Wednesday, February 4, 2009
Pounamu - A Few Facts
To most New Zealanders it’s greenstone. To the Maori it is pounamu. To the geologists it is nephrite, or jade. To tourists it is one of the most sought-after iconic souvenirs of New Zealand. But ‘greenstone’ is much more than a souvenir. From China to Japan, Korea, Mexico, the Middle East and New Zealand, jade has been revered for thousands of years. It has been endowed with symbolic status and mystical power, and treasured for its beauty, its sensual hues, diversity of color, its smooth touch and its extreme toughness. The New Zealand jade story is shorter than most – less than 1000 years – but early Maori valued it above all other possessions. Like the Chinese and the Mayans long before them, they treasured it more than gold. It provided them with a totally stone-based culture, which they developed to a high technical and aesthetic level in a relatively short time. Pounamu served them as tool, weapon, adornment, an item of trade and a symbol of authority and ceremony.
Traditional Pounamu Hei Tiki, Okains Bay Maori & Colonnial Museum. 2007. AjrFor Maori it was a gift from the gods, of great spiritual and material value and archaelogical digs suggest they used nephrite as far back as the 13th century. Its use was well established by 1500 and between then and 1800 it was a key element of everyday life, the pivot of power between tribes and a major item of trade.The Maori continue to revere pounamu for its symbolic, mythological and aesthetic properties, and despite mass souvenir production, it retains a treasured place in Maori culture.