Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Traditional Māori tattoo artist reunited with precious tools

One of New Zealand’s few practitioners of traditional Māori and Polynesian tattooing has been reunited with his priceless hand-carved tools after they were stolen last month.

The tools, known as uhi, were reported stolen from Moko Smith’s Tattoo Studio in Corban Estate Arts Centre in Henderson, West Auckland.

The unique tools are carved from wood and bone and have huge spiritual and cultural significance to Moko, with some handed down from his late teacher and mentor.

Thankfully the estate had CCTV that captured a good shot of the registration of the vehicle used after the burglary and its driver, whose distinctive appearance meant they were easily identifiable.

“After a number of very early morning starts; enquiries from Ranui to Takanini; search warrants on two addresses and a car; as well as a solid interview with one of the offenders, officers were able to locate half of the stolen tools at an emergency housing unit in Henderson on Thursday 12 August,” NZ Police said in a statement.

“They were swiftly returned to Moko, who was incredibly thankful.

“The next day, the remaining tools were brought into Henderson Station by a member of the public who’d found them in a park. These tools in particular were the ones that belonged to Moko’s late teacher and mentor, and what’s more, they were returned on his mentor’s birthday.”

Constable Josh Downes with Moko Smith in his studio.

“Moko is striving to bring back the nearly lost art of traditional tattooing. His tools are his life and livelihood and he was emotional about getting them all back.”

Police say the two offenders have been identified. The driver has been referred to Te Pai Oranga for parties to burglary, and the passenger who broke in and stole the equipment has been identified but is still outstanding.

“It’s been incredibly rewarding to be able to return such significant items to someone who is doing so much to bring back an important part of this country’s history,” said Constable Joshua Downes of the Waitematā West Tactical Crime Unit.

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