Rangatahi creating Northland tā moko revival

By Raniera Harrison

Northland moko artists say they are experiencing a resurgence in moko in the region, especially amongst youth.

The new generation of moko wearing youth are not just coming for small pieces either, facial moko and traditional leg markings are being taken up in an attempt to hold onto tikanga in the region.

"They’re not just painting their skin either, the moko has true meaning behind it," says Raniera McGrath, of Kaitāia-based Moko Kauri.

It's said when sacred ink is engrained into the skin, it’s a sign from the ancestors. That’s one of the biggest signs some Northland moko artists have seen recently.

One Northland tāmoko exponent, with over 25 years experience, says the youth of today are leading the way with revitalising the markings of our forefathers.

"The majority of Māori youth these days want to wear moko, arms, kauae, face, I’ve seen some with facial moko and it’s beautiful when you understand the values that accompany that process," says Hori Wihongi, who is based in Whangārei.

The artists say that there is an immense hunger for tikanga Māori as well.

"That’s probably the reason they’ve come back to learn, to dive into this artform, to receive the pūhoro or peha to some, the mataora, the rangi paruhi – it’s about the whakapapa," says McGrath.

The exact number of Northland youth taking to moko isn't currently known, largely due to the fact that the onus rests solely on each family to make the decision to allow youth to wear moko. However, the artists say holding onto tradition and custom is all for the good.

"We’ve got a generation of youth who want to hold onto traditional customs, whether that’s through whakairo, raranga or the tāmoko of our ancestors," says Wihongi.

The artists say they hope that the development of the art continues in the region.

"There’s a saying that goes, 'the tail of my fish is moving'. That’s the case here in the North," says McGrath.

That’s right – a lasting promise by the Northland youth to their genealogy.