A White Woman Got A Maori Chin Tattoo And The Internet Is Not Happy

Some ink is just not on.

What you need to know
  • A Ta Moko serves as a resume of sorts for Maori people. Having one is considered a great honour.
  • The tattoo is also meant to work as a reminder to those who wear about their responsibility in life.
  • Ta Moko are worn by both men and women. Men have the ink applied to their face and buttocks. Women sport their Ta Mokos on the chin, lips and shoulders.
  • The meaning of the Ta Moko depends on the placement. The left side of the face related to the father's history and the right side to the mother's history. 

All traditional cultures have practices that are dear to them -- Māori in particular. So a woman's  moko -- or traditional chin tattoo -- has set the internet alight, particularly in New Zealand. The reason for the intense debate -- Sally Anderson is white and has no Māori heritage whatsoever.

Sally, a life coach, is married to a Māori man and is familiar with the culture. She says her moko symbolises her personal struggles and also, her life story. But the Māori community disagrees and has accused her of misappropriating Māori culture for her own gain.

A Māori woman with a traditional Tā Moko on her chin and lips performs the Kapa Haka. Image: Getty.

Sally's moko was done by Auckland artist Inia Taylor several years ago. The Kiwi news site Stuff.co.nz reported that Sally claimed the moko represented her turning a corner in her life after surviving a gang rape as a teenager in the 1980s.

Sally is married to Roger Te Tai, who has a full facial moko, and says she has strong connections to Māori. The pair work together as life coaches and self-described healers. But Roger's moko is acceptable as he is of Māori heritage. Sally's, however, is not and she has not right to wear it, say Māori community leaders.

"Māori regard the face or the head as particularly sacred," Mera Lee-Penehira, associate professor at Te Share Wānanga o Awanuiārangi told the BBC.

"So the carvings that go on the face or head are also particularly sacred. It's not acceptable," says Ms Lee-Penehira, who herself has a moko. "You can only have it if you have a genealogy that is Māori. It reflects who we are and it represents your family, your sub-tribes and tribes."

Maori culture reveres its traditions and rightly so. All Māori traditions are of significance to Māori people -- but the Tā  Moko especially so. In years gone by Tā Moko were chiselled into the skin using an albatross bone. The pigmentations used were made up of Carui gum and dye from other vegetation that was rendered to a soot and then mixed with oil.  And each tribal area used different pigments.

Clearly every single step within this ritual mattered and deeply. Not surprisingly, many in the Māori community are hurt by the fact a white woman is wearing one.

"Sally Anderson doesn't have a Ta Moko," posted Catherine Karena. "It's just a tattoo for business branding, appropriation, and white privilege. There was no community involvement or right of heritage, she just decided Maori culture was hers to to decide what to do with."

Others were more introspective about the Tā Moko and whether Sally had done anything wrong. How do you feel? Contact us with your feelings and thoughts via our Ten Daily Facebook or on Twitter @tendailyau