Duchess of Cambridge and the meaning of the Maori warrior's tattoo

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Upon their arrival in Wellington yesterday, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge received a formal M?ori welcome called a powhiri, led by a warrior.

The warrior’s taurape (buttocks tattoo) and puhoro (thigh tattoo) emphasises the engine room of the warrior’s body, says M?ori tattoo expert Tim Worrall. “The largest muscles, the means by which the warrior remains agile.”

Worrall is from the staunch T?hoe iwi (tribe) from the east coast of New Zealand’s North Island. The Rotorua-based M?ori leader has been working as a t? moko (M?ori tattoo) artist for 15 years. A cultural adviser on the film Whale Rider, he also worked as a creative consultant and graphic designer for the Rugby World Cup 2011 opening ceremony.

The patterns seen are commonly associated with warriors and, says Worrall, “express his essential vitality”. There’s the motif of the koru, the end of an unfolding fern, representing connection to the natural world. “This warrior also has manaia forms in the moko on his back. Manaia symbolises the connection between the different realms. These curvy linear expressions, made up of positive and negative spaces, refer to the spiritual and temporal worlds.”

In M?ori culture red is the highest status colour and signifies prestige and authority. “Many Maori appreciated the red dress that Kate Middleton wore: this colour represents mana [high status] in Te Ao Maori [the Maori world]. Traditionally, high-status individuals would wrap themselves in red ochre for an event like this.”

During the powhiri, Prince William experienced the wero (challenge), an ancient part of the ritual of encounter and coming together. The warrior placed a dart called a rake tapu at his feet, which he picked up while maintaining eye contact with the warrior to show that he came in peace.

“They evoke a response which reveals the nature of the guests’ arrival, and are also an acknowledgment of the mana of the guest.”