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Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Treasured Stone of Aotearoa

We took a trip to Wellington on Sunday, but first we had to defrost the car windows. That’s what happens when you leave the car out of the garage overnight and wake up to a heavy frost. Robin was busy with the scraper getting the ice off the windows.

DSCF3958 Ice on the windscreen

We were off to Te Papa Museum to view the current Greenstone Exhibition. This stone is known as Pounamu “The treasured stone of Aotearoa”. Greenstone is a stone of exceptional mana (prestige) beauty and strength and the exhibition featured 200 plus pieces. It is found in the South Island rivers and to the untutored eye looks just like a river boulder in its natural state.

DSCF3981 Large piece of greenstone

Maori artisans fashioned pounamu into personal ornaments such as hei tiki (neck pendants), ear pendants, mere (greenstone weapons), and adzes. According to the Ngati Waewae people of the South Island’s West Coast, pounamu was once a beautiful woman called Waitaiki, from the Bay of Plenty. Poutini, a son of Tangaroa (the god of the sea), fell in love with Waitaiki and abducted her from her husband, Tama-ahua. The couple were chased by Tama-ahua to the Arahura River on the West Coast of the South Island. To prevent Waitaiki being taken back, Poutini transformed her into greenstone. Poutini is acknowledged as the spiritual guardian of pounamu. The mere are a symbol of status and authority and there were several fine examples on display.

DSCF3985 Three mere (greenstone clubs)

The tiki is a treasured neck pendant and it has been suggested that this ornament is a fertility charm representing the human embryo, and that it should be worn only by women. However, early European visitors saw men wearing the hei-tiki and it is probable that the squat shape of the figure was influenced by the hardness of the material and that it was later likened to an embryo and endowed with magical powers. We saw many examples of early tiki on display.

DSCF3982 Tiki of various sizes on display

In ancient times the extremely hard greenstone was worked by abrasion, with water, sand, and sandstone and a small tiki would require a huge number of hours of labour. Saws were a thin stone assisted by wet abrasive sand. Files were made from a variety of material including sharkskin for rough polishing. For cutting, the Maori used dog's teeth and other skins were used for the final polishing. These days the artisans can use power tools which speed up the process considerably.

P7310941 Close up of a tiki

This was a very interesting exhibition and some of the pieces on display are very old. Traditionally Maori jewellery are taonga (treasure) and the belief is that they should only be given as gifts and they are not to be bought for ones self.

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