Maori Tattoos, Designs, Pictures, and Ideas

tattoo designs

Traditionally, Maori tattoos were carved into the skin using a small instrument made of albatross bone, and took months of careful, agonized planning. They were typically worn by men of high rank. Women who were tattooed were only allowed designs upon their lips, chin and nostrils. Today, however, the process of Ta Moko has become one of the most popular styles of ‘tribal’ tattooing. The designs associated with Maori tattoos have a definite aesthetic appeal, but to many people they mean a good deal more than that. They are often used as a symbol of cultural identity, and the designs used may represent things such as genealogy, history or even beauty (as full, blue hued lips have long been considered as the ‘ideal’ of female Maori beauty).

Modern Maori tattoos (especially in the west) have moved from the face to the body. Long, twining spiral designs that were once placed near the ears or cheeks are now placed along the arms or legs. However, many Maori people find exact replicas of their art insulting. For this reason, many people who are not affiliated with the Maoris prefer to use designs inspired, but not directly taken from, these traditional styles.

One way to separate the Maori tattoos, and what could possibly be an insulting western
rendition is to use the striking spirals to create other symbols. For instance, rather than
using the rounded and graceful spirals, you could make a squared off version, and create an

interesting puzzle-like pattern. You could also use heavy lines and create a scene of waves, clouds, billowing winds, or even fire. Many people like to include reds and dark shades of blue into their designs; they will occasionally use orange and yellow as well if their patterns include things such as the sun, moon or stars. Metallic colors are generally used to produce weapon designs such as intricate knives, swords, or even throwing stars. Burgundy and purple can be used for a variety of spiraling flower blossoms.

Given the beauty of these designs, it may be tempting to delve into this style of art, but it is important to remember that they have a significant meaning to the Maori people. Tattooing is considered a sacred act, and must — like any other cultural symbol — be respected.

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  1. stacey drawbrige Said,

    I like the look of maori tattoo art but the sad fact is no body seems to know the real meanings
    even the tattoo guys where i live in the usa dont know.

    I would rather have a design that has a meaning.

    So i found a great site where this Maori guy who lives in New Zealand the land of the Maoris is the one expert in this field. HIs name is Tiki Obrien just google his name and you will see what i mean.

    Sadly i couldnt afford his work cause im only a student but someday will save up cause I recon hes the real deal and knows all the meanings to the Maori symbols.



  2. amber pureau Said,

    Kia ora stacey,it is good that you have taken great thought into this,as this will and does mean alot to our people and culture.I am and have been living in australia for 17 years and carry my culture with mana(pride).If i was to see you or knew you, and ask the meaning and you didnt know that would be highly insulting and for the tatooists who do my peoples tatooing,should not…at all….under any us it is not simply a is a way of life…that should not be abused in any mannerism….simply to make a dollar…so stacey i tautoko(support) you e hoa(friend) for your wise and respectful decision….on behalf of my whanau(family)..thank you bro….amber pureau brisbane queensland australia

  3. Luke Marsh Said,

    Hi, I’m also considering getting a Maori tattoo… I have not had any tattoos done yet, but I plan to get a few in the next couple of years. I decided to look into Maori designs because, obviously, they look great, but I also wanted something that had a meaning… and I’ve visited NZ before and it was the most beautiful place I have ever been to. I currently live in Australia, but I really wouldn’t mind moving to NZ, it’s so great.
    I completely respect the Maori people and culture, so are you saying that it would only be an insult if the wearer of such designs didn’t know the meaning and only got it cos it looked ‘cool’? Or is it insulting if the wearer isn’t related to Maori people in the first place? I can imagine how frustrating it would be to see kids running around with Maori designs just because they look awesome, without giving any thought to the creators…


  4. CJ Said,

    I have been searching and searching for a great tattoo!! I visited NZ a few yrs back and feel in love with the land, the ppl Maori and Euro decent a like and felt like it was the place that I should have been from. I am wanting a tattoo with meaning and the symbols of the Maori ppl are so wonderful!! They represent strength, unity, understanding, knowledge, everything I want to convey in a tattoo. I am looking in getting a koru design with single twist throughout. I wear a single twist jade green-stone around my neck everyday (never take it off). I am also wondering if this would be offensive to get a design tattoo with some of these symbols. It would be completely out of respect for the culture and I would know what my tattoo meant. I would love to display this work of art proudly to ppl and tell them wat it means if they ask.

  5. Iroama Said,

    Kia Ora Koutou!! What a Beautiful passage amber!! TUMEKE!! <3

  6. zara Said,

    Hi can anyone tell me if there is a design that means forever ? Looking for something that could have a star in it as well. Hope you can help

  7. Tukai Said,

    E kei ra Amber. I believe most youth & their Ta Moko have no meanings to them or have any relation to their Whakapapa… Most people who design these tattoos only have a basic comprehendsion of a koru and its meanings…
    Its very well to say its offensive to me and my people. But we are taught Manaakitanga, surely this would mean that we would give them our blessing rather than be offended by it?..
    Me, i think designing your own with your own meaning to each design would suffice… Reguardless… Not everyone would be able to judge and say otherwise.

  8. faith Said,

    Hi i waas wondeirng if u could do me out a design. I want one that shows my family whakapapa and all of that ? hope u can help

  9. Bruno Said,

    Kio ora, Ola, i from brazil and have the amazing oportunity to live in welly, nz for almost one year. i just feel in love with the culture, people, citys , food, backgorunds everythings was great for me. i agree, the maori tattoo has meanings , and is more than estetic how people here think. lots of guys has draws they think is maori, but when i ask the meaning they just dont have idea, coz means nothing is just a draw. i also have a green stone hook and wear it everyday and dont take it off. i want to have a maori tattoo i should got one when was in this beautiful country. so i wating a new oportunity to back to nz to meet all my friends again and learn more about maori tatoo, hopefully get one a mean a real one

  10. Martin Said,


    I am loking at Maori tattos i am thinking of getting one on my upper arm but I inderstant the inportance to the Maori people where can I find tattoos of this nature and the meaning I have a Maori design on my other arm but I dont know what the real meaning is only what the tattoo artist told me but I think what he said was false So I want to make sure this time, can someone help.
    What I would like if possible is to see a tattoo and there is an explainnation of what the meaning is so I wont be a stupid this time.

  11. GMotutara Said,

    Kia ora all
    the best advice is contact a moko artist either in NZ Aotearoa or perhaps one that may live or be travelling through your lands.
    Speak to them directly and convey what you would like your moko to say, honour, or depict.
    If they cannot or are not able to assit you perhaps they would know of someone who could.
    It is not advised on a spiritual level to copy or imitate someone elses moko, this is not only insulting it also completly misses the entire point and wairua of our sacred moko.
    If you are meant to wear moko an oppertunity will arrise, let the gods guide you

  12. Jon Said,

    I am looking into getting a Maori Inspired tattoo, but have a few questions. I know that tattoos in the Maori culture are very important, each tattoo is different an means something, not just some picture on ur body. I am wanting to get a double twist symbolizing me and my wife’s love for each other. can this be part of a larger Maori design? or will have to be by itself? When i say design I mean like the sleeves that you would normally see.

  13. Gee Dee Said,

    Usually a maori tattoo shows your whakapapa, which is where you are from, your heritage and something important to your tribe or people. We are an oratory people, so our history is in our speech, not in the written word. We introduce ourselves whenever we are on the marae (traditional meeting place) and we go through our history, our name, our parents, grandparents, elders, the mountain, river, ocean, meeting house name etc etc that was designated to our tribe etc. Our moko (from my understanding) is another extension of that. In the old days, (in my tribe anyway) the old ladys could look at someones face (which is where the old ladys used to have their tattoos) and could see where they were from, who their parents were and knew straight away whether they were whanau (family) or not. This was important because remember, the Maori people were warriors and fought all the time with other tribes. This is why the Euro’s signed a treaty with us, because they could not colonise us as easily as other people/nationalitys. In my understanding, you cannot just get a maori tattoo, it is taboo. It is tribal specific and also specific to the actual person (which means to me that each tribe has their own which is translated through the tattooist and through their tribe). You must get permission, which is not easy, even for the Maori themselves. I would say, if you are looking at gettting one, then you must seek permission to use the design from the OWNER which to you means, looking for a design then finding the owner. Difficult, but necessary! Kia Ora.

  14. Chang Said,

    Kia ora!!! Im actually looking to print a Maori tatts onto my body..and i m really interested in Maori one!!! I lived n studied in Dunas for 5 years tho…got some Maori design on my back which been done in NZ…sadly im back home now but still want more Maori art on my body and simply know that its not just a picture..its a culture and a way of life n i do respect that lot..esp when u got lots of Maori mates!!

    Now can u help me out with the design and the meaning of it….give me some clue..coz at first i was guna put a Latin word ” Be patient and tough coz some days this pain will be useful to you” on but after second thought i wud luv Maori one….any suggestion where to start with???


  15. Adam Said,

    Kia ora. i’ve been wanting to get a maori tattoo for years. i want to make a shoulder and upper arm design that consists of all the things in my life that are important to me like family, friends, love, protection, guidance. things like that. I’d love to top it off with a great maori saying as well. Where could i find all the proper designs and translations though? Im actually related to maori’s by marriage. they are great people. their culture is something i truly respect and am really looking into learning more about. I think if i was going to get this work done though, i’d want to go to their homelands and have it done by a true maori so as not to get it done wrong or in any typr of disrespectful way.

  16. Tikiroa Said,

    we should under stand is that the Maori get Ta Moko but westerners will only recieve Kirituhi.
    These may look the same but are not The Ta moko is your life story such as rank etc.
    example would be the the two sides on the face beeing one the father the other the mother and there for the designs are not the same as a geosemetric design but rather a slight diferent on both sides.
    You dont ask for ta moko it is your birth right or you must get it from the chief for example achieving a higher rank as general of the army.
    if you look at the pic online of the old chiefs you will see that some dont have a full face or just missing the middle bit on the forehead which shows how high you are and if you are direct related to the spirit world if so it wil be tattoed so that the holy waters run down. this is the best translation i can give and simple as possible

    Kirituhi is drawing on skin to put it in easy words like a scetch and has no meaning , of course for you it has but it is not insulting.
    Maori is a pride people and we love to show the world are art as long as you dont copy any ones tattoo you will not insult anyone.

  17. Xavier Said,

    Kia ora, I’m originally from Rapaki, Christchurch – New Zealand, but currently living in Australia. I’m part Maori on my dads side but my mums side is pakeha. I’m really wanting to get a Maori designed tattoo of my mihi. Maybe not specifically in words but in a design. I fully understand what it means as my Nana is Maori, and I have learned what it is. There is a story behind Rapaki and its marae Te Wheke. I wanted my tattoo to be meaningful in a way that it represents me, my family, my homeland, my ancestors etc. as a mihi would do, but i was hoping to have this shown through a pattern. And as I’m not very bulk in the arms I would probably have to have this tattooed somewhere else. But I was hoping If you could tell me a good tattooist that would understand this. I would rather come back to NZ and get it done by a Maori tattooist, because they would understand it rather than a tattooist that works over here?
    Cheers :)

  18. Tumai Said,

    Hi all, seems as though there are a lot of people who are keen on the maori tattoo. Being maori myself and living here in NZ, I highly recommend that you have someone who has a respect and deep appreciation for cultural designs that are inked. The standard of the work is soo much more detailed and just – well, better. You know there is a level of respect that goes into what is about to be marked on your body. It’s entirely up to the individual tho, but you can definitely tell a real maori tattoo from the ones that are just done for money. Actually that goes for all cultures really.

  19. Jimmy james Said,

    I am a tattoo artist in kenya (africa) and since i learnt the art of tattooing ihave never done a single maori out of respect. My greatest wish is to visit nz and maybe stay for a year or two and perfect my skills.

  20. Alan Said,

    My granddad and dad passed away and I want to include them into my Maori tattoo I’m getting on my leg. Is there any designs that pay tribute to special people who have passed on??

  21. peta Said,

    i have done some research & obviously found that non-maori’s who are tattooed with traditional maori tribal designs can be seen as quite offensive to the maori people & their culture, as they depict things like status, gender & genealogy. before getting inked, i chatted with lots of my friends/colleagues who are from new zealand & some of which, who have maori heritage/background. i too, have visited new zealand & fell in love with the land & all of its people. it really holds a special place in my heart. i had decided to get a tattoo, not in maori design, but using a translation of maori words, which are Aroha, Rongo, Kotahitanga – love, peace, unity. I have had this tattooed on my foot, as a reflection of the special place that NZ & it’s people (both maori & non-maori) hold in my heart & also as a reflection of my hopes for the world & all of its people. Love, peace, unity to all.

  22. Tikiroa Said,

    i would recomendt that you go back to NZ ore wait for some maori tattooist to visit AUS.
    i could recomendt Inia Taylor to you he is amazing ore Tiki O’brien also nice

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