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How to Design a Tamoko According to Maori Tattoo Designs

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The Maori, the indigenous people of New Zealand, have a strong and long-lived tradition of tattooing. Both men and women are tattooed, although only men receive the characteristic full-face tattoos. A tattoo, or Ta Moko, represents a person's social status, family history, tribal affiliation and even marriage eligibility. A non-Maori's pursuit of Ta Moko can be a touchy subject, so the design should be well thought-out to avoid offense. The swirling, geometric patterns are sure to stand out.

Research extensively. Disrespectful tattoos is the biggest risk non-Maori people face when pursuing a Maori tattoo. Since the Maori see the tattoos as a form of identification, you should never copy an existing tattoo—doing so would essentially amount to identity theft. As we have seen with other culturally significant body art, the probability of getting a tattoo with an unfortunate meaning is high if you don't conduct proper research.

Select a location for your tattoo. Facial tattoos are the most well-known of the Maori tattoo designs. However, this may not be an option for most people. The Maori also practiced full-body tattooing, with areas such as the back, arms and chest adorned with the spiral designs. Consider your lifestyle when choosing a place for your tattoo. If you work in an office, for example, and you don't want your coworkers to see your tattoo, get the design someplace that can be easily covered up by clothing. The placement of your tattoo will dictate the type of design that is appropriate.

Work with a local tattoo artist to create your design. You may have to go outside your immediate area, but there are many tattoo artists who specialize in Maori designs. Working with a qualified artist will ensure that you get a respectful tattoo with an appropriate meaning to which you can relate. Ask to see a portfolio of the artist's work so you know his ability is up to par.

Seek out a Maori tattoo artist from elsewhere in the world if finding an artist in your area proves too difficult. Get someone abroad to design the tattoo and have a local artist execute it. Tiki Obrien, a Maori tattooist, offers his design services alongside other Maori artists' through maori-arts.com.

Consider a Kirituhi tattoo design if you are worried about the significance of your tattoo. Initially, Kirituhi was painted on to the body with charcoal. Today, Kirituhi has experienced a modern revival where it is now tattooed onto the skin. These tattoos are Ta Moko–inspired but do not contain any actual Maori meaning. This way, you get all of the aesthetic benefits of a Maori tattoo without the cultural problems.

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