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July 23, 2018 | by  | in Opinion |
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What is the Criteria for a Moko Kauae?

What is the criteria for a moko kauae? I stupidly asked.

This is a question I asked myself and fellow peers in my MAOR302 class after seeing on the news that a Pākehā woman, Sally Anderson, wore her moko loud and proud. This article isn’t about the merits of Anderson’s choice. I knew it was instinctively wrong; it was cultural appropriation at its best. But upon further inspection, I realised that I actually didn’t know the tikanga behind moko kauae. Is it only kuia (elderly women) that can receive them? Do you have to have some requisite knowledge in tikanga and te reo Māori first? Do you have to have a blessing from your own kuia, whānau, hapū, or even iwi first? What do you need to do to have the privilege of receiving a moko kauae?
For those that don’t know, a moko kauae is a traditional Māori chin tattoo that is worn by Māori women. Growing up, I had only ever seen it on kuia. It was only a few years ago that I saw it on someone my own age (early 20s). Since then, I’ve seen it become more common among younger Māori women. Recently there was a story of 16-year-old Muriwai Hei who had chosen to receive one after careful consideration alongside her whānau. Initially, I thought this was odd. I had grown up believing that only the well-versed and elderly in tikanga and te reo Māori could receive one. That was the kind of “checklist” I thought you had to tick off before your own kuia granted you permission. Hei maybe well-versed in tikanga and te reo Māori but she is certainly not old. However, the “answer” or only “checklist” I found lies in what the moko kauae represents. The moko kauae is a physical manifestation of our whakapapa (genealogy) and as such is an affirmation of our whānau, hapū, and iwi, and acknowledgement of our tūpuna that came before us. Therefore, the only “requisite” is whakapapa. I suppose that answers Anderson’s question. As Leonie Pihema wrote: “In whatever process Māori women are engaged in, it is our right to wear moko kauae and it always has been … it is our fundamental right to wear the symbols of our ancestors”.

Your decision may be influenced by the blessing of your whānau or kuia, or it may be a decision you make as a Māori woman. At the end of the day it is your fundamental right as a Māori woman to have one if you so choose.

The colonial belief systems had influenced me into believing that I must be a kuia, have an expert knowledge of tikanga and te reo Māori, have permission or have done some great mahi for my people in order to earn the privilege of wearing one. However, it is not a privilege to be earned, it is a right for myself and wāhine Māori as wāhine Māori.
Tina Ngata articulated this point beautifully:
“There are statements that infer, or outright declare, that Wāhine Māori should be examining their own behaviour or pathways before they take on moko kauwae. Statements that outline what is acceptable for a Wāhine mau moko to do, or what she MUST do now that she has taken up this birthright. Statements about how much Wāhine must achieve in other people’s’ eyes, or how she must contribute to her community before she takes up her birthright.”
“There really is no way to make these kinds of statements without first making a judgement about Wāhine in general and that is… that in your natural state of Wāhine – you are not enough. That as a member of a line of Wāhine who descend down from Hina – you are not enough. That as a survivor of multiple generations of attempted genocide, as a survivor of this very specific battleground of settler colonial racism and patriarchy – you are not enough. That as a vessel for the continuation of our existence as Māori – you are not enough.”

“And to that I say: E Hine, You ARE enough.”
As wāhine Māori we are enough. I am enough. We are more than enough and that is all you “need” to have a moko kauae. Yourself.

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