Image Studio portrait of an unknown Māori woman

TLF ID R8521

This is a black-and-white photographic image of an unknown Māori woman. It is a portrait shot, taken in the Auckland studios of the American Photographic Company, about 1865. The woman is seated and wears a European blouse and gathered skirt. One visible earring and a ring on her right hand are also European in style. She has a moko – a design of permanent skin marking – on her lips and chin. The Māori word WHAKA is tattooed in large, capital letters on her upper left arm. Scratched in the top edge is No 118. The photographic quarter plate has been damaged, mainly at the edges and in the plain background.

Educational details

Educational value
  • The asset shows an unknown Māori woman with a moko. Skin marking was noted by the early European explorers as being relatively widespread among Māori men and women. Originally, female chin markings were called kauae, and moko referred to the art form generally.
  • It illustrates a Māori cultural practice – tā moko – which has survived to modern times and is once again popular with Māori, as well as with Europeans. Before European arrival, in some districts, men were tattooed all over the face, and on the buttocks and thighs. Female moko were more often restricted to the chin and lips.
  • It illustrates an art form that was discouraged by early missionary settlers, and which also declined because of an association with fighting and the heavy losses suffered by Māori in wars in the nineteenth century. The female moko, however, survived well into the twentieth century.
  • It illustrates a moko that was probably done with metal tools – pre-European moko, although similar to tattooing in others parts of Polynesia, were unique in that bone chisels were used to carve lines into the skin. Māori adapted metal chisels, and later needles, to the practice.
  • It illustrates a practice that was associated with people of high status. It was of great social and spiritual importance, and was undertaken with detailed and particular protocols. All implements and materials associated with it were highly tapu (sacred).
  • It shows a moko that would have had a particular meaning. All the patterns of tā moko were named and had significance. The tattooing of words, as in this image, is a nineteenth-century development. The word ‘whaka’ can be translated as a prefix meaning ‘to do’, or ‘in the direction of’ or ‘towards’.
  • It illustrates a Victorian fashion for collecting photographs of indigenous people. Little is known about the American Photographic Company except that it was run in the late 1860s and 1870s by John McGarrigle and it seemed to specialise in studio portraits of Māori.

Other details

  • Author
  • Name: American Photographic Company\, Auckland
  • Organization: American Photographic Company\, Auckland
  • Description: Author
  • Contributor
  • Name: Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa
  • Organization: Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa
  • Description: Content provider
  • Address: Wellington, NEW ZEALAND
  • URL:
  • Name: American Photographic Company\, Auckland
  • Organization: American Photographic Company\, Auckland
  • Description: Author
  • Name: Education Services Australia
  • Organization: Education Services Australia
  • Description: Data manager
  • Publisher
  • Name: Curriculum Corporation\; The Le@rning Federation
  • Organization: Curriculum Corporation\; The Le@rning Federation
  • Description: Publisher
  • Address: VIC, AUSTRALIA
  • URL:
  • Resource metadata contributed by
  • Name: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Organisation: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Address: AUSTRALIA
  • URL:
Access profile
  • Colour independence
  • Device independence
  • Hearing independence
Learning Resource Type
  • Image
  • Text
  • © Ministry of Education New Zealand, 2009, except where indicated under Acknowledgements