Friday, October 30, 2009

Pounamu: An Enduring Legacy

I wrote about the terrific new exhibition, Kura Pounamu: Treasured Stone of New Zealand at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa here last week (click on link below), but I thought I’d just add a word or three and bring you two more beautiful pieces from the display. At the risk of repeating myself – because I have written about pounamu several times before – I just wanted to add a note about the stone itself – rather than the 200-plus pounamu taonga (greenstone treasures) that make up Kura Pounamu. Greenstone occurs naturally only in the South Island of New Zealand, where it is found in seven main areas: Nelson, Westland, South Westland, Makarora (Wanaka district), Wakatipu, Milford Sound and the Livingstone Mountains. The two main types of pounamu are nephrite and bowenite – bowenite being the softer of the two and with a different mineral formation. It is also rarer than nephrite. The image above is a ‘Tuhiwai’ mere pounamu (nephrite weapon), Ngati Toa and Ngai Tahu iwi (tribes), Otago. Kahurangi variety,Westland. Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa.
Maori classify pounamu according to its colours, markings and translucency and there are many local names for different pounamu. The four main varieties recognised by most iwi (tribes) are inanga, kahurangi, kawakawa and tangiwai. The range of appearance within each of these varieties is enormous and more than one variety can exist within one stone. Inanga – especially prized by Southern Maori - is a pearly-white or grey-green colour and varies from translucent to opaque. Kahurangi is the rarest variety of pounamu, is highly translucent and often comes in vivid shades of green. In the old days it was the preferred stone for the blades of toki poutangata (ceremonial adzes) owned by rangitira (chiefs). Kawakawa is the most common variety and it comes in many shades, often with small dark flecks. Tangiwai is clear, like glass, and ranges from olive green to bluish-green in colour. It is a bowenite rock and the most ancient form of pounamu found chiefly in two isolated areas at Piopiotahi (Milford Sound). (This, it should be noted is a brief summary of pounamu varieties only - just to give you an insight into the basics). The image above: Kaka poria (bird leg-ring) pounamu (bowenite), Tangiwai variety, Piopiotahi (Milford Sound). Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. Kura Pounamu is showing at Te Papa until February 2011.

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