Monthly Archives: May 2014

Maori Moko – Capturing the New Zealand Collection

An update from the CRC Cataloguing Interns Beth and Fiona

Moko or tatooing is a crucial part of Maori culture, reflected in many of their carvings and art work, and early examples of this practise are amazingly well preserved in some photographs and drawings in Major-General Robley’s 1896 work:  Moko, or Maori tattooing, one of the many fascinating books in the New Zealand Collection.


The draughtsman of Captain Cook, Sydney Parkinson, was first to draw the Maori tattoos in 1769, capturing their intricate designs and an art which was to decline rapidly with the arrival of the European missionaries and settlers who disapproved of the practise. In recent years, however, it is making a comeback using modern tattooing methods, and in this work we can see how these tattoos were made from the earliest times. NZ4

The Moko process was extremely painful, and would produce a raised scarring with charcoal black staining, as can be seen in some of the photos of the Chiefs. The tools used were a chisel called the Uhi, made from bone, tooth, or later iron, dipped in charcoal, and driven into the skin with the tap of a mallet called He Mahoe. On occasion the Uhi would pierce the skin and Robley describes seeing a Chief’s pipe smoke coming out of such a wound in the cheek.

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The most exhaustive description in English of a Maori tattooing, was that of John Rutherford, who was captured in 1816, along with several of the crew of his ship, the Agnes. He was one of the first westerners to be tattooed and gives a detailed description of this painful 4 hour process: we can see his extensive tattoos in his portrait. Facial tattoos were particularly important, and not just confined to the men: women often had at least some decoration around their mouth and such tattoos, in men and women, were designed to highlight and enhance their natural features as well as to display their status.


Within Maori culture, at that time, a person was so defined by their tattoos that these came to represent who they were and there are several examples of Maori chiefs signatures which consisted of drawing of their own facial tattoos, as can be seen in several facsimiles of treaties reproduced in this work.

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Library Placement Student

Stefanie has been working with us for a few weeks on a placement as part of her PG course in Library and Information Studies at Robert Gordon University.  Here she tells us about her experience of working with the Scholarly Communications Team.

I arrived for my placement with the Scholarly Communications Team filled with elements of isolated theoretical knowledge and the notion that the library profession was undergoing drastic changes. In the course of the placement learned much about the applicability of my course modules, the profession and my future professional goals.

The opportunity to work with PURE from the very first day gave me the impression that I could positively contribute to the team’s daily work rather than being a distraction. The correction and updating of metadata may not be the most exciting duty but I enjoy detail-oriented work and it is a very vital part of information management and library work. It was a task that allowed me to work largely independently following the initial introduction. Additionally, the digitization project provided a nice counterpoint to the PURE task. Much library work seems to be centred on comparable projects with staff often working on several such projects at any given time.

At the start of the project, its purpose and goal were clearly explained, I was introduced to the relevant staff members and given an introduction to the equipment. This was quite useful as it provided the necessary information for a successful start but left me free to test my project management skills. Guidance and support in my PURE tasks and the digitization project were also just one question away giving me the confidence to apply the theoretical skills acquired throughout the course modules in a practical manner.

Dominic did a fantastic job arranging personal interviews with numerous staff from Research & Learning Services as well as Library & University Collections. I learned so much through these interviews that I could feel an entire report with it. The information and knowledge that everyone so willingly shared with me (Thank you!) has contributed immensely to my newly constructed view of the expanding rather than changing role of the library profession. Every interview echoed different bits and pieces of the theoretical knowledge from my course modules. This truly stressed the fact that no one is just a cataloguer or a metadata specialist. For a large information/library department such as the University of Edinburgh’s IS to work effectively, everyone must make use of numerous different skills and be willing to work across departments on various projects whilst still accomplishing the routine day-to-day tasks of the official job title.

I want to thank everyone for their time and generosity throughout my placement. The placement has made it possible for me to realize that I do not have to choose one particular aspect of the information management and library profession. The knowledge acquired on the course joins well with my previous education and experience opening the doors to wide variety of possible positions in the profession with many more opportunities awaiting in the form of small and large projects.

I can only hope that I was able to return the favour in small part and contribute positively to the work of the Scholarly Communications team.