Maori man with full moko tattoo
Maori man with full moko tattoo
Role of Tattoo
Tattoo Stories

Skin Stories: The Art and Culture of Polynesian Tattoo

Maori carving showing tattoo styles.

Two women sought beauty — one for traditional reasons, and the other to hide a scar.

  • Can one design be considered more beautiful or meaningful then another?
  • Why would Manu feel beautiful in wearing her moko for all to see, yet Mary Lynn feel she must keep her tattoo private in society?
  • Can one reason for getting a tattoo be more "right" than another?
  • What connections are there between the traditional water designs of Manu's facial moko, and the free-form fancy of Mary Lynn's Great Blue Heron tattoo?

Two Polynesian men with tattoo learn far different lessons from the experience.

  • Is the journey of self-discovery more important than the artistic outcome?
  • What responsibility comes with wearing the tatau, moko or uhi?
  • What rites of passage mark becoming a man in other cultures, and do they all require pain or sacrifice?
  • How do these four tattoo compare with the stereotypes we Westerners have of those who wear tattoo?

What are the health risks involved with receiving a tattoo?

  • Your tattoo artist should use only single-use instruments, sterilized in an autoclave. Be sure to check your shop carefully before you receive your tattoo.
  • Your tattoo artist should carefully explain how to care for your tattoo until it is fully healed.
  • The Food and Drug Administration has an online Fact Sheet on the more dangerous risks involved with tattoos and permanent makeup

Hear another story...

Manu Neho Manu Neho, Aotearoa (New Zealand)

What is beauty? Neho rediscovers a nearly lost Maori art form, and finds herself in the process.
Tupuola Savea Tupuola Savea, Samoa

Can a tattoo save a life? Savea was a P.O.W. in Vietnam, and his Samoan tattoo changed his experience in unexpected ways.
Kyle Nakanelua Kyle Nakanelua, Hawai'i

When are you ready to receive a tattoo? Nakanelua finds that learning about yourself and your heritage can take longer than expected.
Mary Lynn Price Mary Lynn Price, San Diego

A meaningful and beautiful tattoo hides a scar, and restores a feeling of beauty and art to a California attorney.