The traditional Maori tattoo is not created with the use of needles; rather the Maori used chisels and knives made from sharpened stones, shark teeth or sharpened bone. The chisel, is called the Uhi and was made from albatross bone although some were said to be made of iron. The chisels and knives were either serrated or smooth, and were interchanged during the application process to create the intended pattern or design in the skin.
All natural products were used by the Maori to create the inks. Charcoal was used for black pigments; other pigments were created from crushed caterpillars (that were infected with a certain type of fungus), or from burnt kauri resin rendered with animal fat.
These pigments were stored in ornamental containers which became family heirlooms. These ornamental containers were called Oko and they were often buried to store them.
Black pigments were traditionally reserved exclusively for facial tattoos, while pigment made from bugs or burnt resin was used for outlines and other less sacred tattoos. Before the beginning, the Tattoo Artist) traditionally called a Tohunga) would create the tattoo design in accordance with the persons face structure. Every Maori tattoo is unique.
Receiving the Maori tattoo is a sacred experience. For those involved in the process, eating with with their hands or talking to anyone apart from others being tattooed, were forbidden. Crying out in pain was considered to be a sign of weakness and the ability to withstand the pain was very important in terms of pride for Maori people.
Some other regulations that govern the experience of being tattooed, (in particular, while undergoing a facial piece) include abstaining from sexual intimacy while undergoing the rite, and to avoid consuming solid foods. To meet these requirements, the person was fed with a funnel carved from wood to prevent contamination from food infecting the freshly tattooed skin. A person would continue to be fed like this until the facial wounds had healed completely.
To assist the healing process of the tattoo, a balm which was made from the leaves of the Karaka tree was applied after the session. Music, singing and chanting was often performed during the tattooing process to help soothe the pain.
The face was generally considered the focal point of Maori tattooing . Women had their chin, lips and nostrils tattooed while men had full facial tattoos. It was also common for some Maori to have other parts of their body tattooed, such as the buttocks, legs and back. Women were often known to tattoo their arms, neck and thighs.
Only people of rank or status were permitted to have (and could afford to obtain) tattoos. Someone without any high-ranking social status (such as a slave), was not able to have a face tattoo. Those who had the resources to receive a tattoo but chose not to were seen as people of lower social status.
This look was really special. It came together just as I had hoped.
My model call advised that the design would be created specifically for the model and the model would receive some nice shots. I was hoping it would be answered by someone special.
It took a while for the stars to align but in perfect time (as always), the universe hooked me up with the beautiful Tylah.
Tylah is a young Maori woman who is has just come of age ~ when traditionally a Maori woman of status would receive her Moko s a rite of passage. In consultation with Tylah’s mother, I ascertained that the Ocean and Family had very strong ties to Tylah and these ties should be represented in her tattoo. During my research I found several symbols for the Ocean as many Polynesian tattoos contained Ocean symbolism, however, I found it a little challenging to determine an authentic symbol for Family.
As I collected my inspirational images to create this look I came across a tattoo that inspired the symbolism of “family” which is what I based my design on. I sent an image of my design to my model to check that it was suitable to which she replied that it was perfect.
When my model arrived she saw my mood board and pointed to the very image that inspired my design. Tyler (my model) told me that the woman was her relative ~ I felt that was very special.
This entire look seemed to be driven by the Gods as everything worked beautifully and I felt blessed to be the instrument providing such a special experience to such a beautiful young lady.
Author / Hair and Makeup Artist ~ Dana Harris
Model ~ Tylah Bell