Maori jade is a common name for the type of jade found in New Zealand that is treasured and carved by the native Maori of the island. The Maori call this jade Pounamu, which not only absorbs the spiritual strength of its wearer, but also has a never ending desire to return to is original home in rivers and mountains.
Who are the Maori?
In order to fully understand the importance of Maori jade, it is equally important to know about the Maori people of New Zealand. The Maori are an indigenous Polynesian people native to the hills and beaches of New Zealand. The word “Maori” translates to “normal,” or “ordinary,” which is ironic because the intricate designs they use when sculpting jade is anything but ordinary.
When New Zealand was infiltrated by Europeans in the 1800′s the Maori society was destabilized both in population and health due to the introduction of Western illnesses and weapons. However, the peaceful society did not diminish to a great extent and even made a comeback in the 1960′s. Today there is a large population of full-blooded Maori as well as Maori and European intermarriages resulting in children with Maori ancestry.
The Maori’s Meaning of Jade
The Maori consider jade as a taonga, or “treasure,” and were able to get it protected under the Treaty of Waitangi. Under this treaty the Maori are given rights to land and other properties, such as jade. Under this treaty the stone is protected under various restrictions from those who do see the gravity of its value as the Maori do.
The History of Maori Jade
Historically, like other cultures, the Maori took advantage of the strong stone to use as tools and weapons as well as jewelry. Like women in Chinese families who passed down Chinese jade jewelry through their generations, the Maori also handed down pieces of jade as valued heirlooms.
Jade was often used as a sign of victory in battles. Warriors would wear jade around their necks as a good luck charm before entering into a battle. The warrior men of competing tribes would fight to the death and then the victor would take the jade off the loser’s neck and keep it for himself. He would also claim stake to the jade that the failing warrior’s wife would wear, and give it to his wife to prove their family victory.
Modern Maori Jade
Often Maori jade is called the “greenstone” because jade from New Zealand is various shades of green. It is a common misconception that black jade is also found in New Zealand because there are many Maori pendants carved into black jade. Black jade is often used for Maori jewelry because it is found in South Australia.
Types of Maori Jade
There are different types of the “greenstone” found in New Zealand. The Maori have given different names to each form of pounamu:
- Inanga (Whitebait): Very pale green.
- Totoweka: Very rare form of Greenstone – streaked or spotted with red.
- Kohuwai: Called after the greenish moss growth in a slow running stream.
- Kawa-kawa: Has a strong green color with varying shades throughout.
- Kako-Tea: Dark green with black spots.
- Kahurangi: Bright green with light streaks resembling rolling clouds.
The unique patterns of Maori art is illuminated through the pounamu found in the mountains and rivers. A-symmetrical spirals accented with sharp angles can be found through a piece of jade that has been carved by a Maori native. A few designs such as the “hei matua (fish hook), the tiki (representing man), and the manaia (serpent form)” that have been carved for centuries are replicated today on jade stones, wood, paua shell, and even bone to make beautiful earrings, necklaces, or even sculptures.
New Zealand Jade
New Zealand jade is found on the South Westland or Westland area of the island. There is even a town called Hokitika, New Zealand, on the West side of the island that is considered the Jade capital of New Zealand.
Between the beach and the Arahura river, this area of New Zealand is rich with jade. In the past, natives found their taonga (treasures) in and around Hokitika and would travel the island trading what they had found.
Today Hokitika is the jade haven of New Zealand because there are many artists who carve, collect, and make jewelry out of the native pounamu. It is a tourist attraction because not only are there abundant resources of jade to be appreciated and even purchased here in Hokitika, but also there are workshops where a tourist can go and make their own unique piece of art out of the native jade.
Maori jade has proven to be timeless, and its worth is still seen today from the necks of the natives to the necks of traveling tourists.