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These Are What Real Maori Tattoos Look Like

I discover the meaning behind a Maori woman’s tattoos.

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KAWAKAWA, New Zealand- I thought there must have been some kind of deep meaning behind them, like something about kinship and ancestors and all that stuff I read in my anthropology texts long ago, I immediately thought to myself as I looked at the the rough tattoos that adorned the face and hands of the custodian of Hundertwasser Toilets.

The Maori have a long tradition of tattooing, and it was once common for the swirling patterns to cover faces, hands, and, sometimes, entire bodies. These tattoos generally had very specific meanings that they were meant to communicate, but when I asked the custodian about this she just looked at me and laughed.

“That is just something I did when I was twelve,” she said. “I was in school playing with some ink and a friend came by with a needle and started doing this.”

She pointed to the array of dots on her left hand.

She said the same thing happened for the tattoos on her right hand and the heart with love scrawled below it on the outside of her forearm. She then pointed to each of the letters at the points of the web-like design on her right hand:




It read.

“It’s my name, but it’s missing an N and an A,” she said with a laugh.


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Filed under: New Zealand, Tattoo, Travel Diary

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3715 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: New York City

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