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You've seen Māori tattoos before, but this is what it really means to get one

SPONSORED: You've seen Māori tattoos before, but this is what it really means to get one

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The following was sponsored by Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (ATEED)

Auckland. One city. Two worlds.

One of the coolest aspects of travel is being able to tap into another culture. Authenticity is sometimes lost in the banality of modern tourism, but luckily for us, our trip to Auckland was far from boring. That’s because we experienced it firsthand with a local Māori family. Māori, if you’re unfamiliar, is New Zealand’s indigenous population, akin to our Native American tribes.

Māori culture is practically synonymous with New Zealand culture – it is integrated into the fabric of society. The standard greeting, for instance, is “Kia Ora” – Māori for hello, goodbye, and thank you. So we wanted to learn as much about it as we could, and we did not have to go far from Auckland to find it.

A hillside vantage on the Marae.
A hillside vantage on the Marae.

Tangata ako ana i te whare, te turanga ki te marae, tau ana
A person who is taught at home, will stand collected on the Marae (Maori proverb)

We met with Graham Tipene, a Māori and local Auckland tattoo artist. Graham’s a jovial spirit, filled with jokes and one punch lines. But underneath that cool demeanor is an individual grounded in strong Māori teachings and culture. He invited us to a tribal Marae (sacred house) to witness a Tā Moko (Māori word for tattoo).

Tā Mokos are how the Māori pay homage to their lineage or ancestry. Think of it as a rite of passage, a cornerstone of the culture. We were honored to be invited to get a bird’s eye view of this monumental occasion. However, unbeknownst to Graham, he had learned a day prior to filming that the event would hold extra significance. He'd be performing the first Tā Moko on his 16-year-old daughter, Mahaki. And she would honor her grandparents –– Graham's mother and father who recently passed away –– with her first Tā Moko.

(Required)Graham Tipene, Maori tattoo artist, stands on a tribal land.
Graham Tipene stands at a hillside view on the Marae
Graham_Mahaki_Marae
Graham and his daughter, Mahaki, sit down for an interview after the Tāmoko

According to Graham, in order to receive a Tā Moko, the individual must receive the blessing from his/her elders. Not everyone possess the certain "level of maturity" to get one. As Graham mentioned to us during the ritual, he's seen people as old as 40 receiving their first Tā Moko while others were just as young as Mahaki.

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We felt Mahaki's maturity the moment we spoke with her. Calm and collected, she didn't feel nervous at all about the tattoo she was about to receive. Instead she was more nervous with our cameras and interview! She choked up talking about it. The fact that it was her first Tā Moko, to honor her grandparents, and her father was the artist doing it for her, made it a very moving event. The family gathered around Mahaki. Graham began reciting a prayer, the buzz of the tattoo gun echoed in the room and our cameras began rolling.

Mahaki wasn’t the only one getting choked up that day (guilty!). The significance of it, the weight behind it, not just for this family but also from a cultural perspective, was evident to everyone in the room.

Mahaki Tattoo Maori
Mahaki's first of two Tāmokos. This left ankle honors her grandfather.

A word about Auckland. On the travel blog-sphere, it’s growing in rapid popularity. Having now seen it for ourselves, it’s easy to see why.

First, it’s a pretty easy flight (no, really! It is!) From Los Angeles and San Francisco, there are several direct flights that take twelve hours, airport to airport. Think of it as three movies, and one good sleep. Very do-able. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not the capital of New Zealand – but it is its largest city. It sits on the North Island, snuggled between 53 impressive volcanoes and stunning bays dotted with many islands, each more impressive and beautiful than the last.

It’s the kind of city that is much more than just a city, as it has something to charm any kind of traveler. It is most definitely a foodie hub (oh, the fooood!), a fashion capital, an adventure and adrenaline fix, and boasts some of the most gorgeous nature and natural landscapes on the north island. In the span of one week, we went on adventures via sea planes, bungee jumps, ferries, island hikes, and rewarded ourselves with Auckland’s best food and wine.

Photos from Auckland
Check out some photos from other destinations in Auckland

Stay tuned on this space, as we’ll be posting more of our Auckland adventures over the next few weeks. To learn more about Auckland, New Zealand visit www.aucklandnz.com/visit

Check out this story, about how a women's prison in Cartagena is running a restaurant to change the way Colombian society perceives inmates so they have a fair shot at building a new life upon release.

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