Moko not for Pākehā, say Māori artists and academics

  • 23/05/2018

A number of Māori artists and academics say Pākehā have no business wearing moko kauae.

Life coach Sally Anderson has been criticised for her chin tattoo, which she had done several years ago to represent a turning point in her life. Her use of the moko on branding images for her business has also been met with backlash.

Her husband, who is Māori, has come to her defence, saying although it took him years to accept her desire to have the moko, he fully supports his wife's tattoo.

Ngāpuhi leader David Rankin has also defended Ms Anderson's decision.

National indigenous women's collective Hina Matarau say it's not discriminatory to have an issue with non-Māori wearing traditional tattoo.

"Moko kauae is the sole right of Māori women," says Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi Associate Professor Mera Lee-Penehira.

"Not only is it 'okay' to make a race-based decision in applying moko kauae, but it is a 'requirement'. In my view the gifting of moko kauae to Pākehā is not the right of any Māori - be they wāhine or tāne - irrespective of what has gone before."

Moko artist Anikaaro Harawira says many in his craft are asked to give non-Māori specific tribal tattoos, but moko kauae are special.

"Putting it on Pākehā unravels and aggravates a long history of whakapapa [genealogy]. It's hard enough to receive it as Māori because of the stigma and fear from colonisation, without seeing Pākehā parading it and using it as a business brand!

"For us it gives us a sense of rangatiratanga that is purely ours through whakapapa. One taonga I won't allow to be stolen by Pākehā."

Associate Professor Leonie Pihama says the phenomenon of white women wanting to be allowed to wear moko kauae "smacks of white privilege".

"Māori women have been struggling to reclaim this taonga for generations and Pākehā women need to stop their co-option of our taonga!"

The Hina Matarau collective believe Māori women have a responsibility to "maintain the sacred space of moko kauae".

Academic Ngahuia Murphy says the issue isn't about being "dark enough" to wear the tattoo.

"Skin colour is irrelevant. It is about whakapapa back to the tupuna, atua and our own spiritualities.

"We have had the taonga of moko kauae stolen from us as well as our language and lands. The reclamation of this is for us!"

Taranaki artist Ngaahina Hohaia says moko kauae is the "DNA blueprint of Māori women".

"It speaks to our whakapapa and stands as a bastion of our survival. Cultural appropriation has pillaged almost every other taonga sacred to our people. The line is drawn here."