Navy welcomes first sailor with moko


It’s bold, it’s beautiful and now it’s part of his uniform.  Click HERE to hear News Reader.

After 20 years of service, Rawiri Barriball became the first person to get clearance from the Navy to wear a full facial Māori tattoo.

“I’ve always felt I was gonna get it, I just wanted to achieve a few things first and one of them was doing 20 years’ [service].”

The decision wasn’t just his to be made, Mr Barriball had to apply under navy law to gain approval, it was granted last month.

“I guess with my job being a seaman combat specialist… We’re face to face with people that we’re trying to help different parts of the world, if they see something as in moko they might be a bit intimidated I guess.”

Even after his ten hour ink session with his brother to complete his facial tattoo, the navy combat specialist was already confronted with the stigma around facial tattoos.

“When I left my brother’s house, straight away you can see the reaction of people. Even body language, which I was prepared for, but the way people talk to you, it changes.”

Rawiri is hoping that his own decision to wear a facial tattoo will help normalise these types of body art.

“I know there’s a bad rap with people having moko… the more people that get it the more it will be accepted.

“It’s not something you should be scared of – I’m just like any other human being.”

On January 20, Rawiri will return to duty and reveal his new badge of honour.

Have you, or someone you know, ever been discriminated against in the workplace because of moko? Email


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16 Responses to Navy welcomes first sailor with moko

  1. Alan (Tug)wilson says:

    Unbelievable !!

  2. Neill Dorset says:

    Keep one’s culture alive -sure but this is a bit OTT really What’s next-rings in the nose, lips or whatever, pierced eyebrows – all whilst in full Uniform and on duty! – and I am not being a racist here either.

  3. Peter Robb says:

    Interesting comment Neill….I guess matelots who covered their arms, chests, legs, backs with tatts were no less OTT….to each their own as the saying goes but I guess you are looking only at his face and for many that is the first point of eye contact, so fair point. It doesnt matter that I/you or others approve nor disapprove the Navy has said yes and that is all he needed…for many such as I, I don’t/didn’t need to wear or show my cultural heritage (concert parties excepting) to know who I am.
    Anyway I have seen some Police Offices with a full facial moko, so there you have it!

  4. gunther says:

    when this was shown on facebook i put my oar in by saying that allowing this to happen the seniors down in wellington (admiral etal) have opened a pandora’s box( didnt mind the moko, but just not whilst in the navy), for anyone of a different race or another maori could now say i want this because of that, and because the precident had been said, they would not be able to disagree on whatever was wanted. after two or three days of backwards and forwards, i was in the end called a racist, and thru all of it i dont think anyone could see what a problem this could lead to..

  5. john snow says:

    My thoughts were why did he have to wait for 20 years.

  6. John Bullock says:

    Did this sailor feel insecure after all his time in the Navy? Maori is only about 15 percent of our population, so at the end of the day I hope New Zealand does not become bi-lingual like Canada. No problem knowing the Maori language for cultural reasons. Looking back on my time in the Navy there were not too many Maori’s that could speak their language fluently, other the knowing the ship’s Maori Concert Party songs, or even speaking Maori amongst themselves aboard ship or depot. Essentially, a Moko is a tattoo, and I agree with Rawiri it can be intimidating. Maybe he should volunteer for shore parties in enemy territory! When I joined the Navy there was a tattooist in Auckland called “Tiger Mitchell”. Many young sailors received his tattoo’s, and this caused much uneasiness with sailor’s parents and the Navy itself. So much in fact I recall tattoo’s were outlawed by the Navy to those under the age of 20 back in my time. Whether this ruling still applies today, I do not know.

    • mike catlow says:

      Yes John Tiger put the same tattoo on myself and ‘Dits’ McLean when we were 16. We got into trouble for it & Tiger was told off, Don’t know if it had any effect on him as he would tattoo anyone who asked. The tattoo i got was unrecognizable 40 years later so i had it removed. Most fine line tattoos don’t age well as the skin wrinkles so much, well visible skin anyway! Its quite the ‘in thing’ now but it would be interesting to see how many maintain the clarity over time. Tattoo removing could be quite lucrative for years to come.

      • Gary Kingdon says:

        I also got a Tiger special, as a result of going ashore with Alex Woolston (RIP). Hadn’t thought of getting one, but went out with him to see what it was about. He was getting about his third one and I finished up getting one too. Regretted it soon after, especially when I got an infection in my arm and had to go to Sick Bay. They reported it (think Teapot Kettle was the SBA) and finished up on defaulters – 7 days No 9s, I think. Alex got away with it. Have regretted getting it ever since, but have not seen a removal solution that either completely removes the tattoo, leaves no marks or is reasonably priced.

      • mike catlow says:

        Well Gary I had my tattoo removed by the Wellington CACI clinic. They said the tattoo was an awkward mix of colour but went ahead with the laser treatment which hurt and blistered it all up but gradually ate all the colour. When the bill got to $1000 (lucky had a good paying job) i called a halt leaving just a couple of blue spots which i could live with. Not sure if VANZ helps out with tattoo removal. Perhaps others reading this can comment

    • John Bullock says:

      MikeC … do time in Her Majesties Prisons and you can get tattoo removal for free!

  7. John Snow says:

    How much input has Mediasworks had to the decision. Was it done to try and revive their sagging numbers of viewers.

  8. Alan (Tug)wilson says:

    Well the bar has now been set by those at the top, may the flood gates open, as Neill stated what will be next!!!!!

  9. Dave Wistrand says:

    Yes had a Tiger Mitchell special in Herne bay I think probably first leave from the island. When I was employing people to go and and represent the company I worked for; as well as technical ability they had to be presentable and within reason blend in with those people (customers). Customers like those who are similar to themselves, they feel safe that way and trust can build into a business partnership. As a naval rating we are defending the average NZer who wonder
    if wants to be (or feels safe) represented by such a different cultural manifestation especially in times of emergency and the consequent stress. In serving tax payers the emphasis must be on the wants and needs of those paying the bills (taxpayers) and not on personal preferences.

  10. Neill Dorset says:

    Fair point about the tattoos Peter although I am surprised about the Police Officers as that was not permitted when I was in the Force, but as has been pointed out in some of the articles, Times change. However i still stand by my comment – whatever next. Also John B you are correct about the tatt’s and under 20 year olds – if you got caught you could have been charged with that marvellous phrase ‘ self inflicted wounding” as was pointed out to myself and four others whilst U/T by the then Yeoman Bert Anscombe.

  11. Lindsay Roberts says:

    Interesting comments from all above,and also what Rawiri said that he first wanted to do 20 years before getting his Moko. Look at the TV clip again.and observe his medals. Conspicuous by its absence for a 20 year man is the LS&GC Medal. Would be interesting to look at his 264’s and see why

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