HE was raised in an indigenous tribe in New Zealand, has tattooed Robbie Williams and is now offering his world-famous talents in Colchester. Te Rangitu Netana learned the symbolic and social importance of tattooing at an early age, but could never have imagined where his love of body art would take him.

The Maori tribesman and award-winning tattooist performed his first one at the age of 17, becoming the official tattooist for three of his local tribes.

Mr Netana, who belongs to one of the biggest tribes in New Zealand, said: “I was taught by my father and my grandfather, who are the spiritual leaders in our tribes.

“I have been studying tattooing since I was quite young and I’ve always been interested in traditional tattooing – it was passed down from my father.

“He did my first tattoo and, from there, I wanted to do it for my people.

“We believe the ink becomes the beginning of time. Before there was any light, there was darkness. The black ink can represent our own past and all the knowledge that past contains in a symbol.

“By displaying this on our body, we give life to our ancestors and the knowledge they have, so it becomes our guidelines in life, helping us to navigate towards our goals.

“It then becomes a living thing, it is very spiritual.”

He’s now offering his famous tattoos to people in the Colchester area while he visits friends and family.

As well as having spiritual significance, he says the Maori tattoo has a practical purpose within the tribes, helping tribe members to recognise the social ranking of each individual by the art on their faces and bodies.

Mr Netana describes it as “wearing your soul on the outside”.

He said: “It is like turning your soul inside out for everyone to see and it keeps you humble. You don’t need to talk about yourself so much because it is there for people to see for themselves.”

The Maori tattoo, or Ta Moko, form of body art has seen a huge surge in interest over the past decade, prompting celebrities like Mike Tyson and Robbie Williams to get them.

Mr Netana, who tattooed Take That star Williams eight years ago, said the popularity of the tattoos could be down to people’s need to find their own identity.

He said: “Everybody, right through the world, is trying to define themselves. The Maori tattoo is a form of self-definition.

“It is about recognising where you are and where you stand in society. It is all about empowering yourself.”

This may explain why getting a tattoo done by Te Rangitu Netana is a bit more complex than just booking an appointment and turning up.

He said: “It is about creating something which has a real meaning to that person.

“I would sit the individual down and I’d get to know a bit about them as a person, and find out what it is they want to say.

“It is all about that person’s past and their future, and what they need to feel empowered.”

As well as a tattooing machine, Mr Netana uses traditional hand tools, blades and albatross bones to create his tattoos.

Mr Netana first visited Colchester eight years ago when he came to the UK to tattoo Williams.

The 37-year-old came to Colchester to visit a friend, but after returning to his tribe in New Zealand, he later met his wife, George, who is also from the town, and was visiting the area during a holiday. The couple, who live in a Maori tribe in Northern New Zealand, make regular visits to Colchester to meet with friends and family, and ensure their two young daughters are aware of their British roots.

Mr Netana has been practising the art of tattooing for more than 20 years and now works with his own and other tribes in the Northern region of New Zealand, teaching children about their custom, styles and traditions from ancient history.

About 14 per cent of New Zealand’s population are believed to have Maori ancestry.

Mr Netana is available for tattoos from now until later this month, before he continues on his working holiday to Paris, Canary Islands and Italy.

Anyone interested should visit the Facebook group, “I want a tattoo by Te Rangitu Netana”.