​Police recover stolen priceless hand-carved Polynesian tattooing tools

By Te Ao - Māori News


Constables Josh Downes and Jamie Allingham return Moko's tools. Photo: NZ Police

One of the country’s few practitioners of traditional Māori and Polynesian tattooing has been reunited with his priceless hand-carved tools after they were stolen last month.

The tools, known as uhi, were reported stolen from Moko Smith’s tattoo studio Uhi Tapu, in Corban Estate Arts Centre in Henderson, West Auckland. They are all carved from wood and bone and have huge spiritual and cultural significance to the tā moko artist. Some were handed down from his late teacher and mentor.

The estate had CCTV, which captured a good shot of the registration of the vehicle used after the burglary and its driver, whose distinctive appearance meant they were easily identifiable.

After a number of early morning starts; inquiries from Rānui to Takanini; search warrants on two addresses and a car; as well as a solid interview with one of the offenders, officers found half of the stolen tools at an emergency housing unit in Henderson on Thursday, August 12.

They were swiftly returned to a grateful Smith.

Constable Josh Downes with Moko Smith in his studio. Photo: NZ Police

The next day, the remaining tools were brought into Henderson Police Station by a member of the public who’d found them in a park. These tools in particular were the ones that belonged to Moko's late teacher and mentor, and they were returned on his mentor’s birthday.

Smith is striving to bring back the nearly lost art of traditional tattooing. His tools are his life and livelihood and he was emotional about getting them all back. 

The two offenders have been identified. The driver has been referred to Te Pai Oranga for parties to burglary, and the passenger who broke in and stole the equipment has been identified but is still to be arrested.

“It’s been incredibly rewarding to be able to return such significant items to someone who is doing so much to bring back an important part of this country’s history," Constable Joshua Downes of the Waitematā West Tactical Crime Unit says.