The Guardian talks to Nanaia Mahuta, a New Zealand Labour MP from the Waikato-Maniapoto tribe in New Zealand, who is the first woman to wear a moko kauae, or traditional female Māori chin tattoo, in parliament.
“Moko is a statement of identity, like a passport,” explains Nanaia Mahuta. “I am at a time in my life where I am ready to make a clear statement that this is who I am, and this is my position in New Zealand.”
Mokos are usually bestowed on high-ranking Māori women as a reflection of their standing and mana, or power, in the community.
Traditionally women’s facial moko were confined to the chin area, while men’s could be across the whole face.
The Guardian points out that although the prevalence of facial moko declined after European colonisation, since the late 20th century there has been a renaissance of facial moko as a means of reclaiming Māori identity and culture.
Mahuta said her moko was both highly individual and also intrinsically linked to her tribe, whanau (family) and bonds to the rivers and mountains of New Zealand.
Marama Fox, co-leader of the Maori party, said: “Apart from the fact that I find her moko kauae stunningly beautiful, it is an expression of her whakapapa [genealogy] and uniqueness.
“I’m proud as a Māori woman to sit alongside her in parliament restoring to our political landscape a symbolic gesture of rangatiratanga [self-determination] previously dissuaded during our colonial struggle to give vote to Māori women in their land of inheritance.
Mahuta, who has been an MP for 20 years, is also interested in breaking down the negative associations that facial moko have with gang membership in New Zealand.
“I think there is an emerging awareness about the revitalisation of Māori culture and that facial moko is a positive aspect of that. We need to move away from moko being linked to gangs, because that is not what moko represent at all.”
Mahuta said that since she was inked, the majority of responses had been positive and inquisitive – and sparked conversations about Māori culture and traditions in modern, multi-cultural New Zealand.