is an ornamental pendant of the Māori which is worn around the neck. Hei-tiki are usually made of pounamu which is greenstone, and are considered a taonga
A taonga in Māori culture is a treasured thing, whether tangible or intangible. Tangible examples are all sorts of heirlooms and artefacts, land, fisheries, natural resources such as geothermal springs and access to natural resources, such as riparian water rights and access to the riparian zone of...
(treasure). They are commonly referred to as tiki
Tiki refers to large wood and stone carvings of humanoid forms in Central Eastern Polynesian cultures of the Pacific Ocean. The term is also used in Māori mythology where Tiki is the first man, created by either Tūmatauenga or Tāne. He found the first woman, Marikoriko, in a pond – she seduced him...
, a term that actually refers to large human figures carved in wood, and, also, the small wooden carvings used to mark sacred places. Tourist versions - either from real jade or sometimes from cheap plastic - are also commonly found throughout New Zealand
New Zealand is an island country in the south-western Pacific Ocean comprising two main landmasses and numerous smaller islands. The country is situated some east of Australia across the Tasman Sea, and roughly south of the Pacific island nations of New Caledonia, Fiji, and Tonga...
Origins and materials
One theory of the origin of the hei-tiki suggests a connection with Tiki, the first man in Māori legend. According to Horatio Gordon Robley
Horatio Gordon Robley was a soldier, artist and collector of Mokomokai and antiquities.Robley was born at Funchal, Madeira on 28 June 1840, the son of Captain John Horatio Robley and Augusta June Penfold. Robley followed in his father's footsteps and became a professional soldier...
, there are two main ideas behind the symbolism of hei-tiki: they are either memorials to ancestors, or represent the goddess of childbirth
Childbirth is the culmination of a human pregnancy or gestation period with the birth of one or more newborn infants from a woman's uterus...
, Hineteiwaiwa. The rationale behind the first idea is that they were often buried when their kaitiaki (guardian) died and would be later retrieved and placed somewhere special to be brought out in times of tangihanga (mourning and associated activities). Because of the connection with Hineteiwaiwa, hei-tiki were often given to a woman by her husband's family if she was having trouble conceiving.
Horatio Robley, (Te Ropere, 1840-1930, author of "A History of the Maori Tiki") suggested a similarity of some tiki to images of Buddha, which were often fashioned in green jade. He believed they may have been a forgotten memory, in debased form, of these.
The most valuable hei-tiki are carved from pounamu which is either nephrite or bowenite
Bowenite is a hard, compact variety of the serpentinite species antigorite, . Classed as semi-precious gem stone it has been used for tools, weapons and jewellery by the Māori in New Zealand, and for jewellery by Fabergé. Deposits are found in several places around the world including Afghanistan,...
(Māori: tangiwai). Pounamu is esteemed highly by Māori for its beauty, toughness and great hardness; it is used not only for ornaments such as hei-tiki and ear pendants, but also for carving tools, adzes, and weapons. Named varieties include translucent green kahurangi
, whitish inanga
, semi-transparent kawakawa
, and tangiwai
Traditionally there were several types of hei-tiki which varied widely in form. Modern-day hei-tiki however, may be divided into two types. The first type is rather delicate, with a head/body ratio of approximately 30/70, with small details included, such as ears, elbows, and knees. The head is on a tilt, and one hand is placed on the thigh, and the other on the chest. The eyes are relatively small. The second type is generally heavier than the first. It has a 40/60 head/body ratio, both hands are on the thighs, and the eyes are proportionately larger.
From the size and style of traditional examples of hei-tiki it is likely that the stone was first cut in the form of a small adze. The tilted head of the pitau
variety of hei-tiki derives from the properties of the stone - its hardness and great value make it important to minimise the amount of the stone that has to be removed. Creating a hei-tiki with traditional methods is a long, arduous process during which the stone is smoothed by abrasive rubbing; finally, using sticks and water, it is slowly shaped and the holes bored out. After laborious and lengthy polishing, the completed pendant is suspended by a plaited cord and secured by a loop and toggle.
Among the other tāonga
(treasured possessions) used as items of personal adornment are bone carvings in the form of earrings or necklaces. For many Māori the wearing of such items relates to Māori cultural identity. They are also popular with young New Zealanders of all backgrounds for whom the pendants relate to a more generalized sense of New Zealand identity. Several artistic collectives have been established by Māori tribal groups. These collectives have begun creating and exporting jewellery
Jewellery or jewelry is a form of personal adornment, such as brooches, rings, necklaces, earrings, and bracelets.With some exceptions, such as medical alert bracelets or military dog tags, jewellery normally differs from other items of personal adornment in that it has no other purpose than to...
(such as bone carved pendants based on traditional fishhooks hei matau
A hei matau is a bone or greenstone carving in the shape of a highly stylized fish hook typical of the Māori people of New Zealand.They represent strength, good luck and safe travel across water.-Meaning:...
and other greenstone jewellery) and other artistic items (such as wood
Wood is a hard, fibrous tissue found in many trees. It has been used for hundreds of thousands of years for both fuel and as a construction material. It is an organic material, a natural composite of cellulose fibers embedded in a matrix of lignin which resists compression...
carvings and textiles). Several actor
An actor is a person who acts in a dramatic production and who works in film, television, theatre, or radio in that capacity...
s who have recently appeared in high-profile movies filmed in New Zealand have come back wearing such jewellery, including Viggo Mortensen
Viggo Peter Mortensen, Jr. is a Danish-American actor, poet, musician, photographer and painter. He made his film debut in Peter Weir's 1985 thriller Witness, and subsequently appeared in many notable films of the 1990s, including The Indian Runner , Carlito's Way , Crimson Tide , Daylight , The...
of The Lord of the Rings
The Lord of the Rings is a high fantasy epic written by English philologist and University of Oxford professor J. R. R. Tolkien. The story began as a sequel to Tolkien's earlier, less complex children's fantasy novel The Hobbit , but eventually developed into a much larger work. It was written in...
fame who took to wearing a hei matau
around his neck. These trends have contributed towards a worldwide interest in traditional Māori culture and arts.