To avoid these problems the later moko artists adopted an instrument already popular for tattooing in other countries and readily available in New Zealand because of its domestic uses: the darning needle, used singly, in pairs or in clusters of up to a dozen for colouring lips.
One of the first to employ this method was Tame Poaua, son of Colonel Thomas William Porter and a Ngatiporou chieftainess, Herewaka Te Rangi Paia. Poata was born at Tuparoa on the East Coast and brought up by his Maori relatives. Over a period of 20 years he tattooed more women throughout the North Island than any known artist before or after him.
From 1928 until his death in 1942 at the age of 72, he made a living entirely from carving and tattooing. Unlike previous tattooists, he did not restrict himself to certain tribes and regions.
He travelled extensively by horseback, train and car around the East Coast, Urewera, Bay of Plenty, Rotorua and Waikato, leaving his easily recognisable moko on hundreds of faces.
In his later years there was nobody else available to perform tattooing in most of these places. Poata developed needle tattooing to a fine art. Tribal elders often commissioned him to come to their area on a specified day.
At other times Poata himself would send notice of his impending arrival. All the women requiring a moko in that district were brought together at one place. The night before tattooing, Poata would choose a room, clear it of people and sit in it alone, singing karakia.
He would then sprinkle water about and close the doors and windows, completing the process which made the room tapu.
The following day the selected women would come to the room and lie down on a bed or mattress. Sometimes the artist would trace the moko in pencil to allow important relatives to approve the pattern. At other times he merely did it without a preliminary outline.
The dye he finally settled on as the easiest to prepare and giving the best colour (dark blue) was a mixture of indian ink and water in which green lichen had been boiled.
Initially he used up to half a dozen needles which were tied on to a piece of wood about the size of a pencil and which protruded to a single point about a quarter of an inch below the wood.
But by the mid-1930s he had reduced the number of needles to two because of the danger of infection. From this time he also sterilised the needles and used a new set for each moko.
The needles were dipped into the dye, held either in a small bottle or in a mussel shell. The cotton which bound them to the stick soaked up the blue liquid. Then, as Poata pricked the needles into the skin with a rapid and continuous wrist movement, the pigment ran down to the point like ink out of a pen.
He would do the chin pattern first and the most painful parts last, the lower and upper lips.
The whole process took up to an hour, depending on the ability of the subject to resist pain and the amount of bleeding. With needles, little blood was lost and the moko was visible immediately (in contrast to the chisel method which left scabs for several weeks).
Occasionally the moko did not "take" and the chin became infected. In such cases, the job Was often repeated months or even years afterwards when the sores had healed.
While Poata moved around the North Island, other needle tattooists were at work in some districts on a smaller scale: Ngakura Rairino at Te Teko, Raro Aterea (who also did a few chisel mokos in his younger days) at Tauranga and Ruatoki, Tawharangi in the Bay of Plenty and Jack Biddle at Turangi.
This group also included two women, something which would never have been permitted in pre-European times. They were Kuhukuhu Tamati, who tattooed in Waikato, and Hikapuhi, who operated around Rotorua and Te Puke.
Some of these used more extensive ritual than Poata, chanting while the moko was being done and forbidding eating and sexual relations immediately afterwards. Others dispensed altogether with ceremonials, other than asking formally whether or not a woman wished to have the moko.
Only one other tattooist was doing the moko regularly at the time Poata died. He was Ngakau, a Waikato elder who lived at Owairaka Pa near Parawera. Elderly women came to him from all over the Waikato in large numbers up to World War II.
After the war they came from even further afield. The late Mere Gardiner, a guide at Whakarewarewa, was one of the last to be tattooed by him before his death in the late 1940s.
Since Ngakau's time, few Maori women have received the moko. A Rotorua man trained by him did several but stopped in 1953 when he felt he had lost the calling. At least three women have been given chin tattoos by electric needles from Pakeha tattooists, and one died shortly afterwards, confirming others in their reticence to try this last resort.
Some early anthropologists such as H. Ling Roth have distinguished between the moko, which left a grooved scar on the skin, and the tatu, tattoo, which left a coloured pattern under the skin but did not break the surface.
The former kind of ornamentation was left by the chisel, the latter by the needle. In 20th century Maori society, however, the terms moko and tattoo have been used synonymously and such a distinction would only cause confusion.