West Auckland Tā Moko artist devastated after traditional tools stolen

He  specialises in hand-poked and tapped tattoos using a tool known as uhi.
He specialises in hand-poked and tapped tattoos using a tool known as uhi. Photo credit: Supplied / Uhi Tapu

A traditional Tā Moko artist is devastated after his studio was robbed and his taonga tools were stolen. 

Uhi Tapu studio in west Auckland was broken into on Saturday night and two boxes of handmade tools were stolen. 

Owner Mokonui-a-rangi Smith said he arrived at his Henderson studio early on Sunday to finish a tattoo, only to find all his tools were gone. 

"The studio had been broken into and I saw that my whole baskets of tools had gone, my whole box of spare materials had gone and they had gone into my teacher's box of tools and my teacher had passed away at the beginning of the year so those are super special, they're really taonga." 

Smith said his tools have little to no resale value but are incredibly important to him and he's gutted they are gone. 

"It kinda ripped my stomach out a bit. It was a big kick in the guts and then over time, I have started to realise what has been taken away - how much they mean to us and how little they mean to anyone else.

"Anyone who has received work from these tools or been around them knows how special that is. 

"It's gutting for us ...and for a lot of the community who have been around this work. It's been quite clear they've been affected by it too."

He says the community response has been incredible with people sending in materials to make more tools. Smith specialises in hand-poked and tapped tattoos using a tool known as uhi.

"People in the community are already sending in materials like pigs tusks and kauri wood so I am just taking all my spare time to start making tools again."

And he's trying to make the best of a bad situation by teaching his assistants how to make uhi. 

"We are trying to get the best we can out of the situation but it takes weeks or months to rebuild the full kit."

Smith says he understands how tough it is for people at the moment, but is pleading with whoever took his tools to bring them back. 

"I want to sit down with them and talk it out - just make them realise what world they just walked into. 

"This is a world that has a lot of respect, it's taonga and for ancestral practises, knowledge, tapu, mana, cultural values and they kinda just walked straight into the middle of it and desecrated it and walked out.

"I understand that people are trying to make a living in any way they can but not this way, there are better ways than this. You would make more money working at McDonald's." 

He says he's holding out hope that the tools will be brought back. 

Police told Newshub enquiries are ongoing which includes locating and accessing CCTV footage.

Anyone with information is asked to contact Police on 105 quoting file number: 210725/4878.