Reviving the traditional tools of tā moko

By Te Kuru o te Marama Dewes

With moko becoming increasingly more visible, one practitioner is cutting his own path with a point of difference.

Mokonuiarangi Smith, from Te Arawa and Tākitimu, uses traditional tattoo tools that have origins in the Pacific.

Within these treasured tools are the ties to our ancestors from this land, to Hawaiki, to the wider Pacific Ocean.

Damaris Coulter, (NgāPuhi, Ngāti Kahu) has chosen to be tattooed in the traditional style as opposed to a tattoo gun.

She says,"I wanted some armour and I wanted something that represented what I wanted was trying to do and I wanted to do it in [this] way because that's the original way I wanted to earn it."

Moko Smith was tutored by Inia Taylor and Croc Coulter who were taught by Samoan tattooist Sua Sulu'ape Paolo.

"I felt the urge to seek out those who maintain this knowledge and learn how to acquire and help carry it forward," says Smith.

He says the differences between traditional and modern techniques make them unique.

"The tools dictate what's tattooed. Lines like this can be done, although lines like this cannot, that type of thing," says Smith. 

Elaborating further, he says, "So they each have their own protocols, their own skill, their own power, prestige and life force.  I want both to thrive and be available."

Smith says it's not about which style is better, it's about celebrating all traditional taonga.