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Tattoo designs - M >> Maori / Polynesian

Polynesian tattoo designsMaori / Polynesian Tattoo Design Meanings - Maori tattooing is a distinct school of patterns and graphic designs within Polynesian tattooing. While much of Polynesian tattooing is derived from straight-line geometric patterns (and thought to originate with patterns found on ancient Lapita pottery shards such as have been discovered in Samoa), a design fact which rose in part because the traditional Polynesian tattoo combs are best suited to linear designs, Maori tattooing is essentially curvilinear, and the mainstay of Maori designs are based on the spiral. It should be noted that renowned traditional Hawaiian artist Keone Nunes has demonstrated that it is possible to reproduce complex curved designs using traditional Polynesian tattooing implements.

Maori tattooing is distinguished by the use of bold lines and the repetition of specific design motifs that are prominent both in the tattooing or "moko" of the Maori people of New Zealand and within other cultural artworks such as carving and weaving. A traditional Maori tattoo artist -- the tohunga ta moko -- could produce two different types of pattern: that based on a pigmented line, and another, the puhoro, based on darkening the background and leaving the pattern unpigmented; as clear skin.

Within Maori facial tattoos it is possible to discern two spiral patterns very similar to the fern frond, or koru, that is a repeating motif common to Maori art, including tattooing or "moko", painting and carving, in both wood, bone and greenstone.

Traditionally Maori tattoo artists followed very specific rules laid out for facial "moko" or tattoos. It is important to note that because of the tremendous cultural complexity of New Zealand's many tribes and clans, these rules often had local variations. But the idea that the tattoos followed a set of prescribed rules was widespread, and tattoos were specific to individuals, family, clans and tribes. Maori tattoos follow the contours of the face, and are meant to enhance the natural contours and expressions of an individual's face. A well-executed tattoo would trace the natural "geography" of an individual's facial features, for example lines along the brow ridge; the major design motifs are symmetrically placed within opposed design fields: lines are used in certain areas where spirals are not used; two types of spiral are used -- the koru, which is not rolled up and has a "clubbed" end, and the rolled spiral. (Ta Moko: The Art of Maori Tattoo, By D.R.Simmons)

Maori Inspiration Gallery - Click here to get inspired!An excellent example of a modern, Maori-inspired tribal tattoo is that of heavy-weight champion boxer Mike Tyson. Singer Ben Harper has beautifully executed Maori-inspired tattoo design motifs.

Get inspired by some really amazing images and photos in our Maori Inspiration Gallery

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Tattoo designs - M >> Maori / Polynesian

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