Definition of mokomokai in English:



  • A preserved Maori head with traditional facial tattoos, kept as a trophy of war or for ritual reasons.

    ‘mokomokai became highly sought after as curios’
    • ‘Te Wherowhero ordered those with fine tattoos to be carefully beheaded so their mokomokai could be saved for trade.’
    • ‘His work evocatively includes both Maori iconography and culture, such as shrunken heads (mokomokai), native birds such as tui, and European symbols and items.’
    • ‘In the case of mokomokai, anthropological inquisitiveness curdled withghoulish fascination.’
    • ‘The Museum of New Zealand effectuated the return from museums or private collections abroad to New Zealand of 300 to 500 mummified Māori heads (Mokomokai).’
    • ‘As a sailor, he had previously traded in smoke-dried Māori tattooed heads (mokomokai), which generally fetched £10 apiece.’
    • ‘One of the driving forces behind this idea is the offence experienced by Maori people at the display of mokomokai (smoked tattooed heads), the head being considered particularly sacred.’
    • ‘The Mokomokai were a constant element in the development of Māori society and had enormous cultural significance for them.’
    • ‘We the living generation of carved mokopuna require the mokomokai of our forefathers to be given back immediately.’
    • ‘He built up an unrivalled collection of mokomokai.’
    • ‘These are some of the mokomokai preserved in the museums of France.’


Late 19th century: Maori, literally ‘tattooed slave or captive’.