Tā moko, aka the traditional body art of the indigenous people of New Zealand. The taonga, or treasure, holds a special meaning for each individual bearing ink.
Originally, the Moko gave insight to a man’s tribal affiliation and social ranking.
Every shape, pattern and symbol told a story of his unique background and offered an insightful connection to his integrity and whakapapa. However, what you see today isn’t always a precise representation of the past.
Around the 20th century (or 1990 to be more specific), Ta moko experienced a rival in popularity and many styles began to mix traditional bases with more modern touches. As for the meaning behind this ink style, it also shifted to become more of an expression of integrity and cultural pride.
Not to mention, outside of the tribal culture it’s quite difficult to spot a true facial moko. While intimidating to some, the head was considered to be the most scared part of the body. Just like in today’s society, it’s a permanent, undeniable declaration of a man that can’t be concealed.
Of course, there’s always the difference between the process of using uhi (chisels) and the modern tattoo machines of today.
Regardless, go ahead and explore these top 90 best Maori tattoo designs for men below. Perhaps you’ll be inspired by in the integrity of this ink style and discover numerous ideas of your own.
Maori Tattoo Ideas
This is a beautiful foot and ankle tattoo featuring the hallmarks of classic Maori design in its use of clear, crisp black lines and differing directional patterns.
A beautifully connected piece, with the turtle being the centrepiece of the back image and both arms. The turtle symbolizes health, longevity and for some people fertility.
This classic tribal design features black flowing lines and clever patterned bands.
Another fine version of the turtle, this one is slightly different in that the animal is at the top of the tattoo at the calf, and all the different patterns flow down from it towards the foot and heel.
The key to this piece is the beautifully sharp black line work that emphasis the edging of shapes and creates a nice sense of depth in detail.
This tattoo uses a slightly fatter kind of line work to create its patterns. It flows together more loosely than those confined within tighter shapes.
The image here shows new work being put into a Maori tattoo. This moko is eventually going to have numerous key features, such as the turtle you see outlined on the shoulder, linked together by the customary range of patterns and shapes drawn in a heavy, flat black ink. The time being put into this work will make for a beautifully realized vision when completed.
This is a nice, crisp Maori style biceps tattoo, which should lead to a bigger interconnected work down the track. You’ll find the connected hatches and almost full diamond linked patterns in a lot of Polynesian tattoos. This piece uses negative space in combination with black ink to create emphasis on the different patterns.
This is the rare Maori style tattoo that uses color. The usual black is in there, but there is a layer of blue wending its way through the image through that is quite unique – it’s rather jarring to see to be honest.
The ocean blue color in this tattoo is eye catching, working well with the design elements to make this smaller Maori tattoo highly detailed.
The half sleeve of this image has the black face of a god (or a Mexican wrestler) as its central point, then uses a variety of tight line drawing to create the rest of the Moko pattern.
This is a hectic full sleeve. The patterning and detail that’s gone in to the piece would have taken an exceptionally long time to execute, but it’s done with consummate skill. This piece is unique, in that it mixes up different elements – a central image, flat back filler, shading, and negative space – together to make the sleeve in full.
.An aged traditional tribal tattoo is being updated in this image. It’s clear the original tattoo has aged poorly – either from bad ink quality, a difficult heal, shabby artist, or all three combined. The new piece will refresh and replace the rest of the tattoo, giving it a uniform flat black application of ink.
This is classy work. The artist has applied a stylised fern and employed a couple of different colors to ink in a beautiful sleeve tattoo. The detail in the red sections shows off a mastery of moko; it can be hard to use the fill color effectively while putting similar technique into the line work doing when pieces of this kind.
Wow. To get such a degree of detail into every pattern of the work takes a bad level of skill. This half sleeve moko looks almost like filigreed steelwork, given the level of shading and color employed. This piece could have realistically taken double the time that a simpler flat black version of the same pattern would have needed for the entire sleeve. Magic skill!
Another piece of Maori traditional work acting as a cover up and stand-alone piece. Here, you can tell by the roughness of some black spots that it’s covering older tattoos. It will likely need going over again at least once more to flatten out the black detail.
This piece is small, yet crisply drawn with beautiful shading and pattern levels. It’s a lovely moko to look at.
The face in the top of this half sleeve is interesting – the symmetry of its shape makes for quit an arresting image. Another point to not is that the black fill is somewhat unusual in places, looking like a pattern was started in an area then abandoned.
This is a beautiful exploration of using flat black and negative space to create an amazing traditional tribal image. The key to the work is incorporating the numerous parts that have not been tattooed to create interesting shapes and patterns, then linking them with the forceful jet black of the inked patterns. The piece even incorporates an old tramp stamp tattoo into the new artwork. Brilliant stuff.
This is the traditional Maori tattoo version of a hectic steampunk bio-mechanical tattoo. The amount of detail to create those vertical patterns down this big unit’s spine is awe inspiring, while the flow of black line work going across his back is top drawer. You won’t come across a better designed and executed artwork on canvas or on skin.
The sinuous line work of heavy black piping makes this a nice full sleeve Maori tattoo. While aided by the filtering of this image, the artist has obviously created a very heavy black pattern throughout the piece – it’s almost visibly jagged and angry.
A bad ass three quarter sleeve Maori tattoo. The god at the top of this piece looks like he’d be up for a few beers and some surfing but would absolutely wreck you during a game of rugby and laugh about it while you picked your loose teeth up off the ground.
The lower part of this half sleeve shows off some beautiful black and gray shading, while at the top of the piece it’s a more traditional flat black pattern.
This is a good example of a Maori style Kirituhi. The shapes, patterns and ‘mana’ differ from the moko style but are still awesome.
The upper arm part of this Maori tattoo looks to be new. The older piece towards the bottom looks to have been retraced and will match up with the artwork on his right arm.
Another added on moko style tattoo. Again, like the last piece the new part has come at the top of the arm. In this artwork it’s a much different style to the bottom half of the tattoo. It’s safe to say, judging from how this piece is being developed that the artist doing the new work on the topmost part of the sleeve is the superior talent.
This piece will be epic when finished. Given the amount of detail in just the small part of tattoo completed this man will be in the chair for quite some time. The artist creating a beautiful polished steel look to the shading rather than a simple flat black pattern.
Curve meets band meets kine meets band meets curve. Throw in some excellent differing patterns within other patterns and you have a beautifully executed Maori tattoo.
It looks like this turtle moko is getting upgraded!
The patterning of this piece – especially the application of short, sharp lines to create continuity in this image is beautifully done.
Must be cold in this studio – old boy has got the goosebumps! This is a slightly different Maori tattoo in that it uses more subtlety in the shading with clear gray ink as a mainstay of the artwork. Most of these types of tattoos just engage a slightly lesser black when shading is employed.
This looks like it’s going to be a pretty difficult regeneration job. The previous work is still heavy, and there’s lots of detail in the piece.
After looking at quite a few of these Maori tattoos you can pick up when one employs an interesting pattern varying from the standard patterns. Here, the diamond heads (they like the nib of a calligraphy pen) and triangular hatches are done in a way just different enough to be noticeable.
This subject wouldn’t have enjoyed the pain thresholds needed for this three-quarter sleeve. That’s a lot of time spent being uncomfortable and at the mercy of an artist dropping heavy black ink on you for numerous hours.
This is a bad ass take on the Maori tattoo. Rather than use flat black, this piece pretty much ignores color to focus on line work in creating the patterns throughout. The traditional pattern elements are there, but the lines themselves are the focus rather than shapes to be filled in with black and shadow.
This is another perfectly executed full sleeve tattoo. It seems the very best work can effortlessly create two or three layers of color in the shading and pattern work, making the detail levels of the piece go right off the charts.
Is the Maori god in this image wearing goggles?
This unfinished Maori tattoo looks good, but the negative space seems to be an avoidance of the area rather than a part of the tattoo. It would be interesting to see if this gap is filled by focal point image or continues to be left blank.
This is an effective lower leg tattoo. The line work counteracts the flat black to create an interesting artwork.
This is a rare Maori design utilizing a flower as it’s focal point. In this tattoo, the use of different gray shades and the illusion of leather/wicker makes for quality patterning.
Okay, so this is a cool take on a Maori tattoo. The primary image is of a turtle, however there are different elements of color and shading employed. There even seems to be the visage of a female god in there’ given there are clearly a pair of feminine lips in the image.
This is a beautiful tattoo. The line work is crisp and fresh. It uses a series of narrow black lines drawn with a single needle to create beautiful patterns. This beauty is heightened by the shark motifs employed using negative space within their shaping.
Rather than opt for a cover up this piece builds on the original tattoo with sharp linework. Hopefully once the healing is complete the full piece will blend in together.
The pattern in this piece is created through effective use of negative space to alleviate the total black in the rest of his work.
Maori Tattoo FAQs
How did Maori tattooing begin?
Tattooing is common throughout the islands that make up Polynesia. However, each group of islands and peoples have their own customs, styles and traditional approaches to tattoo. The Maori tattoo technique, which is almost a cutting and scarring style of deeper grooved tattoo, is unique.
Maori tattoo – loosely described as moko – can be traced back mythological origin stories and have been passed on to the Maori from their Gods, who taught them the various types of tattoo and their significance.
English explorer Captain James Cook brought the word tattoo, which comes from the Samoan tatau, into Western culture by writing of them in his missives to the Queen, while his sailors brought back actual tattoos on the skin of their chests, arms and hands.
What is the significance of Ta Moko?
Ta moko is a central facet of Maori culture and an outward visual expression of commitment, respect, and honor. It is the traditional permanent marking of the body and face by Maori with chisel and sharp implement to leave the skin with textured, colored grooves rather than the smooth surface of a normal tattoo.
A facial Ta moko is the ultimate statement of identity in Maori culture, because the head is believed to be the most sacred part of the body. Through wearing the moko on your face you make a visually recognizable declaration of who you are and a constant reminder to the significance of Maori culture on your own identity.
Non-Maori are not allowed to get Ta moko. However, Kirituhi is a Maori style tattoo either made by non-Maori tattooists or made for non-Maori subjects. Kirituhi has its own spirit (mana) and tells the story of its bearer in the Maori visual language.