Pounamu is the Māori name for greenstone (which is the New Zealand English name). It is a collective name for a few stone types called nephrite jade, bowenite, or serpentinite. It is found in the South Island of New Zealand and is a hard, durable stone. The South Island is actually named for the stone – Te-Wai-Pounamu (“the waters of greenstone”).
It is highly valued by the Māori and forms an important part of their culture. The colour ranges from a cloudy light green all the way to a deep emerald. The stone is sourced from riverbeds and boulders, and the colour and markings if the stone are different depending on which riverbed they were sourced from.
The greenstone was used to carve a variety of tools and jewellery. Each tool and piece of jewellery has its own special meaning. Hei-tiki was worn as status symbols by chiefs. They were exchanged as gifts for peace, and passed down through the generations. The pieces that had the longest history were the most precious.
Greenstone carving meanings
- Manaia: The Manaia – a mythological creature in Māori culture – is often depicted as having the head of a bird and the body of a man.
- Koru: Koru is Māori for loop, and it is a spiral shape that is integral in Māori art, carving, and tattoos.
- Pikorua: Also known as the Māori Twist Symbol. It represents two intertwined pikopiko ferns and as the twist has no beginning or end it symbolises an eternal bond between two entities.
- Tiki: If a woman was having trouble conceiving, the family of the man would present her with a hei-tiki.
- Toki-Adze: This carving was originally used as a part of a tool, and represents strength and courage.
- Hei Matau: This carving is in the shape of a fish hook. It represents prosperity, fertility and safe passage over water for the Māori.