Sally Anderson is married to a Maori man. Picture: evolvedleadership.com.au NZ PM holds traditional talks with Indigenous population
Sally Anderson is married to a Maori man. Picture: evolvedleadership.com.au NZ PM holds traditional talks with Indigenous population

The face tattoo dividing a nation

IN MAORI culture, a tattoo means a whole lot more than it does to your average inked-up Aussie beachgoer.

The body art which is carved into the skin using chisels and called moko, represent a Maori person's links with their family and cultural identity.

So when Sally Anderson, a caucasian, blonde life coach from New Zealand, took the bold step to have her chin emblazoned in the style of the traditional "moko kauae" - or facial tattoo for indigenous women - it is perhaps no surprise that she suffered a backlash.

The controversial body art was created by Auckland artist Inia Taylor several years ago and Ms Anderson says it represents her turning a corner in her life after surviving a gang rape as a teenager in the 1980s.

However, when Ms Anderson recently added a picture of her face to the personal page of her life coaching business website and her social media branding, she was widely slammed.

"Maori regard the face or the head as particularly sacred," Mera Lee-Penehira, associate professor at Te Whare Wananga o Awanuiarangi, told the BBC.

Facial tattoos in Maori culture are ‘particularly sacred’.
Facial tattoos in Maori culture are ‘particularly sacred’.

"So the carvings that go on the face or head are also particularly sacred."

Artist Ngaahina Hohaia, who has a master's degree in Maori visual arts from Massey University and herself has a moko kauae, hit out at Ms Anderson's tattoo.

On Facebook, she begged Maori moko artists not to tattoo non-Maoris with the traditional patterns.

"Don't defile our taonga tuku iho (cultural property) ... don't take what belongs to our women by birthright of whakapapa (Maori identity) and give it to Pakeha (white New Zealander).

"It's not hers to have, and not for [Taylor] to have given away."

Musician Ariana Tikao agreed, writing on Facebook that the moko kauae should be reserved for Maori people.

"There have been so many ways that Maori women have been affected by colonisation, so it does make me feel sad to hear that others can feel OK about taking this taonga," she said. "There are so many other ways that people can show support or affiliation without appropriating ... these taonga as their own."

Some parts of the Maori community have reacted strongly to Ms Anderson’s tattoo. Picture: Blaine Harrington
Some parts of the Maori community have reacted strongly to Ms Anderson’s tattoo. Picture: Blaine Harrington

However, Ms Anderson is married to a Maori, Roger Te Tai, who has a full facial moko. He hit back at the criticism of his wife this week.

"She's more Maori than you'll ever be," Mr Te Tai, told Te Karere on Tuesday.

Despite this, he said it took him two-and-a-half years to "actually accept her" wanting to get the moko done, which she eventually had done by Mr Taylor four years ago.

Mr Te Tai criticised people for judging his wife for her decision to sport a moko, saying, "When you judge a person and you haven't met them what does that say about you?"

He said Ms Anderson is "more Maori than you'll ever be because her heart is pure, always has been, her soul is a pure soul".

Mr Taylor responded to the criticism by saying he was torn when he was asked to do the tattoo and he didn't support Ms Anderson's recent use of it as branding on her website.

He told Stuff that he was approached by Mr Te Tai about a moko for his wife.

"Then I was told she was Pakeha, I had strong reservations but after many calls and discussions I realised that the only reason to deny her would be that of race," he told the website. "At the time I wasn't prepared to be racist."

He said he took full responsibility for the decision to create Anderson's moko "but don't condone her recent use of it".


Boy killed, girl fighting for life in 'stolen car' rollover

premium_icon Boy killed, girl fighting for life in 'stolen car' rollover

A 17-year-old boy has been killed and a 15-year-old girl left in a critical...

HOLIDAYS: 20+ activities to keep the children busy

premium_icon HOLIDAYS: 20+ activities to keep the children busy

More than 20 things for the whole family over the summer school holidays.

AND THE WINNER IS: Emerald's cutest baby revealed

premium_icon AND THE WINNER IS: Emerald's cutest baby revealed

Find out who Emerald thinks is the cutest baby in town