Whipscars and Tattoos: The Last of the Mohicans, Moby-Dick, and the Maori

By Geoffrey Sanborn | Go to book overview

Chapter Three
TE PEHI KUPE’S MOKO

IN or around 1806, the year that Te Ara and Cooper went to sea, the tohunga ta moko (tattoo artist) of Ngati Toa began working on the face of the young ariki (paramount chief), Te Pehi Kupe.1 It would be months, maybe even years, before the moko was complete. Unlike all other Oceanians, the Maori introduced pigments beneath the skin not with a sharp pick or comb, but with what was, in essence, a chisel. According to Samuel Marsden, who watched while a young Ngapuhi rangatira was tattooed, the chisel was first dipped in a dark liquid and laid against the skin, and then struck with a stick “in the same manner as a farrier opens the vein of a horse with a fleam” It appeared “to pass through the skin at every stroke, and cut it as a carver cuts a piece of wood.”2 Lying on the ground outside his house, where he lived with his father, Pi Toitoi, his mother, Waipuna-a-hau, and several younger siblings, Te Pehi Kupe endured that process for as long as he could. After a few weeks, when the proud-flesh had gone down, he lay back down and endured it again.

Ngati Toa lived near Kawhia harbor, two thirds of the way down the west coast of the North Island. It was where Toa Rangatira, the tribal ancestor, had landed the Tainui canoe, one of the seven canoes that were said to have come from Hawaiki and given rise to the people of Aotearoa. The lines of Te Pehi Kupe’s genealogy led back to Toa Rangatira, which meant that they could be traced back even further to the atua (gods). As the ariki.Te Pehi Kupe embodied all of the mana and tapu that had descended to present-day Ngati Toa. Each time the chisel

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Whipscars and Tattoos: The Last of the Mohicans, Moby-Dick, and the Maori
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Abbreviations xi
  • Glossary xv
  • Introduction- Grand, Ungodly, Godlike Men 1
  • Chapter One- Te Ara’s Scars 16
  • Chapter Two- Cooper’s Death Song 37
  • Chapter Three- Te Pehi Kupe’s Moko 73
  • Chapter Four- Melyille’s Furious Life 93
  • Notes 133
  • Index 175
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