Maori Tattoo dancer is also tattooist

Maori dancer Te Kanawa Ngarotata works on John Tinlin's tattoo. Picture: Jane Barlow
Maori dancer Te Kanawa Ngarotata works on John Tinlin's tattoo. Picture: Jane Barlow
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HE’s a star of the biggest show in town – and now a Maori performer is getting to grips with a totally different kind of tattoo to ensure he leaves a permanent mark of his culture on the Capital.

Te Kanawa Ngarotata, 21, who features in the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo as part of a 50-strong group of Haka dancers, has taken a guest space at Love Hate Tattoo parlour in Newington, inking intricate Maori designs for delighted customers.

Taking part in both is “awesome and pretty full-on,” he said. “It’s great to share my culture and it’s a privilege to be part of such an international event.”

Originally from Takapau on New Zealand’s North Island, he did his first tamoko, or tattoo, aged 15, and explained that Maori tattoos identify, represent or acknowledge something, someone or an event in your life. Rather than use the traditional uhi, or chisel blades, the father-of-one uses modern guns, and has already had a lot of interest in his skills.

John Tinlin of Tranent, a member of Ross High Rugby Club, was among those eager for a striking design on his arm, and said: “I’d wanted to get another tattoo – I turned 50 this year and when I heard this guy was in town I decided it would be great to get a real Maori to do it.”

Te Kanawa explained that the location of the tattoo is significant, with the arm area showing your genealogy, and linking you back to where you came from.

Elements of John’s tattoo included the interpretation of a hammerhead shark, representing courage, longer panels representing journey and strength, and a coil representing growth.

Maoris start getting tattoos at puberty, reflecting the fact that they can carry children or fight, and artwork on non-Maori is known as kirituhi.

Five relatives of his generation are also tattooists. “It’s pretty much a family affair,” he says.

Love Hate owner Brooke Mackay-Brock said the shop often has guest artists from around the world, including artists from the hit TV show Miami Ink. She made contact with Te Kanawa when she heard he would be in Edinburgh.

“We’ve had a lot of interest,” she said. “I don’t know of another tattoo parlour in the UK that’s had an authentic Maori guest tattoo artist.”

In what is his first visit to Edinburgh, Te Kanawa is also starring with his dance group in the full-length Haka show at Assembly Hall, showcasing Maori performing arts.

His partner Aroha Clarke, from Auckland, who is part of his dance group, said tattooing for Te Kanawa is not just a craft, but a passion.

“Wherever he goes, his tattoo guns go with him,” she says.