Getting a traditional Polynesian tattoo might seem like an awesome idea, but anyone who has ever gone through the procedure could tell you that it may be one of the hardest things you ever attempt. It is extremely long, extremely painful, and not for the feint of heart!



The entire procedure for the traditional pe'a (fully covering the torso and upper legs) would take about three months to complete. Every day, the warrior would undergo as much work as he could stand before the pain became too great or until dusk descended. Sometimes it was necessary to take a few days off to let the extreme skin inflammation calm down. The healing process took up to a year, with extensive aftercare of salt water washes and skin massages being necessary to avoid infection. Simple actions like walking were difficult and required assistance by friends and family.



Avoiding or quitting the tattoo process had dire consequences. Those who could not endure the procedure would be shunned by society, considered a coward for life. Because of this, despite the extreme, long-lasting pain, there were few who shrank from the challenge of getting tattooed.





Robert Drake is a professional freelance writer, editor, copywriter and blogger. To learn more about this fascinating fellow, visit his website.





It wasn't, and still isn't easy becoming a Samoan tattoo artist. The practice of tattooing by hand is still practiced there, and has remained unchanged for the last 2,000 years. 



The tools of the trade are very much the same as they were all those many years ago. A comb of teeth made from bone, (normally of boars teeth), is attached to tortoiseshell fragments that is then attached to a wood handle to form what is called an au. Burnt candlenut combined with oil or water is used to make the ink, which is held and stored in coconut shell cups. The artist dips the comb in the ink, and then, with another wood stick or mallet, taps the comb to insert the ink into the skin. This tapping is said to be where the Samoan name for tattoo, tatau (to tap or to strike) comes from.   



The role of tattoo artist is usually passed down from father to son.  Long hours are spent by an apprenticed youth tapping patterns into the sand or into barkcloth before being allowed to work on a person. It is years of study and practice before a son is ready to become an artist in his own right. 




Robert Drake is a professional freelance writer, editor, copywriter and blogger. To learn more about this fascinating fellow, visit his website.

The practice of tattooing evolved over time throughout ancient Polynesia, but it was on the islands of Tonga and Samoa that it became the incredible art that it is today. Intricate geometrical patterns were created, embellished upon and expanded over the life of a Tongon or Samoan until extensive areas or even their entire bodies were covered!

Samoan warriors were tattooed from the waist to below the knee in a dizzying array of designs, while Tongon warriors had a similar appearance. In both cultures, warriors held a special status in society.

Chieftains were also extensively tattooed. As with Maori culture, tattoos were major status symbols, and one's wealth and status were easily revealed by how much ink they bore.  




Robert Drake is a professional freelance writer, editor, copywriter and blogger. To learn more about this fascinating fellow, visit his website.


The Maori are famous for their elaborate and striking Ta Moko tattoos, but they did not create these designs in their homeland of New Zealand. The Maori are believed to have migrated from the Polynesian islands as part of an epic journey that originated in China some 15,000 years ago.



Legend has it that they achieved this massive movement via rafts, and later sea-faring canoes, discovering small islands to land on, using them as stepping stones to help them advance, and steering with their knowledge of the winds and the stars.




One only has to look at the similarity of the tattoo designs and practices in the Polynesian islands and of the Maori to see that these were indeed the same people at one time, sharing a common ancestry.






Robert Drake is a professional freelance writer, editor, copywriter and blogger. To learn more about this fascinating fellow, visit his website.


Women were not as extensively tattooed as the men in Maori culture. There are some historical reports of women with full-face Ta Moko but such instances are rare.



Women would often have their lips tattooed so they were a deep blue color. The nostrils were also sometimes inked, but more common was the chin Moko. 




As with the men, Ta Moko for women communicated many things about their family, tribal affiliation, rank, and more. However, female tattoos were created more for the purpose of attracting male attention. Getting married was considered the ultimate goal for Maori girls, and so their tattoos served as advertisements for the men of the village, showing their lineage, their rank and status off to show potential suitors what they would gain through matrimony. The blue lips were considered a mark of ultimate female beauty in Maori society, another way they sought to attract the opposite sex. Without Ta Moko, a woman was undesirable as a mate, since a lack of tattoos meant she was of low social status, and marriage would bring no benefits for advancement and status in society.  


The placement of Ta Moko was highly significant. Maori tattoos said many things about the individuals bearing them. A person's family history, his status in society, his abilities as a leader or warrior were essentially written all over his face!



Because of the deep meanings behind Maori Ta Moko, as well as the ritual that goes along with it,  it is considered an insult even today for outsiders to create Maori-like tattoos. They are far more than a pretty design.



Here are some of the placement meanings for Ta Moko in the Maori tradition we discovered at the website New Zealand in History:

  1. Ngakaipikirau (rank). The center forehead area
  2. Ngunga (position). Around the brows
  3. Uirere (hapu rank). The eyes and nose area
  4. Uma (first or second marriage). The temples
  5. Raurau (signature). The area under the nose
  6. Taiohou (work). The cheek area
  7. Wairua (mana). The chin
  8. Taitoto (birth status). The jaw

A Maori with no markings on the left side, in most tribes, would indicate someone with no inherited rank on his father's side, and the same goes for the mother's side on the right. A Maori with no personal rank would have no markings on his own forehead.


Despite the excruciating pain of not only being inked but having deep grooves cut into their faces, so deep sometimes that the bone chisel went completely through the cheek, the Maori took great pride in not uttering a single sound while receiving Ta Moko.

Music and poetry would be performed for the benefit of the warrior receiving his tattoos in order to help him bear the pain. Leaves of the Karaka tree were applied to the open wounds after the artist completed his work in order to help them heal.

War was a common way of life for the Maori, and having the proper time for new Ta Moko to heal was a rare luxury. Many times, the call to battle would force warriors to go off and join the fray with their scars still fresh as they put their bodies at risk for much more pain and suffering. The Maori's tolerance for extreme physical discomfort and their ability to shrug off pain, not to mention their fearsome appearance helped them gain a reputation as a truly intimidating fighting force.  


Ta Moka, the Maori art of tattoo was traditionally a long and painful process. The head was considered the most sacred part of the human body, and great care was taken when facial Ta Moka was being created. Rituals and ceremonies surrounded the process and the "tohunga-ta-oko" (tattoo artists) were considered highly sacred as well.



Though possessing Ta Moka was a sign of status in Maori culture, the honor was hard earned. Beyond dealing with the blood and pain pain that came along with the process, those receiving Ta Moka had to go without things like sexual intimacy and solid foods. It wasn't easy to get nourishment during the time one was receiving Ta Moka, as the liquid diet he ate could easily spill into his wounds and become infected. To prevent this, a funnel was used to channel water and liquid sustenance into his mouth.


With the will and discipline needed to receive Ta Moka, it's no wonder the Maori take such pride in their tattoos!

After a long Olympic-inspired journey through ancient Greece and Rome, Tattoo Lou's is returning to New Zealand to pick up our investigation of Maori tribal tattoo practices:



Ta Moko, the Maori art of tattoo is created differently from most other types. Instead of a needle puncture, a traditional Maori tattoo is created by cutting deep grooves in the skin with a carved chisel made from Albatross bone. The word "Ta" means "to tap" or "to strike," which describes how the skin is cut. Sound painful? Apparently, it is.

After carving the pattern, ink is rubbed into the wound. For face Ta Moko, charcoal from burned wood is used, while body tattooing is done with a paste made from "vegetable caterpillars," which are actually created when caterpillars get infected by a particular fungus which kills and mummifies them. They were used for food by the Maori when fresh, and are said to taste like nuts. For ink, they would be dried and heated to turn them into charcoal, and mixed with muttonbird fat.





With the spread of Christianity through the Roman Empire, the practice of tattooing criminals and slaves slowly diminished.


In 325 AD, Emperor Constantine abolished the practice of tattooing the faces of gladiators and slaves of labor, though the inking of their bodies to indicate their indentured status remained. Constantine, who first made Christianity the official religion of the Empire, saw the human face as a reflection of the divine, and so should not be spoiled with stigmas.

Eventually, in 787 AD, Pope Hadrian I made all tattooing forbidden in the Christian world, and it wouldn't be until the 19th century that it would return, this time evolving into the art we know it as today, instead of a mark of shame and punishment.

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