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Contemporary attitudes to traditional facial ta moko: A working paper

Until it came under serious attack from nineteenth century missionaries, ta moko was an integral part of traditional Maori society. Facial moko conveyed important information about identity, whakapapa and status. The process of receiving a moko was tapu and highly regulated. Recent years have seen an increase in the number of Maori receiving ta moko. Moko have been seen as a symbol of Maori pride and identity and have often been associated with political activism. This study set out to investigate the contemporary meaning of ta moko, the reactions wearers encounter from others and the ways wearers cope with those reactions. Three case studies are presented. These show that the issues of personal identity and whakapapa were central to the meaning wearers attached to their moko. Receiving a moko was often associated with significant personal changes and an increased political commitment to Maori self determination. On the whole, positive reactions were more common than negative reactions but wearers did find themselves subjected to racist and antagonistic responses. Wearing moko was also reported to mean that others, particularly other Maori, placed certain expectations on the wearer, notably to be fluent in te reo and to be able to exercise leadership. Participants considered that there was a need for education about the significance of ta moko and recommended that those contemplating receiving a moko ensure that they are reasonably fluent in te reo.
Conference Contribution
Type of thesis
Rua, M. (1999). Contemporary attitudes to traditional facial ta moko: A working paper. In Robertson, N. (Ed). Māori and psychology: Research and practice. Proceedings of a symposium sponsored by the Māori & Psychology Research Unit, Department of Psychology, University of Waikato, Hamilton, Thursday 26th August 1999 (pp.27-32). Hamilton, New Zealand: Māori and Psychology Research Unit, University of Waikato.
Maori and Psychology Research Unit, University of Waikato