tattoos I mentioned at the beginning of this blog, represent to their wearers, their family and their heritage.  They have a strong meaning and attachment in just the same way as moko and other tattoos.  It was lovely to see the old transformed into the new in this way.

You can read more about ta moko here and here.







Interested in more?



  1. That is a series of beautiful tattoos! I love reading about tattoos that have such meaning for their wearers. I have to admit that I’ve been debating about getting a tattoo for years now. The debate isn’t about yay or nay, but about what to get. I simply can’t find an image that is unique enough and meaningful enough to settle on it. Thanks for sharing the great triptych here.

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