Maori Carvings - Interpreting the Designs

it was out of our interest that we started researching this post as many of our customers asked what the different Pounamu pendant designs meant after wandering around our many markets in Queenstown.

Firstly, some scholars believe that the Maori's primary interest in the Wakatipu was based on seasonal hunting and the gathering of raw Pounamu (greenstone). Traditionally Pounamu is carved to represent ancestral linage, physical and spiritual connection with the natural world, or attributes such as strength, prosperity, love, and harmony
According to the Department of Conservation, "The Greenstone Valley and the Hollyford Valley were the easiest access routes between the West Coast and Central Otago. They were discovered and widely used by the Waitaha, one of the earliest groups of Maori settlers in the region. They were followed by Kati Mamoe and Kāi Tahu in succession, travelling from Lake Wakatipu to the West Coast in search of pounamu, or greenstone.
Early West Coast Ngati Wairangi also used the route as they sought pounamu from the Dart Valley. Pounamu was highly valued as a material for tools, weapons and ornaments. The Otago pounamu was the specially valued pearly grey-green variety and was made into tools and weapons of great mana (status).,.. further says '"because of the spiritual significance that pounamu held it was often gifted on significant occasions as a symbol of honour, respect and permanence. Pounamu heirlooms or weapons of great status were exchanged between parties as symbols of peace agreements"

So, as a very quick guide, these are some of the more popular greenstone/pounamu designs that you might find in Queenstown should you be looking for a necklace for yourself or as a gift for a loved one;

Please note, that the following list has been directly copied from the super informative and educational website: as has all of the photos.  

Pikorua (single twist)
The Maori single twist symbol consists of a closed-loop with three knots. Pikorua, as the Maori name this symbol, refers to eternal emerging paths in life. The eight-shaped single twist symbolizes the strength of the bond between two people, their loyalty and friendship. It signifies the spiritual merger of two people for eternity. Although people will take different paths in their lives they will always be connected and will return to each other.

Double and triple twist
Also an eternity symbol. Refers to the bond between peoples of cultures rather than individuals. These Maori pendants were traditionally given to offer friendship between different tribes.

Maori twist symbols also refer to the so-called ‘three baskets of knowledge. This is a concept that very roughly translated, has to do with how, humankind needs the knowledge to survive, and came into the world. According to the legend, the god Tane (creator of the first man Tiki) brought down those three baskets from the heavens.

Spinnaker Bay Apartments Queenstown Accommodation Pounamu

The Whale
The whale with its great size and obvious intelligence played an important part in the culture of the Maori people. They were often represented as an example of family love with mother and calf always side by side and touching at every opportunity. Beached whales were treasured as gifts from the gods. They were particularly prized for the bone which after several years of curing was used to carve ornate jewellery and artworks, often passed down for generations.

The spiral is a Koru, representing the fern found as it opens bringing new life and purity to the world. It also represents peace, tranquillity and spirituality along with a strong sense of regrowth or new beginnings. The Koru is also often associated with nurturing so when interlocked with others is frequently used to represent the strength and purity of a loving relationship with the family.

Roimata / Kuru / The Drop
Encourages knowledge, confidence and independence. It gives positive energy, and helps to heal is often called the comforting stone

Peka Peka
Native NZ bat, the peka peka is a very old Maori Design, it is a guardian and will protect and keep you safe.

Spinnaker Bay Apartments Queenstown Accommodation Pounamu 2

These very stylised fish hooks represent strength, prosperity, abundance, and great respect for the sea. It also is said to provide good luck and safety when travelling over water so is often worn by travellers.

Toki (Adze)
The Toki had much meaning to the Maori, fashioned from stone or greenstone it was an essential tool for survival and day to day life of a Maori tribe. That's the reason the Maori attribute the spiritual meaning of strength and power to the Toki, this symbol resembles determination, control, strength focus and honour. Its shape represents an axe head.

Means containing Mana (prestige and power). It has the head of a bird, the body of a human and the tail of a fish, representing the sky, earth and sea. It is your guardian angel. It is a spiritual piece that protects the wearer from evil and bad things.

Contemporary Peka Rua
Representing the Silver fern, growth represents two people as they go through life

Spinnaker Bay Apartments Queenstown Accommodation Pounamu 3

One of the most popular and most recognizable Maori symbols. Tiki is emblematic of the whole Polynesian hemisphere, an emblem of Polynesian cultures from Hawaii to New Zealand. According to legends, tiki was the first man on earth who originated from the stars. The first mortal person who created the first woman after his image.

The exact meaning of the tiki symbol is disputed. There are several opinions but the most accepted are that tiki stands for fertility, and the frequently occurring hands placed on the loins is a direct reference to fertility. Tiki is a good luck charm meant to keep evil spirits away. Other theories state that tiki represents the human embryo or the Maori god Tiki who was considered responsible for the creation of life.

Mere / Patu / War Club
Represents the weapon the Maori used. It gives the wearer strength and courage. It signifies high status and authority.

Porohita / The Disc
Represents the circle of life which has no beginning or end. It means you have a choice to do and achieve whatever you want to in life.