Tom and Rachel had decided to join us in Whakatane after they had dropped a friend off up the road. It was therefore our job to scope out the town first and look for a cheap (free) place to camp for the night. We spent the first few hours feverishly looking for accommodation by lying around in the sun by the sea, generally taking it easy and having a nap. Needless to say we didn't find any free accommodation. After a proper search we came to the same conclusion. We were going to have to pay.
Now the reason that we were in Whakatane was so that I could go and have a Moko (tattoo) put on my leg and the artist I had chosen was based just down the road in Ohope. I phoned him that night and he asked me to call back the next day as he had only just got back from the Womad festival where he had been tattooing the performing artists and the paying public well into the night for the last week!
So the next morning I called and he put me off again until the afternoon… Call back again around four was his reply. So in order to kill some time the four of us headed East along the coastal highway for a spot of lunch and a round of mini golf. There really is not much to do round Whakatane if you hadn't guessed! Finally after a months worth of emails and a couple of days of phone calls I had my appointment sorted for 8pm that evening.
As Katie, Tom and Rachel headed out for a relaxing night at the cinema I was standing in front of a huge shaven-headed Maori guy that I have never met before in my underpants with him staring at my thigh whilst donning some black latex gloves! Not a situation I would like to be in every day.
I was about to have a traditional Maori Moko on my left thigh. The artist who is about to leave this indelible piece of artwork is called Rangi Kipa. I had asked him to have the Moko depicting travel and new life and he is busy marking out guidelines on my thigh with different coloured felt pens. Rangi is not a man of many words and using as little of them as possible he asks me to hop up onto the table to start the tattooing process. Just before he put needle to skin though he did happen to comment on my freakish stretchy skin and decide that I would be known as "chicken Skin" from now on and awarded me the title of freak of the week! It was time to change the needle for a bigger gauge as apparently my avian flesh was just too rubbery for his original selection and then started what would turn out to be over 6hours work to create the Moko. Around midnight he finished the outline and we both agreed that it would be probably better if it was finished the next day as he was tired and I was a little sore to tell you the truth.
Next day I returned with Katie to have the job finished and we found Rangi at work in his workshop carving Corian tiki's (just another string to his bow as we were about to find out). After a good nights sleep he was definitely more chatty although he did still refer to me as chicken skin. After some more marking out it was time for another three and a half hours worth of work to adorn the outlining with the all important lines and shading. During the resting periods whilst I was compressing the work to minimise swelling, he was telling us about all his other work that he does. After passing his masters degree in art he started carving whales teeth and whale bones in a traditional way and soon got a quite a reputation for his fine and intricate work. After this he started to work with the man made material, corian, as this has the same textural quality as bone. A number of these pieces are on display in the Te Papa museum in Wellington. Then, as if this wasn't enough, he, along with 12 other artists, re-established the traditional art of Ta Moko (Maori tattooing) to where it is today.
As he very humbly started to show us his carvings, he slipped into the conversation that some of his artwork has been chosen to go on a series of NZ stamps and the New Zealand Olympic committee have approached him to help design their 2012 kit. It was then that both me and Katie realised that this guy wasn't your normal tattoo artist.
It was back to work on my leg and with the most painful inner thigh to do I grimaced a bit until it was finally finished and Rangi explained the meaning behind the symbols. He has chosen specific symbols to make the Moko represent Whanau (family) and travel. On the front of my thigh are the symbols for the male hammerhead shark and on the rear he has used the symbols for the female hammerhead. The reasoning behind using the shark symbols are as follows. In Maori culture the sharks characteristics are of stealth, tenacity, perseverance and strength which is something that we should all aspire to be like.
On the inner and outer of my thigh are the symbols pf Puhoro (water and sea). This is to represent the travels and to remind us that water holds the energy and life-force of everything. Finally the shading and lines that have been used to fill in the areas around these symbols have also been chosen carefully. The series of lines used to shade are known as ribs and represent the generations past and the generations of the future and both of these are not to be forgotten. Also there are small triangles representing Rarangi, Pae and Maunga (Range, Horizon and Mountains). This was not only chosen to represent the travel but to remind us that whenever you are down there is an up and also whenever you are up there is always a down.
Both myself and Katie are delighted with his work and it made the near 7 hours under the needle all worth it when you see the end result.