Moko; or Maori Tattooing
Chapter IV — Moko Processes
Fig. 46.—Uhi, or chisels in the British Museum (actual size). Presented by Sir George Grey, K. C. B., &c.
Moko was a long and for the patient a painful operation. I have remarked on some of its attributes in the foregoing pages, and need not now repeat what has been said. In several points, however, additional and interesting information is forthcoming.
Fig. 47.—Tattooing instruments. (After Polack.)
When iron Uhi were introduced much finer work became possible; and thus Sheffield may be said to have something to do with the later development of the art.
Fitzroy mentions this finer work in 1835; Darwin, in the same year, and Wakefield, in the period 1839–44. As was natural, the natives most in contact with Europeans were the first to adopt the iron instrument. In the earliest days chisel work was the only method employed in tattooing; but later on the system of pricking was introduced and allowed the artist far more scope for his elaboration of detail. The general practice of operators in moko undoubtedly was however to dip the Uhi or chisel into the colouring matter before incising the skin, so that the process of cutting and colouring went on at the same time; the chisel was then withdrawn, wiped clean, and dipped again in the pigment for another insertion. Polack says: “The process was one of intense pain, the recumbent figure of the victim wincing and writhing at every stroke of the operator and quivering under the torments inflicted.” The sufferer looked very hideous after the operation, and instances were even known of permanent distortion of the features.
Another good account is as follows: “The instrument used to make the punctures is formed out of a piece of whalebone, according to the design intended to be cut, and is bound to a piece of wood in the shape of a carpenter's square. This the tohunga holds in his left hand between his forefinger and thumb. In his right hand between his third and fourth finger is held a piece of fern-stalk, about eight inches long, the outer end of which is bound with a little flax. Between the thumb and forefinger of the same hand is held the black; when the tohunga has made an incision with the Uhi by striking it with the piece of fern-stalk held in his right hand, he again draws the Uhi between the finger and thumb which holds the black, and in so doing it carries with it a portion for the next incision.”
From this I will pass to Rutherford's earlier account, which is of deep interest, though I doubt if the whole operation could have been undergone at one “sitting” as he seems to suggest. Rutherford and five of the crew of the Agnes were captured by the Maoris in 1816; and he remained a prisoner close on ten years.
“The whole of the natives having then seated themselves on the ground in a ring, we were brought into the middle and, being stripped of our clothes and laid on our backs, we were each of us held down by five or six men, while two others commenced the operation of tattooing us. Having taken a bit of charcoal and rubbed it upon a stone with a little water until they had produced a thickish liquid, they then dipped into it an instrument made of bone, having a sharp edge like a chisel and shaped in the fashion of a garden hoe, and immediately page 53 applied it to the skin, striking it twice or thrice with a small piece of wood. This made it cut into the flesh as a knife would have done, and caused a great deal of blood to flow which they kept wiping off with the side of the hand, in order to see if the impression was sufficiently clear. When it was not they applied the bone a second time to the same place. They employed, however, various instruments in the course of the operation; one which they sometimes used being made of a shark's tooth, and another having teeth like a saw. They had them also of different sizes to suit different parts of the work. While I was undergoing the operation, although the pain was most acute, I never either moved or uttered a sound, but my comrades moaned dreadfully….. Although the operators were very quick and dexterous, I was four hours under their hands, and during the operation Aimy's (a chief) eldest daughter several times wiped the blood from my face with some dressed flax. After it was over she led me to the river that I might wash myself (for it had made me completely blind)…. and then conducted me to a great fire. They now returned us all our clothes with the exception of our shirts, which the women kept for themselves, wearing them, as we observed, with the fronts behind. In three days the swelling which had been produced by the operation had greatly subsided and I began to recover my sight; but it was six weeks before I was completely well. I had no medical assistance of any kind during my illness.”
The description Rutherford gives agrees with that of other observers; though it is generally concluded that in no case is page 54 the operation undergone at once, as appears to have been his experience.
Fig. 49.—Tattooing a thigh. (After Earle.)
To tattoo a person fully was, in fact, a matter of time; and if too much was attempted at once it positively endangered life. The Rev. Mr. Taylor tells us of a poor porangi, or lunatic, who during a war was tattooed most unmercifully by some young scoundrels, and his wounds became so inflamed as to occasion death. When once the operation has been performed, it is not possible to erase the moko; not sickness nor death itself has the power of destroying. When a head was preserved every line retained its distinctness; and appeared almost more distinct than when subject to alteration from the muscular motions of the living man.
Letourneau (1881) gives two modes of tattooing. The first, he says, is that done with a sharp stone or a shark's tooth; the second, with a small instrument with sharp teeth. Tattooing by means of cutting is, he says, still the method most employed by the New Zealanders; but the system of pricking allows of more adornment and of an enlargement of the primitive custom. Much importance is, he says, attached to this form of ornamentation which is shown chiefly on the face. It is made by page 56 winding arabesques showing off the different features of the face, and is often done with considerable skill.
Sometimes, however, the preparation was rubbed on a stone, and a little water was added to form a thin paste.
Another account gives the following information: “The soot with which they are marked is obtained by making a hole, somewhat like a lime-kiln, in which kauri (to burn black) gum is burnt, or a wood called kapara; on the top of the kiln is placed a Maori basket, made of korari besmeared with fat, to which the soot adheres. The black thus obtained is sacred, and page 58 is kept for generations, father and son being tattooed from the black made at one burning. The soot is mixed with oil or dog's fat.”
Gunpowder has often been substituted, leaving a blue mark which time can never wholly efface.
As if the physical torture of moko were not sufficient to set the seal of true martyrdom on a Maori he was subjected during the operation to a species of boycott or Tapu. He was forbidden all communication with people not in the same condition as himself; and in eating was not allowed to use his hands, and was dependent on his attendants for his food. According to the old superstition the man who presumed to raise a finger to his mouth before his moko was finished for the time would certainly find his stomach invaded by the Atua or fiend, who would devour him alive. Earle notices this. He says: “All those chiefs who were under the operating hands of Aranghie the tattooer were under the law. In fact, as we strolled through the village at the time of their evening repast, it appeared as though some dreadful disease had suddenly struck the greater part of the inhabitants and deprived them of the use of their limbs, most of them being either fed by their slaves, or lying flat on the ground and with their mouths eating out of their platters or baskets.”
And Mr. E. Tregear says that a person being tattooed was prohibited from eating fish, unless the fish which is sacred to Tangaroa, the Sea-God, is held up to see the tattooing. No gourd or calabash might be eaten if children had playfully made tattooing marks thereon. Mr. Taylor too has some interesting remarks on this phase of the subject.page 59
Fig. 51.—Tapued chief eating with a fern-stalk. (After Taylor.)
The religious character of these observances is brought into prominence by Polack who, speaking of “old times,” says: “The priest and all the people are tapu (on account of the blood) during the operation; but the ceremony of making native ovens with hot stones is gone through—priest's oven, God's oven, and oven for the tattooed man. The priest handles one of the hot page 63 stones of the God's oven, thus transferring the tapu to their food which is hung up on a tree. After eating, all are noa (common, not tapu).”
And Rutherford, speaking of himself and five comrades, says: “We were not only tattooed, but what they called tabooed; the meaning is, ‘made sacred’ or forbidden to touch any provisions of any kinds with our hands. This state of things lasted three days, during which time we were fed by the daughters of the chiefs with the same victuals and out of the same baskets as the chiefs themselves and the persons who had tattooed us.”