Episode 4, Fact 2 - Maori and how we communicated through Moko
Māori also known as "Te Reo" (the language) is an eastern Polynesian language spoken by the Māori people, the indigenous population of New Zealand. There was originally no native writing system for Māori . Missionaries brought the Latin alphabet around 1814, and linguist Samuel Lee worked with Chief Hongi Hika to systematise the written language in 1820 and the phonetic spellings were remarkably successful. Written Māori has changed little since then.
The tradition of Moko is a complex, intricate and effective form of identification and as the Moko can be read, it was accepted as a form of communication, a sign system, a living document represented by meaningful marks on the human body. Many notable Chiefs, when required to sign formal contracts with the Pakeha did so by afixing their Moko signatures, drawing every curve and spiral with the greatest care and exactitude.
In attempting to rationalise the meaning and significance of the Moko nineteenth century Europeans have variously compared it to the kilts of the Scots or Heraldic blazonry such as coat of arms.
It was understood that the message of a Moko was fundamental to the identity of the wearer.
Ref: Tom Riley, Otago Witness, July 14 1889.
John Lillie Craik, The New Zealanders, London 1830
James Cowan, Maori Tattooing Survivals 1921