maori tattoo designs

17 Maori Tattoo Designs – ta moko

Maori tattoos are called Ta moko in their maori language and refer to the method of tattooing within the Maori tribes (iwi).

Maori are indigenous Polynesian living on the mainland of New Zealand or Aotearoa (as the Maori name). They are settlers who originated in East Polynesia. 

It is a fundamental part of the Māori culture to have a body art called Moko tattoos. Maori consider the upper part to be the most sacred part of the body, which often covers the entire face (full facial tattoos or facial moko). As it is an indication and important signifier of status and rank.

Our Custom Maori Tattoo

1. Shoulder Maori Tattoo

maori tattoo delt

This concept is inspired by the Maori mythological creature, Te Manaia. It could be characterized by any image which has a significant connection to the wearer. It is believed that this image was the messenger between the realm of death and the living world. People wore this symbol for protection as it embodies a spiritual guardian and a carrier of supernatural powers. 

Also, present in this design is one of the most common tattoo designs, the Pakati which symbolizes bravery and strength.

2. Bull Manawa Ta Moko

maori tattoo ribs

A combination of Koru and Manaia completes the motive of this tattoo design. The art form of a bull is the focal point or the heart (Manawa) of this concept. It embodies power, leadership, confidence, toughness, and fearlessness which is true enough for the wearer because having this huge design in a sensitive place is not easy. 

And the Koru which is taken from the symbolism of an unfurled fern denotes new beginnings, growth, and harmony. 

3. Spinal Maori Turtle Tattoo

back maori tattoo desings

The turtle has a significant maori symbolism and has been associated with several meanings. The first is the fact that turtles signify health, fertility, longevity in life, foundation, peace, and rest. 

The design represents other definitions that encompass things such as binding together families and denoting the idea of unity.

4. Left Shoulder Maori

benson gascon maori tattoo

The upper arms above the elbow are associated with strength and bravery and they link to people such as warriors and leaders. A lot of Polynesian tattoos have allowed a little bit of creative freedom depending on the wearer’s perspective. 

Bolder and strong black ink with a mixture of Pakati & Taratarekae (inspired by whale teeth) makes this tattoo pleasing to the eye.

5. Forearm Tattoo Maori

maori tattoo forearm

This placement of the body is associated with creativity and creation and the motif somehow portrays Taratarekae but in a larger and more precise bold image. 

It symbolizes protection, guidance, strength, ferocity as well as adaptability in many cultures. 

6. Toki (Adze) Tattoo

maori tattoo shoulder

Modeled in this tattoo concept is the Toki (adze) used to chip and shave wood and stone and sometimes used as a weapon. It is also often hand crafted to make an amulet made of bone or greenstone which is traditionally worn by Maori elders. 

It carries a deep symbolism associated with mana (supernatural force), reverence, power, wisdom, and authority.

7. Right Shoulder Maori

maori tattoo designs

In Maori culture, tattooing has more than meets the eye. The Maori symbols indicate the person’s life journey including past achievements and failures. 

The style tends to be heavier on the shading of the outer line giving emphasis to each design’s partition and making it more of a statement piece. 

8. Polynesian Tattoo Armband

maori tattoo line

The simplicity of this design could have hidden a deeper meaning connected to them, but modern armband tattoos are typically chosen for their aesthetic appeal.

The most common ideals illustrated by this tribal armband tattoo are strength, family, love, and wisdom. 

9. Full-arm Maori

maori tattoo turtle

Another motif where a focal point of this full-arm tattoo is the Turtle and its place at the points where different bones meet (joint), 

This often denotes union and contact. 

A collection of basic strokes that made a beautiful and seriously cool art associated with several meanings is indeed a masterpiece.

10. Abstract Full-arm Maori

forearm maori tattoo

Similar to the above design, this concept also shows a collection of common Polynesian symbols; the spearhead, the complex version of shark teeth, the simplified image of the ocean, and many more that describe or illustrate the personality and characteristics of the wearer. 

The versatility of this design favors the wearers as they could customize their own concept.

11. Chest and Arm sleeve Polynesian

maori tattoo men design

The ability to tell the story or heritage of a person as part of the Maori tribes through the markings of the skin is incredibly amazing and something that could spark your curiosity into understanding its culture. 

Almost all of the symbols are traditional but due to the evolution of art in tattooing, many have already incorporated modernized patterns into the motif. This distinct style of tattoo that covers the chest and arm has been a mainstream moko for men as it showcases masculinity regardless of the representation of the motif.

12. Upper arm Maori for women

maori tattoo woman

A tattoo on the shoulder looks sensuous and can be flaunted with strapless clothing. The intricate details featured in this tattoo are absolutely beautiful.  

Conveyed the story of the four corners of the earth and the spirits of the four wind is the design of nga hau e wha placed on the lower part though it’s not the focal point still it is visible. Perfectly embellished the complete motif is the hei matau known as the fish hook which represents prosperity.

13. Simple Arm Maori Tattoo

maori full arm design

Though it is almost a full arm tattoo, this motif has the simplest design only adorned by unfurled fern leaf and a band of bold black ink. 

A distinct Maori style enables the wearer to create a concept of her own, the reason there are no two designs that are look-alike as each individual could set their own personal preferences.

14. Lower-leg Maori Tattoo

maori design leg woman

Meanings are not only likened to symbols but also to the placement of the tattoo. This leg tattoo often conveys the significant meaning of moving forward, transformation, and progress.

But nevertheless, it should not hinder the wearer from placing a tattoo on any part of the body what is more important is it should be relevant and personal.

15. Forearm Tattoo

maori tattoo design bgs studio

Initially, Ta moko has worn by people to portray their social status and rank. But, as time evolves and new generations have been born they soon started to adapt and be used to reflect the identity of a person.

This motif features a clean symmetrical design that covers the entire forearm with the intricate koru symbols. 

16.  Small Tiki Tattoo

maori tongue out design

This human-like figure with large eyes and a tilted head was named the hei tiki, a talisman to the Maori people that depicts a strong fertility symbol believed to give the wearer clarity of thought and great inner knowledge. 

The most valuable tiki item was carved from greenstone and was passed down through generations as treasured possessions (taonga) believe to be a good luck charm.

17.  Unique Full- arm Tattoo

maori arm design beach

From the look afar, you would surely perceive an image out of this tattoo motif. This style is based on a legend about Maui, the youngest out of 5 brothers. When Maui’s mother gave birth to him she thought he was stillborn, she cut off her bun wrapped him in it, and threw him into the ocean. He was washed up on the shore and was found by a tohunga (an expert practitioner of any skill/art) who brought him up and taught him many important things like how to live off the resources of the land and the ability to transform into birds.

Maui learned many techniques very quickly and became an expert at everything he learned. It somehow conveys resilience, to be able to withstand any circumstances that may come in your life. 

Additional Information:

Maori Tattoo Methods and Instruments Used

Traditional Maori tattoos were made using different and much more painful techniques than those used today. Instead of using needles, they used both smooth serrated chisels (uhi) and blades, depending on the pattern and design. 

The skin punctures and cuts were colored with various inks made from natural materials. The black pigment was obtained from burnt wood, while lighter pigments were derived from burnt kauri gum mixed with animal fat. The pigments were then stored in ornamental containers known as oko, which became family heirlooms (taonga) and were often buried when not in use.

This process was so painful that it was often done in stages, allowing the skin to heal between sessions. Maori tattooing leaves grooves on the surface of the skin where the cut has healed. Instead of a smooth surface like modern tattoos, the skin is textured and colored according to the pattern.

Moko and Kirituhi

A traditional ta moko demands a process of authorization, historical knowledge, and genealogic evidence as it is reserved only for Maori people as Moko is uniquely Māori and it is strictly reserved to be done by tohunga ta moko (Maori tattoo artist) purely for Maori people. 

Meanwhile, Kirituhi tattoo that is made by a non maori tattoo artist or made for non-maori people that does not carry direct cultural meanings are generally seen as acceptable without the need for genealogic affiliation with the culture. Kiri means skin and tuhi means to draw, to write.

Generally speaking, Kirituhi and Moko are both amazing artwork. However, it is a vital aspect that we should know the differences between these two and must acknowledge and give respect to avoid cultural appropriation so that the integrity of the tā moko today will remain and be maintained around the world.

Nowadays, the resurgence of the cultural heritage of the Maori is celebrated as many maori were able to preserve the custom. Turumakina Duley, one of the famous moko artists is proudly wearing moko on his face. His been practicing the art of Ta moko over the years and could now create a one of a kind freehand moko designs that hold personal meanings. 

Final Words

The Ta moko is indeed a captivating tattoo style, no wonder a lot of people are into it. The intricacy, the meaning that lies in every pattern that could tell a story, and the overall uniqueness of each design are just breathtaking. 

So, if you are also fascinated and intrigued with the Maori tattoo- style or called the Kirituhi tattoo, Benson Gascon Tattoo Studios could create and customize a motif for you. 

Here at Benson Gascon Studio, we customize your tattoo from Fineline, Geometric, Mandala, and more.


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