Non-Māori having moko can be a controversial topic with a wide range of opinions. 

Re: News spoke to ringa moko (Māori tattoo artist) Cody Hollis (Ngāti Pāhauwera, Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāti Porou and Te Aitanga a Māhaki) about what he thinks about non-Māori receiving moko and whether he would do it.

Is it appropriate for non-Māori to wear a moko?

When non-Māori have moko people tend to call it kirituhi. 

But in terms of the appropriateness of non-Māori to wear kirituhi (non-traditional moko) I think it's all good. 

I think kirituhi is like a subcategory of moko. There are all different types of kirituhi, there’s the fusion, where people fuse moko with Polynesian stuff. Or they'll do like a moko or butterfly or moko shark or something along the lines of that.

In terms of inappropriate uses, things like moko kanohi (traditional face tattoo) should only be for Māori.

There are cases where Pākehā have been adorned by a moko kanohi (face tattoo) and a puhoro (traditional tattoo for men) but the process for that goes beyond just a contract between the kaiwhiwhi (receiver) and the ringa whao (tattoo artist). It becomes a contract between the kaiwhiwhi, the ringa whao, the iwi, hapū and whānau. 

Cody Hollis tattooing a moko kauae. Photo: Supplied

Is there a reason why some Māori are against the idea of non-Māori wearing moko?

I think it comes from the misuse of social media. Someone will say something which will just get the ball rolling and from that, you’ll get lots of people behind the idea who haven’t dived into the depths of whatever research needs to be done. 

I’m a part of a Facebook group about moko kauae (cultural chin tattoo for women) and you see the same kind of conversations and it's usually from the same people. I call it talking away with the fairies.

Have you ever tattooed a moko onto a non-Māori?

Yep, when I worked for a tattoo studio, tourists would come in and want the story of their stay tattooed on them.

The only thing is when they would google Māori designs, it would usually come up with Samoan or Polynesian designs. So there's a bit of educating when non-Māori walk into the studio. 

How likely is it that a non-Māori wanting a moko will find someone willing to do it?

That’s a really important question. Even for Māori too because lots of people will go for the first person they find. Then they’ll end up going to someone else to be fixed up afterwards because they’ve gone straight to the first person without researching their mahi. 

Another thing is, a lot of people say you need to go back to where you’re from to receive your moko. I don’t agree with that because some people might not have an artist where they’re from. 

But then again you’ll go to someone who is from a different iwi to you and still get turned away. 

Cody Hollis tattooing a mataora. Photo: Supplied

Would you tattoo Māori from anywhere?

Yeah and even non-Māori. As long as they know what they want and where they’re from. 

I was on a podcast recently and spoke about this topic. The question was - what do you have to do to get a moko? And I pretty much just said, “Don’t be a dickhead”.

You can’t bullshit the process. 

I work in my private studio now, so I’m not tattooing tourists now, but when I was, I found them to be the most respectful because they knew they were coming from a place where they didn’t know anything about the process. 

Tourists are more open to listening and learning whereas some Māori would come over and say “Oh my uncle doesn't do it this way”.

Do you take koha as a payment or do you give firm prices?

I just give a price, I was doing koha but I felt like I was being taken advantage of.

There was a time I drove to Wellington [from Hawke’s Bay] and got $20 for petrol as a koha. 

There needs to be more education on koha, people just think to give whatever they want. And that's not the case. It's an equal exchange in what you're receiving. 

Cody Hollis and his whānau. Photo: Putaanga Waitoa

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