Maori Anthropomorphic Pendant

Cultural ornaments are a common feature among primitive tribes like the Aborigenes of Australia, the Cherokee Indians f North America, and the Maori of New Zealand.

The Maori proudly wear the hei-tiki (pronounced hay-tee-key). There are several legends surrounding the origins of the hei-tiki. One identifies a connection with the first man in mythology, Tiki.

Horatio Gordon Robley clarifies the two major foundations for hei-tiki symbolism. These include memorials to ancestors and to represent Hineteiwaiwa, the goddess of childbirth. The first idea follows from the thought that they were usually buried when their guardian or kaitiki died, to be retrieved and placed in a special place and only brought out in times of mourning and related activities – tangihanga. A woman would typically receive a hei-tiki gift from her husband’s family where she has issues conceiving. This is due to the connection with Hineteiwaiwa.

Some tiki share a striking semblance to images of Buddha, according to Robley who wrote A History of Maori Tiki. These images were often a green jade shade. He proposes the tiki may have been a forgotten memory of these images, though in debased form.

Pounamu - The Stuff Tiki are Made of

Pounamu, whether nephrite or bowenite – tangiwa in Maori, is the base material for the most valuable hei-tiki. The Maori esteem pounamo highly for it visual appeal, toughness, and great hardness.

Apart from ornaments like ear pendants and hei-tiki, pounamo is the material of choice for adzes, carving tools, and weapons. There are several variations namely bowenite (tangiwai), whitish inanga, semi-transparent kawakawa, and translucent green kahurangi.

green pendant

The mana of hei-tiki is a product of protracted ancestral use and fashioned from the outset to conform to pieces of pounamu shaped like adze. This is based on a survey of the hei-tiki collection at Te Papa Tongarewa, and early-contact examples in foreign collections, as reported in Dougal Austin’s 2014 thesis..

Types of hei-tiki

Traditional hei-tiki with widely varying forms used to be common. Recent hei-tiki are of two principal types:

  1. A delicate type with a 30/70 head-body ratio. This includes curious details such as knees, elbows, and ears. The head bearing relatively small eyes is on a tilt, one hand on the chest, and the other upon the thigh.
  2. The second heavier type, has a type 40/60 head-body ratio. It has both hands on the thighs, and proportionately larger.

Manufacture of hei-tiki

The hei-tiki stone was probably cut in the form of small adze. The pitau hei-tiki variety has a tilted head that is a result of the stone’s properties. Specifically, the hardness and immense value make it pertinent to minimise the amount of the stone that has to be removed.

The process to create a hei-tiki using traditional means is long and arduous. The stone is first smoothed out by abrasive rubbing, before it is slowly shaped and holes bored using sticks and water.

The finished pendant is then suspended from a plaited cord and secured using a loop and toggle.

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