Tā moko represents a person’s mana (status or power) in society. This is best highlighted by the time when the chiefs signed the Treaty of Waitangi with their mokos in 1840.
The Moko Kauae is a chin tattoo traditional reserved for Māori women with mana (high status and power).
Traditionally, female healers (tohunga) had a close relationship with the gods (atua). As such, they were too sacred (tapu) to receive the Moko Kauae.
Europeans assumed that Tā moko was symbolic of a warrior status. However Māori who were considered incredibly high rankly were often considered too tapu (sacred) to receive tā moko
Healers (tohunga) would be responsible for tattooing. In ancient times, the tribe would summon all of the local tohunga to come and practice their art.
People would offer treasures (toanga) such as weapons, cloaks, greenstone or food in exchange for the delicate and intricate tattoo. Only the best artists would continue to be in demand.
Since the 1990’s tattooing has been a part of a widespread renaissance of Māori culture. It’s fashionable for Māori women to acquire Moko Kauae as a way of reasserting their identity, femininity and the mana of their people.
Contemporary tā moko artists are in high demand in New Zealand. Nowadays Māori tattoos aren’t restricted to the face and can be found all over the body.