Aaron Henare is a Māori pro-wrestler, going to battle in leagues around the world, but recently he returned home to connect with his whakapapa after years of not fully embracing it.
Henare (Ngāpuhi, Te Rarawa, Ngāti Kurī, and Ngāi Takoto) - an athlete in the New Japan Pro-Wrestling league (NJPW) - received his mataora in late June of 2023, after spending more than a year overseas.
Surrounded by his whānau, Aaron said it was a very emotional moment as he’s the first family member in many generations to receive the tattoo.
“I'm pretty good at keeping stoic,” he told Te Ao Māori News. “Keeping strong even under stress and under emotion but seeing my whānau, bro, my dad, my nan, my uncle.”
“To put it into perspective, my nan, she was told when she was growing up 'Don't marry a maari (Māori)'. She told me, she pulled me aside and was like, 'This is the first time I have seen our traditions lived properly in our family.'”
"That mana doesn't go away; they can take away our language and land but you can't take away the mana from our ancestors."
Aaron added that the mataora has changed the way he views life.
“I feel more secure in myself as well, and more representative of my tūpuna. “I’ve felt mana, responsibility, and power all wrapped up in one.”
“It’s not just that I’ve got these markings and I’m the man, it’s now ‘I’ve got these markings, now the responsibilities have doubled, tripled, quadrupled.’”
He’s gotten the all-clear from the NJPW to don the tattoo while wrestling for them, which he will return to in August.
“I put up a poll (on social media). I said what’s more excruciatingly painful; a moko on the lips or 10 steel chairs? Sure enough, everyone chose moko on the lips.”
“But when you put it into perspective, that was the most painful thing that I went through in my life, but I know our tupuna went through a lot more than that; losing their land and being disconnected from their culture. That pain that I bear is nothing compared to the pain they bore.”
Aaron's first bout in the NJPW with the mataora will occur in August, in the league’s G1 tournament.