Story: Tā moko – Māori tattooing

Trade in tattooed heads, 1770

Trade in tattooed heads, 1770

The figure standing to the left of the canoe's sail in this 1770 drawing is holding a tattooed and preserved human head. The scene was drawn by artist Sydney Parkinson during British explorer James Cook's first voyage to New Zealand. In that year Joseph Banks, a scientist travelling with Cook's expedition, bought a preserved head from an old man in in Queen Charlotte Sound, who was, however, very reluctant to sell it. From about the 1820s the demand by Europeans for tattooed heads was so great that Māori were prepared to sell them willingly. They may even have tattooed slaves in order to kill them and sell their heads. 

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British Library
Reference: Add.Ms.23920 f.49
Pen and wash sketch by Sydney Parkinson

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How to cite this page:

Rawinia Higgins, 'Tā moko – Māori tattooing - Contemporary moko', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 16 June 2024)

Story by Rawinia Higgins, published 5 Sep 2013