By Te Karere
Three Rotorua-based sisters have revived an age-old tikanga within their whānau in receiving their moko kauae by traditional method of uhi, or chisel, at a mokopapa at Tarimano Marae.
For Rangiatea, Te Maia, and Pirihinekurarangi (Piri) Tuhakaraina-Simon it’s been a special journey, one they were determined to take together.
At 23, Rangiatea is the oldest of the three. The mum of two is training to be a kaikaranga on their marae.
“He mea nui tēnei ki a mātou,” said Rangiatea.
“Roa ana te wā kua wānanga, kua kōrero mō tēnei rangi. Arā kua tae te wā ki a mātou kia whiwhi ai tō mātou moko kauae (This is huge for us. We’ve long been in discussions about this, about today. Now it’s time for us to receive our moko kauae)."
Middle sister Te Maia is studying first-year nursing, and told Te Karere she knew she wanted to receive her moko from a young age, but despite being ready before her sisters, she was willing to wait.
“Mai i te tau rima te pakeke te wā i kite ahau i tōku kuia me tōna wā i tino hōmai te hīkaka māku kia whai hoki i taua taonga (From the age of five when I saw my kuia with hers — I was excited at the idea of getting my own).”
For Piri, she said her moko will serve to help and support her in the future, a sentiment shared between all three young women.
“He hoa haere, he mea e tiakina i a mātou katoa, tōku whānau, [ōku] tuāhine, āe, i a mātou katoa ([My moko] will be a constant companion, a guardian for us all, my family, my sisters, yes, all of us).”
The sisters now make three generations of women in their direct family line to wear moko kauae.
Uhi matarau is rare in modern-day tattooing but reviving the artform has been a priority for tohunga tā moko, Hēmi Te Peeti.
On the day, Rangiatea, as the oldest, went first, followed by Te Maia, then finally Piri.
On each of the three women Te Peeti drew lines with a marker in the design of a ruru, or owl, an important symbol seen on the carvings in their wharenui Tawakeheimoa.
During the ceremony, he used a chisel made of the wing bone of a toroa, or albatross, selected for its strength to cut through skin. Each session took more than an hour.
He chose the sisters to be etched by uhi matarau because of their whakapapa to a prominent chief, Wiremu Maihi Te Rangikāheke.
“He waimarie nōku kua riro i au ōku mokopuna, tokotoru nei,” said Te Peeti, “ngā uri kāwai heke o tētahi taha o rātou a Te Rangikāheke, arā koirā anō hoki tērā wāhanga o tō tātou nei whānau o Te Hakopa (I’m fortunate to [tattoo] these three mokopuna of mine, descendants of Te Rangikāheke on one side of their line that includes our Te Hakopa whānau).”
Mum Wikitoria Tuhakaraina-Simon said the last woman in their direct line to have worn a moko applied by uhi was her great-great grandmother, Emere Tapui, the eldest granddaughter of Te Rangikāheke.
She said it was a privilege and an honour for her daughters “to uphold the mana of the female line of Wī Maihi, just to bring it alive again”.
tikanga – custom, tradition
moko kauae – women’s traditional tattoo worn on the chin
uhi – traditional chisel
mokopapa – a collective gathering for the purpose of receiving moko
kaikaranga – woman who performs karanga, a ceremonial call
uhi matarau – multi-pointed chisel
tohunga tā moko – expert
ruru – owl
wharenui – traditional meeting house
toroa – albatross
whakapapa – genealogy
mana – prestige, authority, power, status
“Anything to do with our culture, I love seeing it.”
“I had no worries or nerves - I was ready.”
It's a question that has sparked much conversation over the years.