According to archaeological
evidence, tattooing came to New Zealand from Eastern Polynesian
The bone chisels used for tattooing can be found in archaeological
sites of various ages in New Zealand, as well as in some early
Eastern Polynesian sites. Although the Māori practiced tattooing,
there is no evidence that the Moriori people did.
In New Zealand, It is in the early sites that the widest chisel
blades are found, and this lends evidence to the theory that there
was possibly a preference towards rectilinear tattoo patterns in
The head was considered the most sacred part of the body, and because
tattooing caused blood to run the tattoo craftsmen, or "tohunga-ta-oko",
were very tapu persons. All high-ranking Māori were tattooed,
and those who went without tattoos were seen as persons of no social
Tattooing commenced at puberty, accompanied by many rites and
rituals. In addition to making a warrior attractive to women, the
tattoo practice marked both rites of passage and important events
in a person's life.
There were certain prohibitions during the tattooing process, and
for the facial tattoo in particular sexual intimacy and the eating
of solid foods were prohibited. In order to overcome this, liquid
food and water was drained into a wooden funnel, to ensure that
no contaminating product came into contact with the swollen skin.
This was also the only way the tattooed person could eat until his
or her wounds healed.
The full faced tattoo was very time consuming, and a good tattoo
craftsman would carefully study a person's bone structure before
commencing his art.