Tangi ke, tangi ke, tangi ke rava

Wednesday September 12, 2018 Published in Letters to the Editor
Famed New Zealand Maori anthropologist Te Rangi Hiroa (Sir Peter Buck) described Mangaian face tattoos in his book, “Arts and Crafts of the Cook Islands.” 18091127 Famed New Zealand Maori anthropologist Te Rangi Hiroa (Sir Peter Buck) described Mangaian face tattoos in his book, “Arts and Crafts of the Cook Islands.” 18091127

Dear Editor,

I have been following with interest the missives in CINews regarding the culture of facial tattoos in the Cook Islands.


Some say we never had them, some say we did.  This is what Te Rangi Hiroa (Sir Peter Buck), a New Zealand Maori anthropologist and the author of “Arts & Crafts in the Cook Islands”, researched and discovered:

Mangaians had their faces tattooed with three design motifs:

 1. Pu rauti: A face motif with curved base toward the ear and apex toward nose. Describe as looking like an elongated filled-in black “V” starting from the ear, going to the side of the nose, with curls protruding at the nose-end, one curl curling up towards the eyes and the one curl curling down below the lower lips at the side of the mouth.

2. Poe rau ti: A face pattern with point towards the ear. Described as a straight line from under the nose and another from the lower chin and meeting at a point at the ear. Another elongated “V”, but not filled in.

3. Ngutu; female pattern on the upper lip. Similar to the moko worn by New Zealand Maori women. This pattern has curls at the outer edges of the mouth curl up, curl down and two vertical lines going down the lip.

Aitutaki also had facial tattoo.  Theirs was called ta tatao, a face pattern consisting of three series of three curved lines, first series above each eyebrow resembling the New Zealand Maori tiwhana motif, the second series from either side of nose around corner of mouth resembling the New Zealand Maori kawe motif; and third series on chin.

Our two cultures have many similarities. We call ourselves brothers and sisters and most likely for good reason: we are connected by a common past, a culture and language that is very similar, and may well have originated from the same land.

Way back in our history we too practiced, as our greeting, the hongi (New Zealand Maori nose greeting), before the cheek kiss (from another culture), was introduced.

Our heritage and culture before missionaries changed our ways

It is both remarkable and heart-breaking. We have lost so much of what makes up the soul of our own culture. Over time, what we have managed to remember and hold on to is becoming diluted, influenced by other cultures, their values and their practices.

Ours is changing too rapidly (especially on Rarotonga). Why? To accommodate visitors from other shores, and the result is that we are forgetting what we once practiced, who we were, and the essence of what makes us Maori Kuki Airani. 

It is time that OUR history and OUR culture becomes an integral part of our lives and of our children’s education. Before all is lost, we adults/parents must wake up and realise that we must also play a leading role in practicing our culture and values every day for no-one else but ourselves, our children and future generations.

Let us all learn more about our history and heritage, practice our Maori values and virtues, use our language at every opportunity and become a people proud of our culture and heritage and confident in who are and where we came from.

A Mangaian saying goes, Aru i te ara o te ra (literal translation – follow the pathway of the sun). Metaphorically speaking it means, “Pursue the positive elements of your culture”.

            Meitaki ngao

            Jackie Tuara

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