GNZMMS 89, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland City Libraries

GNZMMS 89, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland City Libraries

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GNZMMS 89, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland City Libraries

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Description of the ceremonies observed on the occasion of tattooing a chief and the method of performing the operation.

Author: Wīremu Maihi Te Rangikāheke
Ref No: GNZMMS 89
Date Created: 1850s

During his first term as Governor of New Zealand (1846-53), George Grey was eager to learn the Māori language and to collect Māori poems, songs and stories for publication. His principal mentor and collaborator was Te Rangikāheke, a Christian convert of roughly his own age from the Ngāti Kererū sub-tribe of Te Arawa. In the early 1850s Grey paid him an annual salary of £36 for his services and provided him with accommodation attached to the vice-regal residence. Te Rangikāheke believed it was essential for the Governor to understand Māori traditions and customs in order to fulfil the Crown’s obligations to tangata whenua under the Treaty of Waitangi.

Born in the Rotorua district about 1815, Te Rangikāheke probably learned to read and write in the mid-1830s at the Church Missionary Society station established by Thomas and Anne Chapman at Te Koutu. His literary output while living with Grey was prolific. He was the sole author of twenty-one manuscripts and a contributor to seventeen others. In total, there are nearly eight hundred pages in his handwriting in the Library’s collection.

Among them is his account of the traditional procedures for tattooing a chief. He begins with a summary of the drawing, cutting and blackening processes required for a facial tattoo. He then describes the instruments needed for each process and gives the names for the various parts of the tattoo: ‘ko ngaa poniana’ (above and beyond the nose), ‘ko ngaa tapawaha’ (near the lips), ‘ko ngaa ngungu’ (from the nose to the middle of the cheeks), ‘ko ngaa tiwhana’ (above the eyebrows), etc.

Te Rangikāheke then moves on methodically to the procedures for tattooing the body. The officiating priest should start with the lower back, followed by the thighs, the stomach, the spine and finally the trunk.

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