Maori tattoos were brought by the Maori people to the New Zealand from their homelands. The Maori name for tattoos, particularly facial tattoos are ‘moko’, and the process of making it is called ‘ta moko’. There is no specific date that when the Maori people adoped this art. There is a possibility that the Maori tattoo was simply brought to New Zealand from Polynesia rather than being developed separately, and was simply not in main-stream practice when Tasman arrived.
By that time Cook arrived though, ta-moko had become an integral part of Maori culture and during war they started tooking the tattooed head of their enemies as trophies during war.
In the 19th sentury Europeans made regular contact with the Maori tribes. A less historical explanation for the origin of the Maori tattoo can be found in the local legend which suggests that ta moko, the Maori tattoo, came from the underworld, called Uetonga. The legend states that there was a young warrior called Mataora, who fell in love with the princess of the underworld – called Niwareka. Niwareka came above-ground to marry Mataora but Mataora mistreated his wife and she went back in the underworld.
Mataora apologized before Niwareka’s family, and this act won Niwareka back. Before returning above-ground, it was said that Niwareka’s father, the king of the underworld, taught Mataora the art of ta moko. Mataora brought back these skills to his people, and that was how the Maori came to have their distinct type of tattoo.