The bone carving necklace is a traditional Maori art form. It’s a beautiful part of Maori culture, rich in symbolism and meaning. A bone carving necklace makes an amazing heirloom and are highly valued and treasured amongst the Maori people.
Bone carving necklaces have a long history and are an important cultural symbol still today. They provide an insight into the history of a people who in the past had no written language to record their traditions. Bone carving necklaces capture the beliefs and cultural stories of the Maori people. In the past these beautiful items of jewellery served a number of purposes, from being simply attractive ornaments to providing identification, protection or even affirmation to people. They were also sometimes used as a reward. Bone carving necklaces were always traditionally made from pounamu or whalebone as they would begin to change colour when worn. This change in colour was seen as an absorption of a person’s spiritual essence and is seen as a way to pass down the spirits of the ancestors over the course of many generations. Pounamu is a special kind of jade known as New Zealand greenstone. This rare stone is located only in a few locations around the South Island of New Zealand. Carvings made from this rare stone can be found all over New Zealand and are highly prized by the Maori people. This type of jade can be separated into a number of different categories based on the look of the green and the presence of flaws.
According to Maori beliefs, pounamu comes from a beautiful woman known as Waitaiki. She was eventually carried away by Poutini who was pursued by her husband Tama-ahua and Poutini turned her into a greenstone to her on the South Island. There are numerous different styles of bone carving necklaces that can be found around New Zealand, the most common is the koru and the fish hook. Here’s what you should know.
Fish hook (also known as Hei matau)
Fish hooks are an important symbol to the Maori as they link to the sea and fishing which are extremely important to the daily life of the Maori. Fish hooks are known to represent life, prosperity and health. They are also appreciated for bringing safety to those who travel across water.
Single twist (also known as Pikorua)
The single twist is a common type of symbol found on bone carving necklaces. They are a common indicator of the idea of eternity and are used to show the idea of interconnectedness or friendship.
Double or triple twist
The double or triple twist was designed to signify the bond of people, societies or culture instead of between two individuals.
Spiral (also known as Koru)
The spiral is regarded as symbolic of the life cycle as well as new beginnings. Over time it has also come to mean peace, spiritual awakening, change and harmony.
The stuff of Maori legends, the Manaia has the head of a bird, the body of a human and the tail of a fish. It is known as a messenger from the spirit world and a protective presence. Its body is representative of the heavens, the earth and the sea.
Another figure you might see on a regular basis is the Hei Tiki which is known as good luck. It is also seen as a symbol of price and is commonly handed down across many generations.
Whale tails are also an important symbol in Maori as they are thought to protect seafarers and fisherman when they are out to sea.