'Ahakoa he iti he pounamu' - although it is small it is a treasure!
Like many indigenous people, Māori and Pacific Islanders recorded their heritage orally - through stories told and passed through generations. As these cultures developed, they began to record significant and important events in various art forms - wood carving, painting, weaving and, in the case of Māori, stone, jade and bone carving as well.
Many of the carved pendant forms and designs are not random shapes created for their visual beauty alone. They tell the story of developing cultures, of family histories, legends and battles. They are regarded as treasures 'taonga', and are gifted and worn for very specific and important reasons. Treasured pieces were passed through the generations as important family heirlooms, playing a significant role in recording the tribe's or family's history.
Jade was highly valued as a material for making tools because of its extreme toughness. The process of taking a raw piece of jade and working it into a functional tool took many hours of working it with other stone and sand to slowly grind a useful shape.
These tools were then reflected in pendants which were worn around the neck by elders and passed down through the generations as 'Taonga' or treasures.
Below is a little information on some of these shapes and their significance - we will add to these over time.
Rebirth ~ Purity ~ Peace
Koru is the Māori word for 'loop'. The spiral shaped koru design graphically represents an unfolding silver fern frond. The circular movement towards an inner coil refers to ‘going back to the beginning’. The unfurling frond shape is symbolic of new life, new beginnings and the hope that is associated with a step into something new and unknown. It is a reflection of the spirit of rejuvenation and the personal growth that comes with undertaking new challenges.
The Koru is also associated with nurturing, so it is frequently used to represent the strength and purity of a loving relationship within a family.
For an artist the circle represents the relationship or oneness between the artist and their craft, bringing together head, hand and heart.
I recently met a young guy that had been adopted as a child - his adoptive parents gave him a koru when he turned 18 to signify his transition into adulthood. They also wanted to let him know that he has a loving and supportive family right behind him as he heads out into an independent life - this was important to him and shows the significance that these little gestures can have.
Fertility ~ Fortune ~ Creation
The Tiki is a very ancient symbol and, while quickly recognised, is by far the least understood of traditional carved designs. There are a number of legends in relation to its meaning. Some say the Tiki came from the stars and that he was the first man of the world. Other theories suggest that tiki represents the human embryo - forming life. He is believed to have a strong link to the sea - often being depicted with webbed feet.
Perhaps the most accepted meaning of the Tiki is fertility. Often carved with hands placed on the loins in what is believed to be a direct reference to fertility.
Tiki was respected as the teacher of all things and the wearer of this symbol is seen to possess clarity of thought, loyalty, great inner knowledge and strength of character.
Tiki is also believed to bring good luck and keep evil spirits away.
If you watch some 'kapa haka' videos on youtube (here's a link: Kapa haka ) you will see that tiki are worn by men and women. They come in many different styles and are carved in jade and bone.
Pikorua - Twist
Friendship ~ Knowledge ~ Love
The Pikorua or single twist shape represents the eternal emerging paths in life. The figure-eight form symbolizes the bond between two people, their loyalty and love. This shape reflects the natural ebbs and flows that occur in a relationship without breaking the bond of friendship or love.
Double and triple twist forms represent the relationship between different peoples or cultures. They were often gifted as a symbol of friendship between tribes. In times of heated competition for scarce resources - food or land for example - these expressions of friendship were an important way to negotiate and seal peaceful arrangements.
Today these beautiful pendants are a wonderful way to recognise friendship and love.
Adze - Toki
Courage ~ Wisdom ~ Authority
A symbol of courage and strength in times of adversity. Toki were worn by Māori elders as a symbol of power, wisdom and authority.
The toki (adze) was a chisel tool used by the Māori people of Aotearoa (New Zealand) to carve their great canoes and the detailing on meeting houses. When lashed to a wooden handle it was also used as a weapon.
The toki is a favoured pendant here in New Zealand, it is widely worn by Kiwis in both jade and bone. If you are looking to buy a toki - aside from the quality of the carving, pay particular attention to the quality of the lashing (the binding connecting the cord to the pendant). When well done, this binding becomes an intrinsic part of the beauty of the piece.
Matau - Fish Hook
Prosperity ~ Abundance ~ Fertility
Much of Māori theology was based around the sea - Māori crossed the Pacific Ocean to find New Zealand (Aotearoa) in sailing canoes, fishing to survive these long and dangerous journeys.
Legend has it that New Zealand was once a huge fish that was caught by the great mariner Maui using a line of woven plant fibre and a bone hook - so the hook, or matau, is central to our Islands.
The wearer of a Hei-Matau is seen as a provider and protector who is strong willed and determined to succeed in life.
There are many styles of Hei-Matau from the true hook designs to more ornamental styles.
Manaia - Guardian
Guide ~ Protect ~ Communicate
The Māori people have many legends about the creation of the earth and how New Zealand was discovered. These legends include a number of mythical beings, some of whom have control over each of the elements while others belong to the realm of ancestral spirits.
The Manaia can be blended into many Maori designs with subtle differences between tribes. Most Maori art tells the story of a tribe or event. The Manaia therefore has many forms as it is intertwined with other shapes and patterns to depict its different powers and its interaction with the spirit or mortal worlds.
The Manaia is regarded as a kind deity that protects people and helps them communicate with their ancestors. It is regarded as a mythical being with a bird’s head a human body and fish tail. It is believed to be the invisible light, or aura, surrounding a person.
Manaia are considered the messenger between the Gods and mortals. In Māori culture the bird is thought to be an omen-carrier or intermediary between man and the spirits. Often they are carved with three fingers which are believed to represent birth, life and death. The Manaia is seen as the guide that leads the spirits to heaven.
They are worn to guide and protect.
Manaia carvings are often detailed and intricately carved - they are very beautiful.
Moana - Ocean
Guard ~ Protect ~ Nurture
The South Pacific is populated by island peoples who have a strong love and respect for the sea. The sea is seen as the bearer of gifts in the many sources of food and other material it provides, but also with the potential to deliver terrible destruction. So it is both loved and respected.
Islands are thought to be fish that have been pulled up from the sea by the Gods, and humans are beings that have evolved from sea creatures.
The art of carving is believed to have been discovered under the ocean when a Māori named Ruatepukepuke searching for his son who had been kidnapped by the God of the Sea (Tangaroa), returned to land with carvings that he had retrieved from the meeting house (Wharenui) of Tangaroa. So in Māori mythology there is a strong spiritual link between the art of carving and the ocean.
Sea creatures, and their forms, feature in a lot of traditional carvings reflecting the importance of the ocean to the peoples of the Pacific.
Wheku - Ancestor
Ancestor ~ Heritage ~ Spirit
Wheku, meaning 'carved face', depicts the face of an ancestor.
The Wheku is generally found at the apex of the gable on a Wharenui, the Maori meeting house, and symbolises an important ancestor after whom the house was named.
These come in many designs and are individually wonderful pieces to wear - that are visually striking pieces and collectively tell the wonderful history of the South Pacific.
Turtles have long played a role in mythology in many cultures - in China they are a symbol of tenacity, longevity and power; in Japan they are believed to be the God of sea-going people; in North America ancient belief is that the 'World Turtle' carries the earth on its back and earthquakes occur when the turtle adjusts the load from time to time!
Here in the South Pacific the turtle, or Honu, is a symbol of fertility, longevity and peace. The shell patterns are often seen in carvings and tattoos and are believed to represent family relationships and the concept of unity.
The sea turtle is renowned for its navigational skills. They travel great distances and have an innate ability to find their way home.
These are fabulous pendants for travellers.
Traditional carving is evolving continually and this produces some wonderful contemporary pieces that incorporate elements of current artistic creativity with more traditional forms and symbolism.
The pieces in this collection display creative direction that we believe deserves to be identified as contemporary. Where there are traditional forms and symbolism incorporated we have explained this in the individual carving or art descriptions on the product page.
Enjoy, and please feel free to contribute with your views on the significance and meaning of Pacific art.