I feel like I didn’t decide to receive my moko. I feel like it was my moko that chose me at the right time and right place. I can’t describe it, but your moko calls you. It begins as a thought and progresses to envisioning yourself wearing your moko until, eventually, for me, it was all I could think about. THAT'S how I knew it was time.
Growing up, I never really thought about Moko. It was such a normal thing to see around and was always a familiar concept to me. I grew up in te āo Māori; I attended kōhanga and kura kaupapa and lived on the east coast, so moko were around in all spaces that I was in.
When I see my reflection, I know my moko is there, but I don't think to myself, "Oh! A moko!" and that's how I felt towards seeing others with moko growing up. I knew it was there, but it was one with the wearer, as mine is one with me.
My uncle is a very sort after kaitā. His name is Mark Kopua. Growing up, I spent a lot of time between our homestead and their homestead in Mangatokerau. Our whānau are closely related. He's usually booked out a year in advance, but I decided to reach out anyway. And to my surprise, there was a space available 2 weeks later. What are the chances?
I called my grandparents and close whānau (family) to let them know all the details – the date, time, and location – so they could be prepared for the big day. When I called my grandparents to tell them I wanted to get my moko, they weren't surprised and were all supportive and happy. I was still nervous, for some reason, even though I knew they would support the decision. Neither of my kuia have moko. I was the first on both sides of our immediate whānau to receive my kauae from my grandparents' generation down.
I was excited, but in the days leading up to it, there were moments of worry about being judged because I'm not fluent in te reo Māori anymore. But that feeling quickly passed. I refuse to let that kind of whakaaro hold me back. Deep down, I knew this was meant to be, and the timing couldn't have been more perfect. We travelled back to Te Tairāwhiti on the 26th of October 2020, and my moko was set for the 28th. It was a very intimate moment with my grandparents, siblings, nieces & nephews, husband & kids and some of my closest friends.
My moko was documented by the Māori TV crew, who had recently filmed us for a documentary in 2018 and 2019, as the producer has become our good friend.
Before my moko, my pāpā did a karakia for me. His karakia gave his love and protection, and he particularly blessed me that my moko would be beautiful and captivating.
While I was getting my moko, I went into a trance almost. It's a very spiritual experience. Not only did I feel my whānau here in the physical realm, but I felt them in the spiritual realm. I felt like my body was there, but I wasn't. It was a very out-of-body experience. My whānau sung waiata the whole time, waiata nō te kāinga. Their voices really lifted the wairua and the mauri of the room. I had one sister holding my right hand the whole time and another rubbing my feet, my grandparents, kids and husband to my left.
The moko itself took all of 20 minutes, and when I sat up and first saw myself, I cried. My husband and son did a haka for me, which was really special because my husband is Samoan. He cried during the haka, afterwards he said it was because I looked so beautiful. When I was done, my whānau all greeted me one by one. My whānau are people of few words but mighty in action; they were proud. My boys had big smiles, and my pōtiki at the time was 2; he stroked my chin and said, "Moko".
I felt so whole. Like the final puzzle piece had found its place, and I’ve always felt beautiful wearing it. I feel like my moko has enhanced me in every way. When I saw myself for the first time, my moko didn’t feel 'new'. It felt like 'home'.
Interactions around my moko have been interesting. When overseas, I’ve seen some people stare, mostly out of curiosity and admiration. Here in Aotearoa, when multiple people with moko kanohi are in the same place, there’s an unspoken and sometimes spoken acknowledgment. A sense of knowing, being and respect. It’s beautiful. I’ve also had many negative experiences, stereotyping, and looks of disgust, but it has never made me regret my kauae. Nothing could ever make me regret my kauae. If I were to remove my moko kauae, I would feel like I was removing my armour.
Being Māori is my superpower. I am my moko kauae, and my moko kauae is me, and it’s really courageous to wear your pride on your face. I wear my pride on my face, THATS how much I love being Māori.