Portrait of a Maori with tattoed face

Incredible Face Tattoos from the 19th Century

Beautiful portraits of the Māori art of tā moko.

For generations, the Māori — the indigenous people of New Zealand — have adorned their bodies and faces with elaborate markings called tā moko. Traditionally, these markings speak to the ancestry, identity, and social standing of the Māori who bear them. Many of the portraits below were taken by Elizabeth Pulman, one of New Zealand's first photographers, in the late 19th century.

Tā moko, particularly facial moko, was a sign of high status. Women received facial moko on their lips and chin; a man's might cover much of his face. This portrait was made between 1886 and 1888. Alinari Archives/Alinari via Getty Images Tā moko, particularly facial moko, was a sign of high status. Women received facial moko on their lips and chin; a man's might cover much of his face. This portrait was made between 1886 and 1888. This photograph of Māori chief Menehira Whatiwatihoe — and his intricate inkings — was taken in 1875 by Elizabeth Pulman. Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images This photograph of Māori chief Menehira Whatiwatihoe — and his intricate inkings — was taken in 1875 by Elizabeth Pulman. The markings, which were permanent, were made with an instrument known as an uhi, often carved from albatross bone, and ink from vegetable dyes. This portrait, of a Maori named Hereni, was taken circa 1880. Photo 12/UIG via Getty Images The markings, which were permanent, were made with an instrument known as an uhi, often carved from albatross bone, and ink from vegetable dyes. This portrait, of a Maori named Hereni, was taken circa 1880. Tūkāroto Matutaera Pōtatau Te Wherowhero Tāwhiao, the second Māori king, in a portrait taken between 1886 and 1888 Alinari Archives/Alinari via Getty Images Tūkāroto Matutaera Pōtatau Te Wherowhero Tāwhiao, the second Māori king, in a portrait taken between 1886 and 1888 Tai Huia, one of King Tāwhiao's daughters and a Maori princess, in a portrait taken circa 1880 Photo 12/UIG via Getty Images Tai Huia, one of King Tāwhiao's daughters and a Maori princess, in a portrait taken circa 1880 In 1840, Heta Te Haara, Ohaeawai — the Maori chief pictured here — was among the signers of the Treaty of Waitangi, one of New Zealand's founding documents. This picture was made some 40 years later. Photo 12/UIG via Getty Images In 1840, Heta Te Haara, Ohaeawai — the Maori chief pictured here — was among the signers of the Treaty of Waitangi, one of New Zealand's founding documents. This picture was made some 40 years later. An unidentified Maori man, circa 1886 Alinari Archives/Alinari via Getty Images An unidentified Maori man, circa 1886 Hariata Rongowhitiao, Maori chief Photo 12/UIG via Getty Images Hariata Rongowhitiao, Maori chief Te Hinote Kawau, circa 1880 Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images Te Hinote Kawau, circa 1880 Monga Rewi, Maori chief of the Manipoto tribe, circa 1875 Photo 12/UIG via Getty Images Monga Rewi, Maori chief of the Manipoto tribe, circa 1875 Teroro Tamati, Maori chief Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images Teroro Tamati, Maori chief A Maori man named Tema Hopa, circa 1880 Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images A Maori man named Tema Hopa, circa 1880
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