No vaccination, no moko, Māori tā moko artist says

By Tamati Tiananga

Get the jab or find another artist is the blunt statement from tā moko artist Te Kanawa Ngarotata.

The Hawke's Bay-based artist admits he was once an anti-vaxxer, and in 2020 lost employment in the tattooing industry over his stance.

But after seeing the effects the Delta variant has on a person's immune system, Te Kawana Ngarotata decided to get vaccinated to protect his own health and his son.

"Regrettably, my tools have been collecting cobwebs for a while. I am hopeful to return soon but there's a lot of uncertainty.”

He can't wait to get back on the gun but will refuse potential clients if they can't provide evidence they are fully vaccinated.

“I agree because in the beginning I was optimistic but now I think it's important the artist is vaccinated, the person getting the moko is vaccinated, and also the support crew.” 

Staying sanitised and sterile is nothing new to the tā moko industry. However, just when the tattoo industry re-opens, is uncertain.

“I am one of many artists unable to return home. Auckland is not my home, but I am unable to return home due to level restrictions. We have many moko wānanga that unfortunately I may not be a part of at this time. I feel wānanga like this in Māoridom has been forgotten at this point.”

Since lockdown was announced, Te Kawana predicts he has lost potential earnings of over $30,000.

"It is unsettling at times. However, the important thing to remember is to keep our families safe and in particular our children. This is very important to me,” Ngarotata says.

The former Hoani Waititi Wharekura pupil is a student of renowned moko artists Sir Derek Lardelli and Rangi Kipa.

“The knowledge learning about karakia, learning the aspects of reading the different signs in a wānanga setting with these two who I consider as masters in this industry, I am very privileged and fortunate,”  Ngarotata says.