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

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Today people do not much of a reason to get a Maori tribal tattoo. In ancient culture, these cultures started when a person entered young adulthood and at various milestones in their adulthood. Tattooing was part of their ritual and depicted the individual status and achievements about the person. Typical Maori tattoos are made up of curves and spirals arranged in complex designs. Sometimes a number of small components would compose a larger design.

Rib tattoo

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Because of the bold black nature of Maori style tattoos it also means that they last a lot longer than more intricate tattoos that have a lot of fine line work in them. Many Maori tattoos will still be as black as the day people got them 10 years on with proper care.

Red and black design

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As mentioned previously the traditional color for Maori tribal tattoos is black ink. That doesn’t mean that you can’t mix it up though. Red and black always look good together and here you can see a good example of that.

Close up look

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Just as today’s tattoo designs, each gender preferred different places for their tattoo. For example men would traditionally get tattoos on their legs, buttocks and face – while women would often get tattoos on their lips, neck, chin and back. Maoris who reside in New Zealand had a festival known as Ta Moka. The process of tattooing and the whole ritual was almost a part of their lives and culture and as essential as the basic necessities of life.

Leg tribal

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Here is a great example of a fresh looking thigh piece. You can see just how many different elements and shapes there are going on that all work together to form one big piece. One of the cool things with tribal tattoo designs, is that you can start off small and keep adding to the design later on in life.

Shoulder cog piece

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This is a modern take on the tribal design where you can see the person has opted for some cool cog style piece as the main part and then some very bold black work that forms and intricate flower shape below. Thick black designs like this will look good for a life time and if you ever get bored of it you can always add color in later on.

Half complete

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The turtle is quite a common element in tribal tattoos from all over the world. Turtles are considered wise and long living creatures that are able to both walk on land and swim in the sea. They also have a great defensive mechanism and as such represent or symbolize strong people.

Nowadays, most Maori tattoos are done on the arms and usually as sleeves. Though people opt for Maori tribal designs, they tend to stay away from traditional designs that can be more painful due to the detail. Not surprisingly the traditional pigments of soot and ash which were filled into the carved skin are also avoided.

Cool chest piece

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We really like how this design incorporates both modern and traditional elements of the tribal design. It looks really cool how it wraps around the neck almost like a t-shirt. The design is complex and has so many different aspects that it’s easy to get lost in. People who are familiar with Maori tribal tattoos will be able to read the story of the design as if it were a book in some cases.

Left chest piece

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Another example of a cool tribal chest tattoo. Mixing thicker black lines with thinner black lines in between always looks really cool. Designs like this one are your more modern take on the tribal tattoo. They generally are just cool shapes and objects to form a tattoo and don’t necessarily have any strong tribal origins or significance.

Sparse tribal tattoo

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When researching your options for a Maori tribal tattoo, you should remember that these tattoos were very important to the Maoris and therefore deserving of respect too. Ensure that the cultural integrity of the tattoo design remains intact. Some things like the location of the tattoo on the arm instead of the face can be overlooked when you keep the other elements intact.

Female tribal design

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Whilst generally reserved for males, you can see that tribal designs can also look incredibly sexy on females too.

All over face tattoo

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A beautiful photograph of an all over the face tribal tattoo that has deep cultural meaning.

Full sleeve

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It is vital that you do your research and ponder on tribal designs before going in for the tattoo. The thing is that what the tattoo design actually means could be different from the symbolism that it holds to you. Since it has a lot of cultural importance to the Maori people do ensure that you do not go for this tattoo design in a flippant manner or rather just because it looks ‘cool’. Apart from researching the actual design and the color scheme you do need to understand all the ramifications of a Maori design for your tattoo. Once you have done your research then you can go ahead and get the tattoo done and enjoy all the admiration.

Cool half sleeve

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We really like how the design in the middle of this one on the shoulder looks like it makes up some kind of face. That’s one of the cool things about tribal patterns and tattoos, is that you can look at them a long time and see different patterns or shapes emerge to form other objects.

Back piece

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The cool thing about tribal tattoos is you can take a concept to a tattooist and they can play around with it to make it work. You might want something that looks similar to a cross or a certain shape but filled with tribal designs.

Fern design

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The fern or silver fern is a common national symbol in New Zealand these days and you can see it’s incorporated in to the above design. You will also be able to see a shark, a turtle and even a face if you look long enough at this design.

3/4 sleeve

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Many people will stop sleeve designs 3/4 down the wrist these days. It means they will easily be able to cover the tattoo design, should they want to with a long sleeve shirt or similar. Whilst most people are accepting of tattoos these days there are still some work places and cultures that will not be so accepting of your choice to tattoo yourself.

Bold leg design

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When it comes to tattooing, often thick black tattoo bands will symbolize someone important in your life that passed away and is your way of remembering them. They can also sometimes just be cover up jobs of a bad tattoo band you got years ago. We really like how this person has worked with the whole band theme and has a lot of them running around their leg.

Epic tribal back piece

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The majority of the elements and patterns that make up this tattoo are all very traditional ones. This tattoo could even tell the story of generations of the persons family members and their ties to early Maori tribes. This is a great way of showing off your tribal heritage and what better place to do a large tattoo than all across your back.

Half sleeve

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This is a very modernized version of a tribal tattoo. Whilst it does still have the thick black line work that a lot of tribal tattoos do, it also has very new age elements, such as a person with DJ headphones on at the top of it. This most likely represents their love of electronic music and it is not uncommon for people to travel all around the globe and add different portions of a tattoo so that the tattoo is a hybrid of many different cultural symbols from all around the globe.

More often than not tribal tattoos this big will be done in two or more sittings. The first sitting is where you will get the outline of the tattoo drawn up and then in the second sitting you will get the filler or coloring in done. The reason for this is because coloring in large areas in black can take a long time and because of this the skin starts to get quite irritated and the tattoo process can start to get painful on tender areas of skin after a while. Not to mention that the tattooists hands and body can also become sore after long periods of tattooing.

Hopefully some of the tribal designs above have given you some ideas for your own design. Most importantly make sure that once you do pick a tattoo you want, that you take proper after care of the tattoo with necessary creams so that you can have the tattoos color not fade and last as long as possible.


  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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