45 Unique Maori Tribal Tattoo Designs

Maori tribal tattoos show presence, and a deep link to the Maori community. Maoris are a staunchly proud people, who take their culture very seriously. These tribal tattoos are widely seen around New Zealand, and increasingly, the world. Check out some of the amazing Maori designs below.

Tribal tattoos have always been a popular design choice but have gained more exposure in the last few years since the various forms of tribal tattoos have been more widely showcased as tattoos become more common place and we are exposed to different tribes across the globe.

The Maori tribal tattoos, though largely preferred by men, are slowly gaining popularity among women as well. These can be designed and rendered in many ways. Traditionally, Maori tattoos are in black ink. The size can vary depending on the design and the location of the Maori tribal design. Let’s take a look at 30 of our favorite ones.

Chest and arm sleeve

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Maori tattoos will often tell the story or heritage of a person of Maori origins. Many of the symbols are traditional but sometimes they will also incorporate modernized patterns in to them. This particular style of tattoo going across the chest and the arm has been popularized recently since the famous wrestler/movie star ‘The Rock’ has a similar tattoo.

Half sleeve

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This is still a piece in work as you can see some of it is yet to be colored in. Some people will let tattooists do tribal designs off the cuff or rather without any kind of tracing involved and just let the tattooist do their thing, this can lead to some beautiful unique designs.

Leg piece

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Traditional Maori warriors would often be covered head to toe in tribal tattoos. Not only would they instill fear in to their opponent that they were going to battle against but they could also be used to remember certain stories or tales in their culture as well as mark warriors rank of their own life story.

Modernized tribal design

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Many artists have come up with their variations, with the help of their customers, of Maori’esque tattoos – giving some interesting twists to the basic design concept. This may include a broader scope of elements such as different colors and cultural symbols.

Unfinished piece

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A little light thrown on the Maori culture will help you understand the significance and symbolism of these tattoo designs. In fact the very art of tattooing is deeply embedded in the Maori culture. Both the men and women in the tribe would get tattooed and not merely for the look of it but for different purposes. Each tattoo carried a life legend, had something to say and had deep meaning to the person getting it.

Modern tribal tattoo

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Today, it’s not just people with Maori origins that will get Maori themed tribal tattoos. Because of their mass appeal and cool patterns many people will simply get them because of their aesthetically pleasing appearance.

Back design

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Some tribal designs will take elements of different cultures all over the world, including the Aztec culture which is common place in tattoos and often will have cool symbols such as the sun and moon incorporated.

Turtle design

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In the Maori culture, the original tattoo technique requires cutting into the skin rather than inking the top surface layers. The use of ancient tools and bones was dominant in the process of tattooing. As such, the Maori tradition and method has been documented as one of the oldest techniques in the world. This has created millions of cultural tribal designs that are still utilized today.

Tribal nose tattoo

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Unfortunately a lot of people will associate face tattoos with the person been a gang member of some kind. In actual fact having your whole face tattooed has deep meaning and significance in Maori culture.

Female back tattoo

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Here is a good example of modernized tribal tattoo that goes across a females back. Most of the symbols will represent something even if a lot of people simply pick them because they look cool these days. Tribal tattoos can also be just used as an overall theme or ‘blue print’ for you to get a lot of symbols or patterns that you like incorporated in to a good looking tattoo.

Shoulder design

Maori Tattoo designs

More tattoos on the next page…


  1. A majority of these tattoos aren’t Maori. About 4 or 5 of these are actually maori. The rest are more Pacific Islander. Tongan,Samoan,cook island, Hawaiian….

  2. What @Maoriboii said. Half of these aren’t even Maori. Some are even misc blackwork. You tell people to do their research when getting tattoos, but you can’t even use research actual Maori tattoos. This is so gross.

  3. They may not be all Maori, but the author did state the following, “Many artists have come up with their variations, with the help of their customers, of Maori tattoos – giving some interesting twists to the basic design concept. This may include a broader scope of elements such as different colors and cultural symbols.” Guess this is a way of covering his okole …

    • 1st just to say maori designs where and are living parts of our lives culture history designs embedding in our surrounding traditional was a under statement what separates our symbols from the rest is the unique character behind the influences in life the main symbols where from forest surroundings above and below RA MAHINA KOTUKU KORU IKA many of these so called artists study and inherit knowledge but man majority dont have a clue why we have ta moko only the choosen few get these tradition was lost when flashyness entered the relm i still have old believes and laugh at the 1s today if you look closely do your elders have these tattoos nope only 1800s then change of era now people get them thinking of its cool please destroying a tradition is a lame statement preserve the choosen and gifts we receive but with eviction not a fashion just saying Ngati Tipa Tainui…….

  4. The first tattoo is clearly a Tongan design with no hint of maori design anywhere this should have been obvious considering it has the Tongan flag. There are some Samoan designs and a lot of Tahitian designs. This is way more than just a twist to Maori design they are completely different. Given the context of the article I would say this is a pretty big slip up.

  5. Having spent time in New Zealand learning about Maori culture, I find it odd when I meet people with tribal tattoos and they have no understanding of the meaning or it’s origin. That being said, I’m hoping to get a traditional Maori tattoo. But since I’m from California, I have no idea where to begin finding the proper research on Maori tattoos. Does anyone have an idea where to begin? I don’t want to get a major tattoo and not know what it means. Any ideas?

    • …New Zealand. You will not be able to create a design by yourself or using information you’ve found in books/online. *Especially* not from online. Googling “Maori tattoos” actually results in more islander tattoos (as the writer of this article seems to have done lol)

      Research your family history. Write down your family tree. Write down where you come from and describe it (did you live on the coast? Did you live near high mountains? Did you live near a lake? Etc.). This will all become part of your tattoo. Go to NZ, find a handful of *good* Maori tattooists and ask them if they can help you design a tattoo based on your background and show them what you’ve written. Beware that some Maori tattooists might get offended and not help you if you’re a foreigner. Not always the case but it does happen.

  6. Although the majority of these designs are from various other cultures it’s not hard to just get in contact with a nz tattoo artist who can design a ta moko for you

  7. I am horrified at the misinformation offered in this article very few if in fact any of these are real traditional Maori tattoos known in Aotearoa (NZ) as Ta Moko, the full facial Moko looks like it is drawn on for kapa haka although it is very traditional, Ta Moko is a spiritual practice as much as art and if you really want a proper Ta Moko find a Maori artist who has even well trained in the practice

  8. I am disgusted by the lack of research put into this article. Did you just google “Maori tattoo” and decide that each design you saw was actually Maori :\ You didn’t have at least one Maori friend you could ask to confirm which tattoos were and were not Maori?


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