Navy welcomes first sailor with moko

It’s bold, it’s beautiful and now it’s part of his uniform.

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 10-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? 


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