Moko . . . home and away

A rarity in the busy streets of Perth.

A rarity in the busy streets of Perth.

The lines that lead home: Terri Te Kani wears a traditional moko kauae that was done by tohunga ta moko (master and expert) Derek Lardelli. Picture by Shaan Te Kani

Terri Te Kani is one of many Tairawhiti women who wear moko kauae, a traditional Maori chin moko. She is also a woman who wears a moko kauae and lives in Australia. She shares her experience with Shaan Te Kani.

Seeing women wearing moko kauae, walking up the main street in Gizzy, is not a rare thing.

It’s pretty well normalised in Tairawhiti.

But a woman wearing a moko kauae, while walking the busy streets of Perth in Western Australia, is a rarity.

Terri Te Kani is a “Kaiti kid” with whakapapa that links her to all of the Tairawhiti.
She grew up “on the pa”, surrounded by a massive whanau and was raised by Rawinia and Toko Te Kani, leaders of their community, who served the people.

Her mother, and a number of her sisters, nannies, aunties, nieces and cousins, all wear moko kauae.

It is prevalent in her whanau. And became even more so, after the passing of her mother in 2014.

Barely a fortnight after the tangi, a special mokopapa, or wananga was held, where Terri and two of her sisters and three nieces received their moko kauae from tohunga ta moko (master and expert) Derek Lardelli, in memory of their late mother and nanny.

Terri has been living in Merredin, Western Australia for almost two years now, and has a lived experience of being a woman with a moko kauae who lives in another country.

What has stood out for her during this time, is the reaction she has received from young people, and the rural and indigenous communities.

“The kids are cool,” Terri smiles.

“It feels like they don’t see it, my moko. They just see me. Especially the kids in the rural areas.
“The kids have normalised it for me. That has been prevalent. They look right into my eyes.

'Twenty bucks for a photo'

“Adults stare at my kauae. And then they’ll look a second, and a third time.
“Twenty bucks for a photo, I say to them,” she laughs.

“The indigenous people are awesome. As soon as they see it, they bow their head or they acknowledge you.

“And they don’t usually approach or acknowledge anybody.
“They usually call me “sister” or “aunty” (pronounced ‘arnie’).
“It’s like they see it as a sign of rangatiratanga (high significance).
“But I believe that’s just how they think of Maori anyway, regardless of whether I have a moko kauae or not.”

Her first job was as a barmaid in a small town pub in Merredin, which is near Perth.

“There are a lot of older white men there. Being older, they seem to know a bit more about Kiwis.

“When they’d talk to me it was like they knew that my moko kauae was something of significance. They would acknowledge it.

“Tattooing is quite a big culture in Australia, especially in white culture.

"Wow, that's beautiful'

“A lot of people have tattoos but hardly anyone has it on their face or their lips. But I do.
“Nearly every third person will ask me about my kauae. They will try to say ‘ta moko’ or ‘moko’.

“They’ll say ‘wow that’s beautiful’ or ‘are your lips real?’, ‘is that lipstick?’
“But a lot more people want to know about the birth of our moko kauae.”

Terri believes that her moko kauae has kept her safe while living in Australia.

“I had a moment of anxiety when I went to Perth, into the big city for the first time.
“I felt more noticed in the city than I did in the Outback.

“All eyes were on me. Every single person would stare at me and it felt scary.
“It was overwhelming and I couldn’t shake it.

“I started to cover my chin with the collar of my jacket.
“In that moment, I just stopped. I slipped into the doorway of a store and I started to cry and said to myself, ‘Slap yourself Terri. Wake up, how dare you cover your chin’.

“I thought of my mum straight away and my sisters, my whanau.
“It wasn’t a feeling of being ashamed. It was the feeling of being alone.

“I called one of my cousins who lives in Perth, cried to her, and she came and picked me up and told me not to worry about what these people think.

“Having that reassurance from whanau who live here has been a massive support.
“But I also had just moved and I was missing my whanau back home . . . all of those emotions.”

Kauae ki runga (chin up, head up)

So how does she deal with the attention now?

“Kauae ki runga (chin up, head up). I got over my fear. That experience changed my aura and I radiated a different approach. It’s a mindset thing.

“But every other day it’s still, ‘are your lips real?’” she laughs.

When Terri decided to get her kauae done, the thought of how people would treat her outside New Zealand did not cross her mind.
“That was never a consideration for me, because I never thought I would leave Turanga.”

One thing people have asked her is how her 11-year-old daughter Mahara deals with questions being asked about her mum, while living in Australia.

“I often think, how does my baby deal with other people’s comments about my kauae.

“But it’s like she’s proud. Or she’ll get cheeky and say, ‘hey mum that lady’s looking at you’,” she grins.

Since living in Australia, Terri has noticed developments in the moko movement.

“I have seen about nine other women in Perth with moko kauae. That’s quite a bit really.

“I met a kuia from Ngaruawahia, in a mall, with a kauae.

“She was in a shop and someone said to her, ‘hey there’s a girl like you just further down outside another shop. She has one of those (points to chin), just like you.
“She waddled down to me, to meet me. She said, ‘Kia ora my name is Maiangi, I am 78 years old and I have been living here for 40 years. I’m from Ngaruawahia’.

“But I’ve also noticed, in coming home for a holiday, there are even more women with moko kauae back here now. It’s really grown and is beautiful to see.”

What does keep Terri uplifted, while living in Australia, is her whanau that also live there.

“I go to sports days with my whanau. That’s where you see a lot of Maori whanau. And they love it (the moko kauae).

“The feeling I get from them is that they’re proud, especially my nieces who live there.

The power of the moko kauae

“Maori who have grown up in Australia always want to know more about moko.

“They want to know what they need to do, to be able to get moko. It always generates korero from them, when they see mine.

“I just tell them, ‘you’re Maori, that’s it’.

“It’s not about feeling obliged to tell them, but more about sharing what I’ve experienced with my own whanau growing up.

“I tell them, it wasn’t an individual journey for me. It was a kaupapa, which happened as a result of an event and then this came about.

“It paints a full picture for them, when I share my own story.”

Her moko kauae has had an impact on school policy at the local high school in Merriden where she works with at-risk youth.

“A lot of the kids have no respect for anyone, but they seem to be able to relate to me.
“But prior to securing the job, the school policy said staff were to have no visible tattoos.

“The school then added to the policy, ‘unless it has cultural understanding and meaning’.

“That was huge. And it just showed how powerful moko kauae can be.”​

Terri Te Kani is one of many Tairawhiti women who wear moko kauae, a traditional Maori chin moko. She is also a woman who wears a moko kauae and lives in Australia. She shares her experience with Shaan Te Kani.

Seeing women wearing moko kauae, walking up the main street in Gizzy, is not a rare thing.

It’s pretty well normalised in Tairawhiti.

But a woman wearing a moko kauae, while walking the busy streets of Perth in Western Australia, is a rarity.

Terri Te Kani is a “Kaiti kid” with whakapapa that links her to all of the Tairawhiti.
She grew up “on the pa”, surrounded by a massive whanau and was raised by Rawinia and Toko Te Kani, leaders of their community, who served the people.

Her mother, and a number of her sisters, nannies, aunties, nieces and cousins, all wear moko kauae.

It is prevalent in her whanau. And became even more so, after the passing of her mother in 2014.

Barely a fortnight after the tangi, a special mokopapa, or wananga was held, where Terri and two of her sisters and three nieces received their moko kauae from tohunga ta moko (master and expert) Derek Lardelli, in memory of their late mother and nanny.

Terri has been living in Merredin, Western Australia for almost two years now, and has a lived experience of being a woman with a moko kauae who lives in another country.

What has stood out for her during this time, is the reaction she has received from young people, and the rural and indigenous communities.

“The kids are cool,” Terri smiles.

“It feels like they don’t see it, my moko. They just see me. Especially the kids in the rural areas.
“The kids have normalised it for me. That has been prevalent. They look right into my eyes.

'Twenty bucks for a photo'

“Adults stare at my kauae. And then they’ll look a second, and a third time.
“Twenty bucks for a photo, I say to them,” she laughs.

“The indigenous people are awesome. As soon as they see it, they bow their head or they acknowledge you.

“And they don’t usually approach or acknowledge anybody.
“They usually call me “sister” or “aunty” (pronounced ‘arnie’).
“It’s like they see it as a sign of rangatiratanga (high significance).
“But I believe that’s just how they think of Maori anyway, regardless of whether I have a moko kauae or not.”

Her first job was as a barmaid in a small town pub in Merredin, which is near Perth.

“There are a lot of older white men there. Being older, they seem to know a bit more about Kiwis.

“When they’d talk to me it was like they knew that my moko kauae was something of significance. They would acknowledge it.

“Tattooing is quite a big culture in Australia, especially in white culture.

"Wow, that's beautiful'

“A lot of people have tattoos but hardly anyone has it on their face or their lips. But I do.
“Nearly every third person will ask me about my kauae. They will try to say ‘ta moko’ or ‘moko’.

“They’ll say ‘wow that’s beautiful’ or ‘are your lips real?’, ‘is that lipstick?’
“But a lot more people want to know about the birth of our moko kauae.”

Terri believes that her moko kauae has kept her safe while living in Australia.

“I had a moment of anxiety when I went to Perth, into the big city for the first time.
“I felt more noticed in the city than I did in the Outback.

“All eyes were on me. Every single person would stare at me and it felt scary.
“It was overwhelming and I couldn’t shake it.

“I started to cover my chin with the collar of my jacket.
“In that moment, I just stopped. I slipped into the doorway of a store and I started to cry and said to myself, ‘Slap yourself Terri. Wake up, how dare you cover your chin’.

“I thought of my mum straight away and my sisters, my whanau.
“It wasn’t a feeling of being ashamed. It was the feeling of being alone.

“I called one of my cousins who lives in Perth, cried to her, and she came and picked me up and told me not to worry about what these people think.

“Having that reassurance from whanau who live here has been a massive support.
“But I also had just moved and I was missing my whanau back home . . . all of those emotions.”

Kauae ki runga (chin up, head up)

So how does she deal with the attention now?

“Kauae ki runga (chin up, head up). I got over my fear. That experience changed my aura and I radiated a different approach. It’s a mindset thing.

“But every other day it’s still, ‘are your lips real?’” she laughs.

When Terri decided to get her kauae done, the thought of how people would treat her outside New Zealand did not cross her mind.
“That was never a consideration for me, because I never thought I would leave Turanga.”

One thing people have asked her is how her 11-year-old daughter Mahara deals with questions being asked about her mum, while living in Australia.

“I often think, how does my baby deal with other people’s comments about my kauae.

“But it’s like she’s proud. Or she’ll get cheeky and say, ‘hey mum that lady’s looking at you’,” she grins.

Since living in Australia, Terri has noticed developments in the moko movement.

“I have seen about nine other women in Perth with moko kauae. That’s quite a bit really.

“I met a kuia from Ngaruawahia, in a mall, with a kauae.

“She was in a shop and someone said to her, ‘hey there’s a girl like you just further down outside another shop. She has one of those (points to chin), just like you.
“She waddled down to me, to meet me. She said, ‘Kia ora my name is Maiangi, I am 78 years old and I have been living here for 40 years. I’m from Ngaruawahia’.

“But I’ve also noticed, in coming home for a holiday, there are even more women with moko kauae back here now. It’s really grown and is beautiful to see.”

What does keep Terri uplifted, while living in Australia, is her whanau that also live there.

“I go to sports days with my whanau. That’s where you see a lot of Maori whanau. And they love it (the moko kauae).

“The feeling I get from them is that they’re proud, especially my nieces who live there.

The power of the moko kauae

“Maori who have grown up in Australia always want to know more about moko.

“They want to know what they need to do, to be able to get moko. It always generates korero from them, when they see mine.

“I just tell them, ‘you’re Maori, that’s it’.

“It’s not about feeling obliged to tell them, but more about sharing what I’ve experienced with my own whanau growing up.

“I tell them, it wasn’t an individual journey for me. It was a kaupapa, which happened as a result of an event and then this came about.

“It paints a full picture for them, when I share my own story.”

Her moko kauae has had an impact on school policy at the local high school in Merriden where she works with at-risk youth.

“A lot of the kids have no respect for anyone, but they seem to be able to relate to me.
“But prior to securing the job, the school policy said staff were to have no visible tattoos.

“The school then added to the policy, ‘unless it has cultural understanding and meaning’.

“That was huge. And it just showed how powerful moko kauae can be.”​

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Kim Halbert-Pere, Victoria, Australia - 7 months ago
Kauae ki runga (chin up, head up). Thank you for reminding us what it means to come from Tairawhiti with or without a mono kauae.

Perak - 7 months ago
Wow beautiful piece Shaan

Bub Te Kurapa - 6 months ago
Te tu a te rangatira kua tamoko kauaetia, ahakoa ki hea koe e noho ana, tena koe Terri. Rawe nga tuhinga Shaan

Ngaire Nukunuku, Brisbane - 6 days ago
I live in Brisbane and had my moko kauae adorned on to my chin a couple of weeks ago. I felt homesick as since leaving NZ nearly three years ago and it helps me feel connected to home. But it is who I am and I wear mine proudly, remembering all the wahine who were told not to wear one and to assimilate into the world of Western society. I hold my head up and walk proudly because it is who I am. The children are awesome; I have had one person at work who was negative, but I was able to give him an answer that was calm and I gave him facts that he was not aware of. The majority of people are good. A couple of days ago a gentleman said to me I like your tattoo because you are from New Zealand and it is culturally significant, and he made me cry. I said to him I want to shake your hand sir and thank you for what you said to me, it means a lot to me. I feel great. Turumakina Duley adorned my moko kauae in Pimpama, Brisbane.

Rangi te Whiu Jury, Otaki - 6 days ago
Kia ora tuahine, thank you for sharing this informative piece on your journey with your moko. It's really cool to read through and relate with you as I'm on the same journey with my mataora. Mine is being done in stages with the uhi. Reading through this article has prompted me (again) to document this also in a journal of sorts.

Nga manaakitanga ki a koe me te aroha,

Rangi te Whiu Jury
Otaki, NZ

Brent Kerehona, Sydney - 5 days ago
I was born in Australia and I've displayed my moko Mataora since 2006.

The reactions in Australia, and around the world in general (30 countries) has been mostly positive. The only place I've encountered discrimination in relation to my mataora is in Aotearoa (shopkeepers, police and bigoted elderly Pakeha).

The reactions to moko in NZ are beginning to change for the better, though, I've noticed over the past five years.

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