Moko Kauae: the chin tattoo |

Te Hāro o te Kāhu ki Tuawhakarere
See beyond the horizon

Piiata Lauren Turi-Heenan, 45, from Haumoana, New Zealand, tells the story of her chin tattoo, which was first published Things&Ink The Face Issue.

Piatta 2

Photo: Bashan Te Rau Oriwa Heenan

Moko Kauae, the chin tattoo, is a rite of passage, a symbolic expression and manifestation of a dynamic upward movement of time and space within sacred feminine energies. It is a time of collaborating SELF-identity and collective identity within the Iwi, the community/clan. 

‘Rites and rituals were performed over the wearer of Moko Kauae by Tohunga, specialists in their chosen area (birthing, tattooing, ritual prayer etc.) in honour of their journey from female child to entering the realms of Te Whare Tangata – Womanhood: The House of Mankind.

Moko Kauae is the beginning of a higher consciousness of learning and upholding of sacred knowledge and understanding of cycles, biorhythms (moon/tide), rites of childbirth, rites of menopause, arts. Māori women were revered, honoured and seen as the embodiment of Papa-tū-ā-nuku, the earth mother/sister.

‘As contemporary Maori women we have sat in an oppressive colonised state of being for well over a century. Our rites and rituals obscured, even lost to us. But Māori women refused to be imprisoned by western constraints and fought multiple states of oppression to be free from racism, sexism, prejudice, and to reunite nation, community and SELF.

‘I am a descendant of this ancient race and Moko Kauae is my birthright as a Māori woman. It is one of many rites of passage on my amazing journey in the realm of Te Whare Tangata. I express and manifest each personal rite of passage through the art form of Moko.

‘At 27 years of age, I agreed to wear Moko Kauae. My grandfather (Rii Tiakitai-Turi, our tribe Ngati Kahungunu) had made the request, because he didn’t want to see the tradition lost.

‘Over the months that followed, I consulted with tribal elders on maternal and paternal sides, family and friends. There were a few negative comments, “You will ruin your face”, “It’s barbaric”, “It’s Tapu/Taboo – sacred/forbidden”, “Why would you do that?”.It did not deter me, I have never regretted my grandfather’s vision or my decision.

‘At 28, my Moko Kauae was tapped into my skin with tattooing chisels called Uhi. The Tohunga Ta Moko (tattoo artist) was Te Rangi Takuku Kaihoro Laurie Nicholas. Since I was already a mother to five of my 13 children, I also received Moko Pū Whakairo, the lower abdomen tattoo for child bearers.

‘I am now 45, a grandmother of seven (five of whom I’ve delivered), and I will be receiving my Tātua, a mid section tattoo. This will be done the traditional way – with Uhi and pigment from aawheto (mummified caterpillars) by Henriata Nicholas, an incredible Tohunga in her own right.

‘Wearing Moko Kauae has enhanced my life in many ways, including my desire to become a traditional tattooist. I have never been afraid to be me, and my children (four through to 27) and grandchildren see me in the same light they always have –as Mummy and Nanna.

‘I enjoy children’s curiosity and questioning nature. I am not offended when they ask to touch my chin, as I believe this tactile approach helps them learn. I have even given class presentations to students of all ages about my Moko Kauae.

‘Each spiral and curve has a name and a story.  The Whakatakotoranga, the spiral under my chin, is the foundation that knowledge is built upon, the open koru (spiral) represent building blocks of life. The Pūhoro, the wave/tidal patterns, that draw downward from the corners of my lips represent our cycles, biorhythms and our natural affinity to the moon and the tides.  My bottom lip acknowledges earthly/human rites/rituals, and my top lip acknowledges esoteric rites/rituals.

‘I am grateful to all my ancestresses and ancestors who have fought to enable me to stand in my absolute truth beauty and light today as Whare Tangata…The House of Mankind.

‘He Tapu Te Wāhine na te mea he Whare Tangata. Women are sacred because they are The House of Mankind.’

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