Maori tattoos about culture

18:30, Dec 03 2012
Left: Daniel Skipper gets some salt water on his ta moko in Waikawa Bay, one of the homes of one of Te Atiawa’s kaitiaki, the stingray

People need to understand traditional Maori tattooing is about being proud of your heritage, not glorifying gangs, ta moko artist Jackson Skipper says.

From Invercargill, Mr Skipper travels the country designing and drawing ta moko. He tattooed his cousin, Daniel Skipper, in a tent on family land in Waikawa on November 26.

"It's not a gang thing, it's not a scary thing. It's about walking around and being friendly with it," he said.

"It's about being proud of your heritage. Each ta moko is a treasure."

The cousins are descendants of early Te Atiawa iwi members Perere Skipper and Mere Keenan and are related to Mr Skipper's sons John, Wiari and Basco, who have strong ties to Waikawa.

People's perceptions of the intricate tribal tattoos tended to change once they understood the personal cultural and historical significance behind them.


Mr Skipper has created hundreds of designs over the past few years, each reflected each person's iwi, their connection to the land and their whanau.

His body is almost covered with the swirling patterns, one of the most painful a scalp design done by international ta moko tattoo artist Rangi Kipa.

Mr Kipa, who has lectured Maori visual arts at Massey University and at Brigham Young University in Utah, United States, is probably better known for creating a design used on Jockey underwear modelled by All Black Dan Carter.

A photograph of Mr Skipper's grandfather, John Skipper, who used to live on the land where the makeshift studio sits, hangs in the tent behind him as he warms up the needle gun.

He sterilises his cousin's back, pens on a design and removes a clean needle from its packet.

The back piece will take about four hours to complete and will incorporate links to the family's iwi, Te Atiawa, within the shape of one of its kaitiaki, guardians, a stingray based on one of the hundreds that live in Queen Charlotte Sound.

Traditionally, the skin was ruptured using chisels and the dye was made from charcoal.

"What I'm doing here is something our people have done for a long time except these days we're needling it instead of carving it in."

His cousin, Daniel Skipper, leans forward on a stool using a wooden staff to keep his balance.

A crayfish is boiling in a pot near the tent.

"We feel good about doing it, good about getting it done, especially for the whanau.

"Our tribe has always lived off the sea; crayfish, scallops, mussels, you name it."

He already has an octopus on his left upper-chest and a kina around his nipple.

Nelson Marlborough District Health Board medical officer of health Jill Sherwood said customary tattooing was growing in popularity in Maori and Samoan communities around the country.

"Generally, the elders in the community will recognise who is an experienced tattooist and they will do the work.

"They have their own people to do it and there's nothing to stop them doing that."

The Health Ministry produced Customary Tattooing Guidelines for Operators in 2010.

The document's key points were to sterilise the person's skin and any equipment used to avoid the spread of viral and bacterial infections such as hepatitis B and C, HIV, or bacteria that could cause a skin infection.

"They're not regulations, but they are guidelines.

"If we are aware of a situation then we would go in and have a chat to the people about health and safety." 

The Marlborough Express