Hello 🙂 I’m sorry… I haven’t been blogging enough lately and that’s because I’ve been busy working on a branding project for a client who wanted something inspired by Maori tattoos and the fluid cyclic motion of nature. I have been fascinated by the Māori community and the way in which they very confidently communicate their identity through aesthetic markings such as tattoos and symbolic jade jewellery amongst other things.
Having a soft spot for jade, I’ve always been drawn to the carvings and ink methods of the community and their incredible way of capturing the essence of mother nature.
Whilst researching for my client, I found myself in the sea of striking images and meanings of the symbolism associated to many shapes, lines and markings that the Māori use as expressions of their history and values.
Ta moko – traditional Māori tattooing, often on the face – is ataonga (treasure) to Māori for which the purpose and applications are sacred. I have discovered that every moko contains ancestral / tribal messages specific to the wearer. These messages tell the story of the wearer’s family and tribal affiliations, and their place in these social structures. A moko’s message would also contain the wearer’s ‘value’ by way of their genealogy, and their knowledge and standing in their social level.
Ta moko as an artform declined during the 20th century, however in recent times it has been revived as an important art form among Māori that is worn as an expression of cultural pride and integrity.
Māori writer and academic Dr Ngahuia Te Awekotuku, says, “Ta moko today is much more than a fashion statement, a passing fad for Māori. It is about who we are, and whom we come from. It is about where we are going, and how we choose to get there. And it is about for always, forever.”
These symbols of integrity, Māori identity and prestige, as well as a reflection of whakapapa and history are not only limited to sacred markings on the skin, but also the jewellery worn by this community . I am sure you are familiar with these necklaces hanging from the last person you met from New Zealand, a thin rope with a beautifully carved jade stone tied to its end. I own a couple but never really stopped to explore the real meanings of these curves and arches in the stone until recently.
The greenstone meanings and designs carved by artists in New Zealand are astoundingly beautiful and like the Ta moko, they are draw from traditional Maori art, culture, and design, each has a distinct meaning, that effectively tell narratives of the struggles, traits, triumphs and heritage of the Maori people.
In pre-literate Māori society the greenstone designs themselves acted as visual depictions of a story, with the carving acting as the piece of paper that the words were written. They told intimate stories about the wearer of the greenstone design, hinting at their personality traits. The designs were also used to mark certain prominent points in the life of the Māori; the birth of a child, a new beginning, the desire to fall pregnant. They were extremely versatile and complex, just as any language. My favourite jade symbol would have to be the Hei Matua (The Fish hook).
Historical Māori depended on the bounty found in the sea. It is widely agreed that the greenstone meaning of the fish hook design is seen in the representation of the Māori people’s dependence on the sea for food gathering – survival. The fishhook also symbolises prosperity, abundance, good health, a respect for the sea and the life in it. All these meanings stem from the hooks original use. Individuals wearing this symbol either personified the above traits, or lacked in them. If you were to give someone a gift of a fish hook necklace, then you would effectively be wishing these traits upon the recipient.
And on this note, I leave you with some images of the Maori, and the symbols that so beautifully and timelessly remind us of their way of life.
© 2014 Shroomantics ~ Rahima Begum