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A halo lamp shines a bright white light across the face of a wahine, as she lies on her back in the middle of the dark ancestral house, Te Rangimārie.

It's a peaceful place. Whānau surround the woman, eyes glued to the bone uhi tap, tap, tapping across taut skin. In the back of the room an uncle strums an acoustic guitar, guiding the ancient and modern waiata being sung by the crowd.

Without the halo it would be dark inside. The charred powerbox outside has cut out and there's no electricity. A tohu perhaps, a sign the marae in Rangiotū and its Rangitāne o Manawatū people are returning to the days of their tīpuna.

It’s taken Nuwyne Te Awe Awe Mohi 42 years to get here. The path was laid by the kuia sitting beside her. Their chins are already marked, carrying the legacy and patterns of the past.

Visual journalist Warwick Smith and I are also here, after an invitation to attend the very private event with other community members.

For me, a young Kāi Tahu woman still learning about my own identity, the moment is as deeply personal as it is for Te Awe Awe Mohi. Two wāhine Māori with different experiences, connecting through the traditional practice of moko kauae.

You can listen to this story as a podcast. Hit the play button below, or find The Long Read via podcast apps like Apple PodcastsSpotify or Google Podcasts.

Hēmi Te Peeti outlines the moko kauae on Nuwyne Te Awe Awe Mohi's chin.

Hēmi Te Peeti outlines the moko kauae.

Hēmi Te Peeti outlines the moko kauae.

Nuwyne Te Awe Awe Mohi gives herself over to her uncle as the process begins.

Nuwyne Te Awe Awe Mohi gives herself over to her uncle as the process begins.

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Hēmi Te Peeti outlines the moko kauae on Nuwyne Te Awe Awe Mohi's chin.

Hēmi Te Peeti outlines the moko kauae.

Hēmi Te Peeti outlines the moko kauae.

Nuwyne Te Awe Awe Mohi gives herself over to her uncle as the process begins.

Nuwyne Te Awe Awe Mohi gives herself over to her uncle as the process begins.

Nuwyne Te Awe Awe Mohi walks confidently towards the bench in the centre of the wharenui. All eyes are on her face; fair skin bare of any markings. She stops and talks to people as she goes by, barely noticing her hair being plaited by her oldest daughter, Aareta.

Te Awe Awe Mohi embraces her tamariki and husband before lying down, her face and life about to change forever.

I’m seated in the back of Te Rangimārie. Te Awe Awe Mohi has been preparing for this moment for many years. She’s at peace as she waits for the marking to begin.

You need to be settled when you come for a moko kauae, Hēmi Te Peeti says. 

A tohunga tā moko - although he wouldn’t call himself that - Hēmi says his wife, Takarea Te Peeti, is his balance. She sits next to Te Awe Awe Mohi to wipe away the blood and keep it safe to be buried later. Hēmi will not carry out his specialised work without Takarea. They form two parts of the triangle of wairua with wāhine who receive their tā moko, he says.

There’s been no mock-up of what the moko kauae will look like. Te Awe Awe Mohi has given herself over to Te Peeti, and to the process.

Te Awe Awe Mohi prepares to lie down to receive her moko kauae.

Te Awe Awe Mohi prepares to lie down to receive her moko kauae.

Reclaiming by right what is yours but not feeling like it’s yours to have, especially as a light-skinned Kāi Tahu wahine, is a difficult barrier to break down. You build the wall yourself. A lot of it has got to do with the way you think others will perceive you. But it’s in my blood.

Being Māori is in my blood. Maxine Jacobs

It’s been difficult to accept. I’ve struggled to feel like I belong when I don't look like anyone or have any knowledge about my culture. I’m proud of my whakapapa, but I am whakamā about a lack of connection to my whānau, hapū, iwi, and tīpuna.

Nuwyne Te Awe Awe Mohi is also fair-skinned but she has always known who she is. Watching someone who looks like me be entirely themselves gives me hope. We are connected in our journey to understand our identities and the expression of it.

I knew that I wasn’t like everyone else. I didn’t look Māori to other people, but when you talked to me you knew. Nuwyne Te Awe Awe Mohi

She’s a fierce wahine toa. Her mana extends out like a warm, strong breeze pulling you in. Being the daughter of the chairman of Rangitāne o Manawatū, Wiremu Te Awe Awe Kingi, comes with certain roles she needs to uphold, and she’s up for the challenge.

Her whānau grew up a few doors down from their marae. Alongside other mokopuna, she did odd jobs at the whare, following kuia commands, soaking up her culture by osmosis. 

“Back in the late 80s you didn’t hear anything about Māori, nothing was taught. The only time you knew about local history was what you learned from your grandparents.

That’s how I knew I was Māori,
from those stories.
Nuwyne Te Awe Awe Mohi

She didn’t realise the importance of what her whānau were connecting her to at the time, but it came to a head when at age nine she was asked to do the karanga for her classmates during a school visit to Te Rangimārie. 

“I remember thinking at that time, ‘Hm, this is me. I should actually know all about this’. That’s when that spark took hold where I knew I wanted more.”

The basic outline of moko kauae has been completed on Te Awe Awe Mohi.

The basic outline of moko kauae has been completed on Te Awe Awe Mohi.

The crowd in the wharenui falls quiet as Hēmi Te Peeti tells the story of how Mataora was gifted tā moko to bring to the living realm.

Mataora, a man, and Niwareka, a tūrehu, lived together in Te Ao Tūroa. One day in a rage, Mataora struck Niwareka in the face. She fled back to her home in Rarohenga, where domestic violence was unheard of.

But Mataora became lonely and followed her. Instead, he found Uetonga, her father. 

“Most men who have daughters don’t take nicely to men who beat up their daughters,” says Te Peeti. “He gave him a hiding first, then he tapped his face so he’d never forget the mistake he made to his daughter. ‘Let it be a physical thing for you. Every time you look in the mirror, that’s what you see’.”

As the wāhine of the spirit world nursed Mataora back to health, he realised the importance of women, the care and balance they bring to life. Uetonga acknowledged the change in Mataora and gifted him the skill of tā moko, but not of healing or the stories that it carries. He gave those gifts to his daughter.

As Te Peeti lets the wairua guide his kauae design, his wife Takarea takes hold of a cloth ready to wipe away the blood, and Nuwyne’s breathing relaxes.

The scene is set, his chisel ready. Hēmi recites a karakia. The first tap begins.

Whānau watch on as Te Peeti taps the uhi into the skin of Te Awe Awe Mohi.

Whānau watch on as Te Peeti taps the uhi into the skin of Te Awe Awe Mohi.

Te Awe Awe Mohi remembers her grandmother retelling the story of how her great-grandmother had tried to take her daughter - Te Awe Awe Mohi's nanny - to Ōtaki to get a moko kauae when she was 16. She refused.

“She said it wasn’t the right time or place,” says Te Awe Awe Mohi. “That kind of stuck with me because I was always fascinated about it. Those were past traditions and those would change.”

When Te Awe Awe Mohi had her first pēpi the aunties descended. ‘Your children need to grow up with the reo,’ they told her. By 2000, the resurgence of te reo Māori was well and truly underway and starting the lives of her tamariki off with their native language was a necessity. 

Everyday she took her children to Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Manawatū, learning te reo Māori alongside them. Her admiring eyes were drawn to a whaea who had a moko kauae.

“My journey and transition from a mainstream world started then. I started feeling and tracing out what they look like and thinking, ‘Wow I can’t wait to get mine’.”

In 2020, as she sat underneath a photo of her grandmother at a hui, she made the decision to wear the taonga.

Traditionally women wear the markings passed down by their tīpuna, showing their whakapapa and carrying the mana of their ancestors. But to choose one moko over another would be to choose one side of herself, Te Awe Awe Mohi says. 

She asked Te Peeti, her uncle, to place a new moko kauae on her chin. Blind to what it would look like, Te Awe Awe Mohi put her faith in Te Peeti to determine its design.

Nuwyne Te Awe Awe Mohi, lies on a tattooing table under a halo-shaped bright white lamp. She is dressed in a plain black top, with a woven, feathered cloak lying over her legs, and her eyes are closed. Her daughter, Aareta Mohi, is standing next to the table holding her arm for comfort and support. The tattooist, Hēmi Te Peeti, is at the head of the table, wearing black rubber gloves and a headlamp. His wife Takarea, an older woman with short dyed red hair, stands on the other side of the table and presses a soft cloth to Nuwyne’s chin to wipe away blood from the first chisel marks Hēmi has made. A crowd of people are dimly lit in the background. Everyone is inside an older building with a sharply pitched roof, wooden panelled walls and ceiling beams painted with traditional Māori designs in red and white.
A close-up shot of the tattooist, Hēmi Te Peeti, leaning over Nuwyne Te Awe Awe Mohi as he begins chiselling her moko kauae. Hēmi wears glasses and a headlamp and has a tā moko (traditional Māori facial tattoo for men) covering his face from his cheekbones down to his chin. He holds his uhi (his traditional tattooing tool) in his right hand - the handle is made of red and clear plastic but the tip of the uhi is made of albatross bone. In his other hand he is holding a polished wooden stick that he uses to tap the top of the uhi to mark Nuwyne’s skin. The movement of the stick is slightly blurred in the image.
A close shot of Nuwyne's daughters, Hiria Mohi (left) and Aareta Mohi (right) watching the moko kauae process. They are standing next to the halo lamp used to light the room and are looking slightly downward, with solemn, focused expressions. Both have long, dark loose hair and are wearing light-coloured long-sleeved tops.
A close shot of two older Māori women in the room with Nuwyne Te Awe Awe Mohi. Both women have short, silvery hair and moko kauae. They have their mouths open and appear to be singing waiata. The woman on the right wears a salmon-coloured top with a brooch, a black blanket or coat covering her shoulders, and a shark’s tooth earring. The woman on the right, who appears to be slightly older, wears a long black top or dress with a bright pink and purple silk scarf around her neck. She wears pounamu earrings and a pounamu and silver pendant.
A very close shot of Hēmi Te Peeti as he continues tattooing. The photo shows just his face between the blurred shoulders of two people in the foreground. Hēmi wears glasses and a headlamp and has a tā moko (traditional Māori facial tattoo for men) covering his face from his cheekbones down to his chin. The wooden stick he holds to tap his uhi (traditional chiselling tool) is blurred, indicating he is moving it up and down rapidly.
Nuwyne Te Awe Awe Mohi, lies on a tattooing table under a halo-shaped bright white lamp. She is dressed in a plain black top, with a woven, feathered cloak lying over her legs, and her eyes are closed. Her daughter, Aareta Mohi, is standing next to the table holding her arm for comfort and support. The tattooist, Hēmi Te Peeti, is at the head of the table, wearing black rubber gloves and a headlamp. His wife Takarea, an older woman with short dyed red hair, stands on the other side of the table and presses a soft cloth to Nuwyne’s chin to wipe away blood from the first chisel marks Hēmi has made. A crowd of people are dimly lit in the background. Everyone is inside an older building with a sharply pitched roof, wooden panelled walls and ceiling beams painted with traditional Māori designs in red and white.
A close-up shot of the tattooist, Hēmi Te Peeti, leaning over Nuwyne Te Awe Awe Mohi as he begins chiselling her moko kauae. Hēmi wears glasses and a headlamp and has a tā moko (traditional Māori facial tattoo for men) covering his face from his cheekbones down to his chin. He holds his uhi (his traditional tattooing tool) in his right hand - the handle is made of red and clear plastic but the tip of the uhi is made of albatross bone. In his other hand he is holding a polished wooden stick that he uses to tap the top of the uhi to mark Nuwyne’s skin. The movement of the stick is slightly blurred in the image.
A close shot of Nuwyne's daughters, Hiria Mohi (left) and Aareta Mohi (right) watching the moko kauae process. They are standing next to the halo lamp used to light the room and are looking slightly downward, with solemn, focused expressions. Both have long, dark loose hair and are wearing light-coloured long-sleeved tops.
A close shot of two older Māori women in the room with Nuwyne Te Awe Awe Mohi. Both women have short, silvery hair and moko kauae. They have their mouths open and appear to be singing waiata. The woman on the right wears a salmon-coloured top with a brooch, a black blanket or coat covering her shoulders, and a shark’s tooth earring. The woman on the right, who appears to be slightly older, wears a long black top or dress with a bright pink and purple silk scarf around her neck. She wears pounamu earrings and a pounamu and silver pendant.
A very close shot of Hēmi Te Peeti as he continues tattooing. The photo shows just his face between the blurred shoulders of two people in the foreground. Hēmi wears glasses and a headlamp and has a tā moko (traditional Māori facial tattoo for men) covering his face from his cheekbones down to his chin. The wooden stick he holds to tap his uhi (traditional chiselling tool) is blurred, indicating he is moving it up and down rapidly.

The strums of the guitar are almost drowned out by the waiata filling up Te Rangimārie. Listening to the songs fills me up too.

Te Peeti says the singers are setting the wairua, giving Te Awe Awe Mohi the atmosphere she needs to push through the pain of the uhi and settle herself. Their waiata allows her wairua to create a bridge to Rarohenga with Hēmi and Takarea. If they stop or someone speaks, she will be drawn back to Mataora’s plane.

With eyes closed, Te Awe Awe is in a different world. Te Rangimārie, built as a church, has transported her to another realm, and we are supporting her journey. 

Rhythmically tapping, Te Peeti carves a ruru into her chin. He can’t always see where he’s going; wairua guides his chisel. Like Te Awe Awe Mohi, he yields to the process. 

The ruru is a sacred bird for wāhine, Te Peeti says. It carries the healing and mātauranga reo that will sound when Te Awe Awe Mohi performs the karanga.

It is worn by our tīpuna because the reo they speak were the words of truth, Te Peeti says.  

The three of them are tapped into the same wairua. With his headlamp and glasses on, Te Peeti breaks the skin, his wife wipes away the blood. 

Te Peeti has sanded each piece of bone he uses at the tip of the uhi to precision. He chose the bone of the albatross for its connection to Rarohenga, as the bird that flew from that place into ours. 

He straps the bone to the wooden stick with a fishing line to ensure it doesn’t soak up any ink. 

In less than an hour the moko kauae is complete. In a moment, the whare changes from a symphony of voices to silence. 

Unmoving, everyone’s eyes are locked on the face below the halo. 

Te Peeti drops his hands. Te Awe Awe Mohi opens her eyes for the first time. She’s remade.

Te Awe Awe Mohi receives her moko kauae.

As Te Awe Awe Mohi rises the tears begin to fall. Those in the room silently weep with her, including me. Proud and feeling connected to her tīpuna, Te Awe Awe Mohi has transformed before us.

I hadn’t stepped up or down, but I had stepped into this new space. Nuwyne Te Awe Awe Mohi

Embracing her whānau, her husband, her children, she is a vision. Unable to speak, I am engulfed in the emotion of the moment. 

The taonga of the moko kauae has always been there. Te Awe Awe Mohi has seen it under her skin, and now she presents it to the world.

I feel like I’m me, I look into the mirror and I feel normal. In the weeks leading up to before I got it, I didn’t look right in the mirror. Now everywhere I go I will be represented. Nuwyne Te Awe Awe Mohi

Takairoa Mohi is engulfed in emotion as he embraces his mother.

Takairoa Mohi is engulfed in emotion as he embraces his mother.

Te Awe Awe Mohi embraces her whānau.

Te Awe Awe Mohi embraces her whānau.

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Takairoa Mohi is engulfed in emotion as he embraces his mother.

Takairoa Mohi is engulfed in emotion as he embraces his mother.

Te Awe Awe Mohi embraces her whānau.

Te Awe Awe Mohi embraces her whānau.

Moko kauae was a normalised practice before Pākehā arrived en masse in the 1800s. It was the Christian faith that fought to remove the etchings from wāhine Māori faces. They were unsuccessful. Tā moko on tāne declined significantly, but kauae markings remained steadfast with wāhine.

In a 2019 study of tā moko histories and identities by Michaela Ngaropaki Teresa Hart, she described how tā moko was nearly taken from Māori. But their mokopuna have reclaimed the taonga.

It has been fuelled by the revitalisation of te reo Māori in the 80s, which has carried through to today, uplifting other traditional practices that were commonplace before Pākehā. 

For tīpuna, moko is a birthright that was normal and expected, says Hart. But the stresses of colonisation built up barriers for tangata whenua, leading to expectations about who can receive the markings. 

Many feel they are not worthy of tā moko, she writes.

To them I say, you were always worthy, and you always will be. To mark your identity is to mark yourself with something that can never be taken away from you. Michaela Ngaropaki Teresa Hart

“I have found in my discussions during this study that many believe that you must be of service to your iwi to receive tā moko. To them I say, it is already a service to proudly wear a tā moko, because many of our ancestors were told they could not.”

Te Peeti speaks about his process performing moko kauae.

Te Peeti has been battling to keep up with the countless moko kauae he has been asked to perform in recent years. The wāhine know in their hearts it’s the right time to bring out what’s always been there under their skin, he says. They feel the calling to moko.

It’s important to be settled in your heart and with your whānau when you take that journey, says Te Peeti. 

As he sands the albatross bone in preparation for building his next uhi, he tells me that before Europeans arrived, Māori girls were receiving their moko as soon as they started puberty to signify they could bring life to the tribe. 

All Māori women would carry moko from that time on, he says.

As Te Peeti speaks to me I reflect on my own whakapapa. I didn’t grow up at the marae, I don’t know many of my cousins, relationships being an important part of being Māori. Distance from my hapū, te reo Māori and my understanding of our whakapapa (genealogy) makes me feel uncomfortable about even considering receiving a moko kauae before I can show I have great knowledge of myself and my tīpuna. 

But most of all it’s my skin. Te Awe Awe Mohi has always felt Māori even though she’s fair-skinned. She walks boldly in te ao Māori. With my light skin I feel I’m not Māori enough to stand tall in that space. 

I turn to Te Peeti.

“Do you think that’s something we struggle to accept, us light skins?” I ask.

He laughs at me. 

“I never knew who you were until you brought it up,” he giggles. “That can be a cultural identity [issue] for those people who are fair and feel like they shouldn’t have it.”

Māori are the worst for putting up barriers to stop themselves receiving the taonga, he says. It’s something he’s heard over and over again, the checklists Māori make for themselves before they can take on the moko. But they don’t exist. By having whakapapa you are enough.

It’s got nothing to do with how much Māori you can speak or how much Māori you think you are or what anyone else says, that taonga was given to you. Hēmi Te Peeti
No one can change the blood that flows through your veins. Hēmi Te Peeti

Te Peeti received his mataora in 1995. He marked his wife Takarea in 2001. She carries the symbols of her grandmother. It was the most natural thing for her to do once she understood what the wishes of her kuia were.

The idea of earning your moko didn’t exist to her, Takarea says. It was an honour to wear the taonga.

“There were no barriers for my grandmother, or her mother, or the ones before her. So why put barriers up for yourself, which are naturally yours from the beginning, [when] you were born?

“There was none of, ‘You’ve got to have the reo, you’ve got to have this or that’, because it’s already in me, it’s in the blood that I carry, I’m carrying my grandmother.”

Takarea has light skinned mokopuna. Her son is lighter than me, she says. But she wants them to take on tā moko. It’s about continuing the pride of the hapū and iwi. It’s their taonga to carry on to the next generation, and they’re already lining up for koro Hēmi to tap the uhi when their time comes.

A waist-up shot of Nuwyne Te Awe Awe Mohi, Hēmi Te Peeti, and Takarea Te Peeti, outside Te Rangimārie meeting house, an older wooden building with cream-painted diagonally-laid weatherboards and dark red trim. Hēmi stands in the centre with his arms around the shoulders of the two women, staring directly into the camera. He wears a tā moko that covers his cheekbones to his chin and has close-cropped dark hair with specks of grey in it. He is wearing a blue and black patterned t-shirt and his glasses hang around his neck. Nuwyne is on the left, with he new moko kauae. The ink is dark and the lines are very distinct. Nuwyne has mid-brown hair pulled back into a plait and wears a pounamu pendant on a black cord round her neck. She is smiling with her mouth closed and squinting slightly in the sunlight. Takarea, Hēmi’s wife, is on the right. She has dyed bright red short hair and a moko kauae that extends to include her lips and the sides of her nose. She wears sunglasses on top of her head, tassled black earrings and has a multicoloured striped top on.
This photo is taken outside Te Rangimārie meeting house, an older wooden building with cream-painted diagonally-laid weatherboards and dark red trim. It shows Nuwyne Te Awe Awe Mohi and her father Wiremu Te Awe Awe, who has his arm protectively around his daughter and his cheek resting against her forehead. He is balding, and his forehead and eyes are creased. He wears a short-sleeved black top and a large pounamu toki pendant on a fine silver chain. Nuwyne wears a mid-blue hoodie and is smiling broadly with her mouth open. Her new moko kauae is dark, with distinct lines. Her chin is slightly red because the moko has only just been completed. They are lit by bright sunlight.
A waist-up shot of Nuwyne Te Awe Awe Mohi, Hēmi Te Peeti, and Takarea Te Peeti, outside Te Rangimārie meeting house, an older wooden building with cream-painted diagonally-laid weatherboards and dark red trim. Hēmi stands in the centre with his arms around the shoulders of the two women, staring directly into the camera. He wears a tā moko that covers his cheekbones to his chin and has close-cropped dark hair with specks of grey in it. He is wearing a blue and black patterned t-shirt and his glasses hang around his neck. Nuwyne is on the left, with he new moko kauae. The ink is dark and the lines are very distinct. Nuwyne has mid-brown hair pulled back into a plait and wears a pounamu pendant on a black cord round her neck. She is smiling with her mouth closed and squinting slightly in the sunlight. Takarea, Hēmi’s wife, is on the right. She has dyed bright red short hair and a moko kauae that extends to include her lips and the sides of her nose. She wears sunglasses on top of her head, tassled black earrings and has a multicoloured striped top on.
This photo is taken outside Te Rangimārie meeting house, an older wooden building with cream-painted diagonally-laid weatherboards and dark red trim. It shows Nuwyne Te Awe Awe Mohi and her father Wiremu Te Awe Awe, who has his arm protectively around his daughter and his cheek resting against her forehead. He is balding, and his forehead and eyes are creased. He wears a short-sleeved black top and a large pounamu toki pendant on a fine silver chain. Nuwyne wears a mid-blue hoodie and is smiling broadly with her mouth open. Her new moko kauae is dark, with distinct lines. Her chin is slightly red because the moko has only just been completed. They are lit by bright sunlight.

Tā moko is there to be admired, but sometimes it’s difficult to look at it without feeling like you’re being invasive to the wearer. 

Linda Waimarie Nikora, Mohi Rua and Ngahuia Te Awekotuku collected the experiences of moko kauae and pūkanohi wearers, researching how their transformations have affected their daily lives.

The wearer must find a way to integrate their ‘new look’, their new being in the world, along with the assumptions, expectations, and reactions they receive from others, say the researchers.

Rua describes five phases of obtaining moko: the desire, preparation, obtaining the moko, experiencing others' reactions, and developing coping strategies.

Many Pākehā who see moko kauae and approach the wearer do so because they are curious. Rua notes that many people want to learn about the markings, but those experiences can be uncomfortable and negative. This stems from a lack of understanding.

These interactions happen in public spaces where people stare, either in awe or horror. Often the wearers forget wearing moko is not a part of many New Zealanders’ everyday life and are surprised by the sudden line of questioning.

This includes family.

Wearers develop strategies, either by educating the questioner or moving on, Rua writes.

However, the world for moko wearers is improving. The researchers’ study found younger generations were more accepting of moko than older relatives.

As pride in moko increases and more Māori receive their markings this acceptance will also increase, Rua writes.

Nuwyne Te Awe Awe Mohi describes her journey to receiving her moko kauae.

When Te Awe Awe Mohi looks in the mirror she sees herself as she should be. Her chin used to be blurry, like something was missing. She’s finally whole now the moko is etched into her chin.

But she knew there would be challenges. Before, looking at her, people would not realise she had whakapapa Māori.

Any little bit of privilege that I had prior to having a moko had completely gone. Nuwyne Te Awe Awe Mohi

As a person who looks Pākehā, I understand the privilege she’s talking about. But it also means people don’t hide their racism from me. Without realising I’m Māori, people feel comfortable with me and will share their true views about Māori. They’re always shocked when I call them out.

Now, as Te Awe Awe Mohi continues her life in Palmerston North with a moko kauae she’s noticed the changes in perception others have towards her.

There’s arrogance in the way some Pākehā interact with her, she says. A superiority complex comes out of them. Sometimes they’re unable to hide their shock and disgust.

In a store she locked eyes with an older man, the lower half of her face hidden behind a shelf. He had kind eyes that shifted to horror when her moko kauae was revealed.

“I just think, ‘Oh, you poor person, you’re the one missing out on the blessing, not me’.

Anyone Māori would look at me and they would hold my face, they could see the beauty in it, I could see the beauty. I’m just so blessed to have been able to receive it. Nuwyne Te Awe Awe Mohi

Overcome with emotion Te Awe Awe Mohi faces her kuia for the first time with her moko kauae.

Overcome with emotion Te Awe Awe Mohi faces her kuia for the first time with her moko kauae.

New Zealand has a long way to go before moko will be truly accepted, but Māori have always known who they are, says Te Awe Awe Mohi. Pākehā tried to eradicate the practice, but through the efforts of kaumātua over years of battling for their rights it’s become a taonga many have reclaimed.

Standing in Te Manawa, Palmerston North’s museum, Te Awe Awe Mohi is surrounded by photographs of her tīpuna wearing their moko. A little girl runs up to her while we’re filming and asks what she’s doing. They’ve never met before, but they’re speaking te reo Māori together. The girl isn't afraid of the chin etchings - she recognises them.

The reaction of the young girl compared to the elderly man is stark, but it’s encouraging. Every day, moko kauae, mataora and tā moko are becoming more accepted and welcomed in modern Aotearoa.

Watching Nuwyne Te Awe Awe Mohi receive her moko kauae has given me the courage to consider wearing a moko kauae for myself, whānau, tīpuna and mokopuna, one day in the future.

But it’s a personal journey. Maybe, after I’ve broken down the barriers about my own identity, it will happen.

After all, it’s a taonga for wāhine Māori to carry, no checkboxes needed.

Kei roto i ō tātou toto

It’s in our blood

Whānau and friends gather at the front of Te Rangimārie after witnessing the first moko kauae tattooed in the wharenui in generations.

Whānau and friends gather at the front of Te Rangimārie after witnessing the first moko kauae tattooed in the wharenui in generations.

Words Maxine Jacobs
Visuals Warwick Smith
Digital Design Kathryn George
Development Sungmi Kim
Editor Carmen Parahi

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Stuff is committed to representing te ao Māori in our reporting and being a trusted partner for tangata whenua. Our company kaupapa has Te Tiriti o Waitangi at its core.

E manawanui ana a Puna ki te whakakanohi i te ao Māori i roto i ā mātou rongo kōrero, kia noho hoki hei hoa tata ki te tangata whenua. Kei te noho matua tonu Te Tiriti o Waitangi i te kaupapa o tō mātou kamupene.

By working together our mahi can better reflect all of Aotearoa, and help make our communities amazing places to live.

Mā te mahi tahi i ā mātou mahi e pai ake ai te kanohi kitea o Aotearoa katoa, e mīharo ai te noho papakāinga i ō tātou hapori.

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Mēnā e rite ana tō whai i a Puna i te rā, me whai whakaaro ki te tautoko mai. Mā te aha hoki i tō paku koha mai i te $1 noa. Me piri mai ki tā mātou kaupapa, ā, mā mātou anō tāu e kōrero.

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