RIHA Journal 0192 | 20 July 2018

Toitu te moko: Maintaining the Integrity of the Moko in the 19th Century and the Work of Gottfried Lindauer

Ngarino Ellis


This essay examines the ways in which the practice of moko changed over the 19th century as critical indicators of the endurance of Māori culture, from its use as signature on documents and land deeds in 1815 to being depicted by European portrait painters such as Gottfried Lindauer. Ultimately, as argued here, the integrity of the moko was maintained as evidenced by the increasing popularity of moko on Māori today.

Moko is an integral part of Māori history and culture. Our art histories track how the practice comes from oral stories relating to Mataora and Niwareka on the one hand, and archaeological and oral evidence brought over from the Pacific on the skins and in the minds of our ancestors. Over the centuries moko became carved into the skin, in doing so differing from the Pacific practice of tatau which is punctured and smooth.

Moko was one of the most intriguing practices that caught the eyes and pencils of early European explorers, most notably from England (Cook) and France (de Surville). With the official arrival of Christianity in 1814, the practice of moko began to change – in some areas where there was close contact it was set aside, but in other it continued throughout the nineteenth century.

By the time Lindauer arrived in New Zealand in 1874 it was mostly women who were receiving the moko, as Māori culture reeled from the processes of colonization (such as the establishment of the Native Land Court) and the New Zealand Wars. The result was tribal peoples often alienated from their ancestral lands and seeking new strategies to survive economically, politically and culturally.

It was these people who Lindauer depicted in his work, whose moko was some of the last done with the old uhi (chisel) technique. There is a variety of moko providing evidence of a wide range of designs across the country. Today these designs are a link through to the past, as descendants and other tribal members look once again to placing these moko on their own skins, to honour their ancestors, and thereby celebrating their survival.

[1] Seeing moko paruhi/facial moko or moko kauae/chin moko around Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city, is still an unusual occurrence. People still stop and stare as if this is an apparition from the past. How can they reconcile modern Māori with images they have seen in galleries and museums of older Māori from the nineteenth century painted by artists such as Gottfried Lindauer? The resurgence in taking moko/tattoo, particularly on the face, over the past 20 years has symbolised a wider change within Māori communities, where Māori are in many ways forging new pathways into business and education and health and other areas. For many, taking the moko remains an important step in their life path, paying homage to their ancestors on the one hand (such as those painted by Lindauer), and asserting their commitment to living as Māori in the twenty-first century.

[2] This paper focuses on the moko in the portraits of Māori painted by Gottfried Lindauer, and reflects on the significance of this in the history of moko as an art form. Clearly Lindauer’s portraits have become critical sites in which knowledge of moko was embedded in relation to the style of moko, as well as to the larger picture of who wore it, and who did not, and what might this reveal about moko on the one hand, and the endurance of Māori arts on the other.

[3] Moko is an integral part of Māori history and culture. According to our oral histories, the art form is descended from our ancestors Mataora and Niwareka. In this story Mataora had committed an act of violence against his wahine/wife, who fled like all good women should to her father who lived in the Underworld. To prove his bravery and courage Mataora agreed to receive moko, and in doing so won the privilege of becoming Niwareka’s husband again. Through archaeology we can trace another history. When our ancestors arrived in Aotearoa some 900 years ago, their bodies were adorned with the geometric designs of tatau/tattoo. This practice was retained as an important place in which to embed knowledge of history and genealogy, and over the centuries tatau evolved into moko and became distinct in two ways: firstly, the practice of puncturing into the skin as we had done in the Pacific changed to being carved, quite literally, into the skin. The result was skin that was no longer smooth, but was splendid with grooves and ridges. Secondly, the patterns themselves changed from being geometric to being curvilinear. This was part of a much larger social and political shift, from being Pacific peoples to being peoples belonging to this land, later called Aotearoa/New Zealand.1

1 Sydney Parkinson, A Portrait of a New Zeland [sic] Man,1779, pen and wash, 39,4 x 29,8 cm. British Library, London, Add. MS 23920, fol. 54a (reprod. from: Ngahuia Te Awekotuku, Mau Moko. The World of Māori Tattoo, Auckland 2007, [n. p.] 39)

[4] By the eigtheenth century, moko was distinct, and varied. Early European accounts, both visual and textual, suggest that the practice of moko was diverse even within a small geographic radius. In Te Tai Tokerau/Northland, for instance, the artist on Captain James Cook’s First Voyage, Sydney Parkinson, recorded the same design known as pūhoro, which has extended curvilinear designs on a background of parallel lines, on the legs and lower backs of men north of Whangarei, and on the necks of women one hundred miles away in Doubtless Bay in the Far North of the North Island. Further to the east, in an area now known as the Bay of Islands, Parkinson documented pūhoro again on the cheeks of a chief’s son (fig. 1), while his compadre Herman Diedrich Spöring drew women with this design on their foreheads in the same area. Clearly, for people of Te Tai Tokerau pūhoro was an important and popular design at that time, placed on both men and women, on various parts of the body. Sadly, within one hundred years the style had almost disappeared, and was limited to the lower back and legs – places that could be hidden easily by European trousers.

[5] In other accounts we encounter a similarly diverse range of moko being practiced. The soldier artist Horatio Robley in the 1860s recorded a woman with tiwhana/parallel grooves from the inner eyebrows to the hairline – a design that was usually reserved for men. In other areas women had their full face covered with moko, as with that of men, to identify them as being very high-born and to be revered. The moko here would have thus set them apart as one to be respected. In older carvings dating to the early nineteenth century there is moko all over the backs and arms and legs of women. With these accounts we can argue then that women were most willing to experiment with new styles of moko. The moko Lindauer encountered in the last decades of the nineteenth century was the culmination of centuries of innovation and experimentation.

[6] Moko is symptomatic and emblematic of the culture in which it is embedded, and from which it derives its meaning and mana/prestige. By the 1860s (Lindauer arrived in 1874) Māori had become disillusioned with the processes of government and the ways in which it continually sought to eradicate Māori and take their land.2 Through the establishment of institutions such as the Native Land Court and Native Schools, Pākehā/European settlers and their government insidiously and deliberately sought to disintegrate Māori communities, and physically divorce them from their turangawaewae/ancestral homelands.3

[7] Yet through all this turmoil the moko endured. Carved on the faces primarily of women from the 1860s onwards, it remained a potent symbol of tino rangatiratanga/sovereignty. Journalist and author James Cowan interviewed Mahutu Te Toko of Tainui who described how the leader of the Kingitanga, Tawhiao Matutaera Te Wherowhero had called for all his warriors to take the moko paruhi during the New Zealand Wars “to revert to the customs of his ancestors”.4 This was an assertion of tribal power on the one hand, and tikanga/tradition on the other, both of which would have persuaded the men to take the moko paruhi.

[8] Moko was also still considered an important marker of beauty, a reminder to the women themselves, their whānau/family and their hapū/sub-tribes of the grace and power that is inherent in the taking of moko. At a time when European fashions were the norm in Māori communities, the moko was a reminder to all of the past, and the importance of retaining tikanga/core values within those groups.

[9] While moko had been often performed at puberty as a marker of becoming a woman, and for a young man of becoming a warrior, by the late nineteenth century this was all changing in many – though not all – Māori communities. Such rites of passage were not practiced any more, as roles in communities also evolved. Both men and women’s positions in the community were under pressure – some men began enjoying the gendered privilege introduced by Pākehā men, resulting in many Māori women having their rights (to property, to children etc.) eroded. Our balance within whanau/hapū/iwi family/sub-tribe/tribe began realigning with the collateral damage being women and children. The moko that the women took, then, became an affirmation of their enduring rights and responsibilities to their people, and a statement of their mana motuhake/independence.

[10] For others, vanity came into it – they simply did not consider the moko to be part of what a young person should look like. Fashions change – as we have seen with the pūhoro – and so they preferred the look of the clear skin. Pākehā standards of beauty dictated that the skin be unblemished. Those Māori living in towns and those with regular ongoing contact with Pākehā often chose to set aside the moko as one aspect of Māori culture for a number of reasons. For some, moko was located in a distant past, the past that they wanted to move away from as it was associated with ‘heathen’ ways, and ideas that needed to be put to one side. Traditionally moko was an indicator status – most early writers agree that the only ones who could afford extensive moko were rangatira/chiefs and ariki (different ranks of chiefs) – yet in the new power structure of government such markers were unnecessary, and even frowned upon. Māori would be asked how they could pledge their full allegiance to the Crown when they were making clear statements of their intention to retain their own mana through their moko.

[11] Lastly, there were few Tohungā-tā-Moko/moko specialists who were able and available to work anyway. Many had died and not passed on their knowledge; others did not receive enough regular commissions to continue to work full-time, leading to a gradual decline in their skill base. With the passing of the Tohunga Suppression Act in 1908, the practice of Tohungā-tā-Moko was made illegal, and many were forced to perform their work in secluded locations, far from the prying eyes of Magistrates and other law enforcers.

[12] Moko by this time had been transferred off the skin and onto paper.5 Beginning in the second decade of the nineteenth century, Māori began signing documents using specific designs from their facial moko (fig. 2). On other occasions they drew self-portraits, and portraits of their kin in the most idiosyncratic way – by only including the haehae/lines of the moko.6 In doing so they left out physiognomic details which were so integral to European-style portraiture. This reveals the moko to be not just part of what someone looked like, but rather the moko was them.

2 Renata Kawepo, self-portrait of his moko, in: William Charles Cotton, Journal of a Residence at St John’s College, The Waimate, 26 February to 22 July 1843 (manuscript).State Library of New South Wales, Dixon Library Manuscripts DLMS 36

[13] The flattened images on the paper that we have inherited do not just stand for the person, they are the person. When thinking about the ways in which Lindauer depicted the moko, particularly of the men, and reading them alongside these drawings, we get a sense of the complexity that he was dealing with and gain some appreciation for his skill as a painter. These designs are intricate, and they are asymmetrical and they are unique to each wearer. These factors alone give us a new appreciation for Lindauer, and the time and attention to detail that he has undertaken in representing these Māori sitters.

[14] In terms of a research corpus for moko artists today, Lindauer’s works can be appreciated as representing a snapshot of moko in any one iwi or any one time. The painter’s works can be read alongside the work of the photographer Samuel Carnell, on whose images he frequently based his paintings on. Resident at one point in the Hawke’s Bay, Carnell photographed and Lindauer later painted a number of important Ngati Kahungunu and Rakaipaaka chiefs: Ihaka Whaanga, Te Hapuku, Renata Kawepo. The first two stand out amongst the portraits for the sheer depth and complexity of the moko pāruhi. For moko practitioners, Lindauer has left a clear design for others to follow. The moko of Ihaka Whaanga and Te Hapuku are prominent examples of Kahungunu and Rakaipaaka styles of moko, whereas arguably Renata Kawepo’s moko is different, as it may have been placed on him by a Ngāpuhi or Ngāpuhi-paid tohunga-ta-moko, someone from the tribe based in Northland.

[15] We are fortunate to have a number of different images of Kawepo which enable us to compare the moko, and assess Lindauer’s accuracy. The earliest is a hand-drawn portrait, possibly done by Kawepo himself in 1843 when he would have been in his thirties (fig. 2). Clearly the moko here is extensive moko over the entire face, and reaching up over his forehead. This is obviously different from the photographic portraits taken by Samuel Carnell in 1885 and also from Lindauer’s portrait which is undoubtedly based on them (fig. 3-5). In these later depictions Kawepo has a clear forehead at the very least, though it is difficult to identify his moko on the sides of his face as in the photographs he has a beard. Certainly, the design in this part of his face differs from the earlier drawing. Lindauer’s rendition of the moko then has used artistic license, based on his skills learned painting moko in other portraits over the previous decade. The art of moko was performed by specialists with many years training to not only learn the spiritual and ceremonial aspects of the art form, but also to learn the designs and the practical application onto skin. As such, an artist such as Lindauer who had no training in the complex design work of moko would have tried to ensure the designs that he painted in his works were as true as possible, but ultimately, he would have be thinking about the painting as a whole, and what would fit with his composition.

3 Samuel Carnell, Renata Tama-ki-Hikurangi Kawepo, between 1880 and 1888, photograph. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington (reprod. from: Matiu Baker, “Gottfried Lindauer in Berlin – 49 Māori-Portraits and Their Stories”, in: Gottfried LindauerDie Māori-Portraits, eds. Udo Kittelmann and Britta Schmitz, Cologne 2014, 66-165, here 115)

4 Gottfried Lindauer, Renata Kawepo, Tama ki Hikurangi, 1885, oil on canvas, 59 x 58 cm. Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki (reprod. from: Baker, “Gottfried Lindauer in Berlin – 49 Māori-Portraits and Their Stories”, 233)

5 Two versions of Renata Kawepo’s moko. (Left) in: William Charles Cotton, Journal of a Residence at St John’s College, The Waimate, 26 February to 22 July 1843 (as fig. 2) | (Right) Gottfried Lindauer, Renata Kawepo, Tama ki Hikurangi (detail), 1885, oil on canvas, 59 x 58 cm. Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki (as fig. 4)

[16] Considering Lindauer’s depiction of moko, certainly in his portraits of Māori men, two different factors have to be taken into account. Firstly, was this a commissioned piece? If so, Lindauer would have the benefit of the patron being able to sit personally for him which would enable him to take more time and care in the fine details. It is to be expected that the patron had certain specific expectations with regard to the commissioned portrait. In the case of Mr Paramena (ca 1885) the moko is simple and clear with a very modest and unusual design of moko paruhi. We have no idea of what he, nor his wife who also had her portrait painted, thought of the final product as they did not collect the paintings; these were later acquired by a Pākehā family in the local area. Such commissioned portraits were an important part of Lindauer’s business, and indeed influenced his relocating around the country. In 1880, for instance, he was commissioned by Peti Karaitiana, a wealthy Ngāti Porou woman who had married the Ngāti Kahungunu chief Karaitiana Takamoana, to paint no less than eight portraits, and she invited him to come to the Hawkes Bay.7 This would be a fortuitous move, for here there were many who could afford his services.

[17] The second factor is whether Lindauer was painting purely from a photograph? In these cases it would be difficult to clearly see the intricate designs on the face, especially given the fact that the cartes de visite were very small and difficult at the best of times to ascertain the moko designs. In addition, by the time the photographs were taken in the 1880s many men had begun to cover them up by growing beards, again obscuring the designs. This in turn required Lindauer to draw on his knowledge of moko from other portraits to create a picture that would best suit the status of the sitter on the one hand, and that of the patron on the other.

[18] This raises the sensitive issue of Lindauer’s portraits of Māori after their death. These paintings were based on earlier photographs as part of a demand for his work depicting Māori. Given the rise in photography across New Zealand, and the circulation of these images, Lindauer then had a plethora of portraits to draw on. What the whānau/family of Māori chosen by Lindauer for portrayal might have thought is unclear. Certainly, if the final work was to go into a private collection of someone else, then the whānau would have looked upon this not too kindly. Once a person has passed away there are certain ways of handling material associated with him or her. For whānau who may have commissioned the work of their recently deceased this would have been a different story, with the role of the portrait then to be one of commemoration, especially given the size of the works (compared to the relatively tiny size of many of the cartes de visite), and the fact that these portraits were in colour, bringing to life the person in the black and white cartes de visite.

[19] In terms of representing female moko, Lindauer tended to generalize the patterns of the kauae moko on the chin. This is surprising given the care that he took with men’s moko, and given the fact that we know that there was a range of different designs being placed on our wāhine/women in the late nineteenth century. Perhaps this could be explained as part of a gendered approach to portraiture that comes through strongly at this time, with women’s designs not taken seriously as being distinct from one woman to another. Māori women were often treated by Pākehā like they treated their own women, which was typically as chattels; yet in Māori society many women held positions of power and were leaders in their own right, including as major land-holders.8

[20] If we take Michael King’s 1970s study of Māori women’s moko as an indication, there certainly was a variety of forms being placed on lips and chins in the 1920s and 1930s.9 At a time when most Pākehā believed that Māori ways of being were dying out rapidly, King’s group of women makes it clear that moko wāhine was indeed practiced, albeit in remote communities and on much fewer women. In the study, King depicts a range of different moko kauae, according to individual artists. The meanings by this time had begun to wane, with few of the women being able to recall (some fifty years later) what the haehae meant. The son of one particularly renowned artist, Tame Poata, remembered that “You could tell where a person came from in the old days and what sort of warrior he was,”10 but much of these ideas had shifted by the turn of the twentieth century, when Lindauer was painting.

[21] The reasons for taking the moko were also shifting. While some of the women in the study took the moko under duress at the request of their elders, others stole away to receive their moko despite their elders refusing consent for it. It is here that the process of moko often influenced who was receiving the kauae/chin tattoo – King observed that those choosing the old uhi/chisel method were often younger than those taking the moko by the needle. We wonder then why Lindauer chose not to depict a range of moko kauae in his portraits. Certainly, colonial artist Charles F. Goldie, who arguably did not detail moko as clearly as Lindauer, did not shy away from documenting unusual designs, even by today’s standards. Take for instance Goldie’s portrait Ahinata Te Rangitautini, Tuhourangi Tribe, 1903 which depicts a kuia/elder woman with an unusual design on each shoulder, one a spiral, and the other resembling a person/dagger.11 Lindauer’s understanding of the design elements of kauae moko did develop over his career however. Compare, for instance, the kauae on the face of Raiha Reretu 1877 with that painted only three years later in his portrait of Pare Watene 1878.12 Over time it seems that the haehae are less straight, and are shown as part of the physiognomy of the face rather than something added later on. The patron for the work would have undoubtedly influenced this care as well – when the sitter was the sponsor and he/she would be gazing at his/her portrait all day then obviously Lindauer would have taken much more care in accuracy.

[22] High regard for Lindauer’s work has continued through to the present day, and his works are considered taonga/treasures by Māori, and specifically the descendants of the sitters. They have pride of place within private homes, and within our wharenui/meeting houses. It is here that the images of our ancestors are hung after their death, whether or not they are buried at the local urupā/cemetery or not. These are not merely images of the ancestor, but they are the ancestor. As part of our tikanga/customs, they are greeted personally as part of whaikõrero/ceremonial speech-making and karanga/welcoming onto the marae/ceremonial community hub. They continue to live as their descendants continue to use the wharenui/meeting house. When another descendant dies, images of his/her ancestors are taken down from the walls and placed directly above the coffin in order to reinforce whakapapa/genealogy. This is a continuation of a much older practice in which mokomõkai/preserved heads and hei tiki/pendants were similarly placed around the tupāpaku/deceased in order to activate those relationships, and remind the living of to whom the tupāpaku would be travelling to.

[23] Such images as Lindauer’s are also brought onto marae/ritual spaces by descendants at these tangihanga/funerals; when the portrait is brought facing inwards, it is to remain with the holders, facing away it will be given over to the marae. Paintings are also used in kawe mate/memorial ceremonies, much the same way as that performed in the Lindauer exhibitions first in Berlin (2014/15) and later in Pilsen (2015). Here descendants bring the spirit of the deceased to people and marae which had real meaning for the deceased. To highlight the importance of these rites today, I would like to bring forward a personal example: While my grandmother is buried next to her husband in the Bay of Islands, a year after her death in 1997 a large group of whānau travelled to her tūrangawaewae on the East Coast, some fifteen hours drive away, in order to bring her spirit back to her whānau there. We were greeted at the same marae she had been born on 97 years earlier by a large group of her nephews, led by two of her nieces acting as kaikaranga/callers, a sight not often seen who walked between the rows calling out the haka. The emotions were intense as we remembered our grandmother and aunt and mother. Critical to this was a photograph that we brought on to the marae of my grandmother.

[24] In preparing for the Lindauer exhibition in Berlin and Pilsen, kaumatua/elder Patu Hohepa evoked the process of the kawe mate, returning the spirit of Lindauer to Berlin, and particularly to his home town of Pilsen. Supported by members of Haerewa, the Māori Advisory Board for Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki, and others from Ngati Ranana based in London as well as members of Lindauer’s own family, his spirit was kept warm and returned to his own people. These forms of ceremony are an essential aspect of the process of grieving and allow for the memory of the departed to be restored to the family.13

[25] Gottfried Lindauer depicted a world in flux. Following from the mass migrations and conflicts of the mid-nineteenth century, the period in which he was working was filled with Māori leaders who were focused on establishing strategies which would enable their people to remain distinctly Māori, in a world keen for them not to be. The men and women that he depicted were on the cusp between the old values and the new. While they retained their identities and lifeways, they also accepted that some things needed to change in order for their people to continue. Moko was one of these tenets of Māori culture that was under pressure to succumb. Yet, as Lindauer’s portraits reveal, it did not. Rather it became a symbol of the retention of being Māori, one that was to endure through to the present day and beyond.

Special Issue Guest Editors

Alexandra Karentzos, Miriam Oesterreich and Britta Schmitz, eds., Gottfried Lindauer – Painting New Zealand, in: RIHA Journal 0189-0197

How to cite

Ngarino Ellis, Toitu te moko: Maintaining the Integrity of the Moko in the 19th Century and the Work of Gottfried Lindauer, RIHA Journal 0192, 20 July 2018, URL: http://www.riha-journal.org/articles/2018/0189-0197-special-issue-gottfried-lindauer/0192-ellis, URN: [see metadata]


The text of this article is provided under the terms of the Creative Commons License CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0

1 Atholl Anderson, “Te Ao Tawhito: The Old World”, in: Tangata Whenua: An Illustrated History, eds. Atholl Anderson, Judith Binney and Aroha Harris, Wellington 2015, 16-189.

2 Judith Binney and Vincent O’Malley, “Wars and Survival, 1860-1872”, in: Tangata Whenua: An Illustrated History, eds. Atholl Anderson, Judith Binney and Aroha Harris, Wellington 2015, 256-285.

3 Ranginui Walker, Ka Whawhai Tonu Matou, Auckland 1990.

4 James Cowan, “Maori Tattooing Survivals. Some Notes on Moko”, in: Journal of the Polynesian Society 30 (1920), 240-245, here 244; Te Awekotuku, Mau Moko: The World of Māori Tattoo.

5 Alison Jones and Kuni Jenkins, Words Between Us: First Māori-Pākehā Conversations on Paper: He Kōrero, Wellington 2011.

6 Ngārino Ellis, “Ki Tō Ringa Ki Ngā Rākau a Te Pākeha?: Drawings and Signatures of Moko by Māori in the Early 19th Century”, in: Journal of the Polynesian Society 123 (2014), no. 1, 29-66.

7 Roger Blackley, “Gottfried Lindauer. A Career in New Zealand”, in: Gottfried Lindauer – Die Māori-Portraits, eds. Udo Kittelmann and Britta Schmitz, Cologne 2014, 213-217, here 214.

8 Annabel Mikaere, Colonising Myths – Māori Realities. He Rukuruku Whakaaro, Wellington 2011.

9 Michael King and Marti Friedlander, Moko: Maori Tattooing in the 20th Century, Wellington 1972 (new edition with foreword by Ngahuia Te Awekotuku), Auckland 2014.

10 King, Friedlander and Te Awekotuku, Moko: Maori Tattooing in the 20th Century (2014).

11 Roger Blackley, Goldie, Auckland 1997, 108.

12 Most of Lindauer’s Māori portraits can be viewed online at http://www.lindaueronline.co.nz/maori-portraits, a project run by Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki (accessed 5 July 2018).

13 Hannah Morris, “Advocate Helps Lindauer Artworks Head Overseas”, in: Stuff (6 January 2015), http://www.stuff.co.nz/entertainment/arts/64657994/advocate-helps-lindauer-artworks-head-overseas (accessed 4 December 2016).