Maori, the indigenous people of New Zealand, arrived in the country from Polynesia by sea, some arrived here as early as the 10th century. Matau, or fishhooks, were among their tools made of wood, bone, shells, stone – and punamu, the Maori name for New Zealand jade or green stone.
Over time, hooks became more and more stylized and now they have become a popular form for decorative punamu pendants called hei matau, the first word to indicate matau is worn around the neck. The creators say that hei-matau gives the wearer strength, safety and good luck in travel, especially across the oceans.
In New Zealand, there is an opinion that a pounama should be received only as a gift. “We don’t know where this fortune came from, but it’s definitely not from my people,” said Lisa Tumahai, a kaivakahaier or Ngai Tahu tribe in the South Island. “Since the settlers came, we have traded Punama, and thanks to this we have been economically prosperous.”
Matau is deeply rooted not only in the history of the Maori, but also in some of the most famous stories of this culture. Primary school children in New Zealand learn that Maui, a hero of Polynesian mythology, used braided line and a hook made from his grandmother’s jawbone to pull out New Zealand’s northern island known as Te Ika Maui, or Maui Fish. – from the sea. The story goes that Maui was so pleased with his catch that he threw his hook into the sky, where he caught it among the stars. The constellation Scorpio is sometimes called the Maui Fishhook in Maori astronomy.
Punamu is usually jade, a semi-precious mineral. Jade forms about six miles underground, where heat and pressure create an incredibly hard rock, making punama useful tools for early inhabitants. (Deposits of iron and chromium explain its characteristic green hues.) Punamu bands have risen to the surface in the form of mountains formed over millions of years on the southern island of New Zealand, which Maori call Te Wai Punamu or Punamu Place. Over time, erosion has exposed the deposits, and boulders and stones fall into the island’s many rivers, where they are either collected or washed into the sea.
Loss and restoration
In the 18th and 19th centuries, settlers from Britain and Europe drove the Maori out of their lands and discouraged the use of their language, and by the 1950s laws and regulations prevented their carvers from visiting and working with Punama. Later, jade ornaments decorated with Maori ornaments were sometimes imported from China. “Our people continued to carve,” said Ms. Tumahai. “Never before the scale we would have had in the 1800s, but we never lost a ship.” In recent decades, the New Zealand government has made settlements with the Iwi, or tribes, to reclaim what was lost, and in 1997 a law declared the Iwi Ngai Tahu Kaitiaki, or guardian, of all pounama, making it the only privately owned mineral. in the country. Today, in addition to selling or distributing the stone (£ 1,800 annually) to carvers and cultural organizations, and managing the accreditation process, Ngai Tahu runs the Pounamu jewelry business.
Modern New Zealand laws recognize pounamu (pronounced poe-nuh-moo) as a taonga, or treasure, for the Maori people. “Without taonga, we have no life, so we must respect it,” said Ms. Tumahai. Some of New Zealand’s five million people wear hei-matau, and many of its visitors – 3.8 million in 2019 – buy them as souvenirs. But some tourists were “terrified,” Ms. Tumahai said when they realized their purchases did not have the credentials presented on jewelry made from legally obtained punamu. “We just say karakiya and bless their stone,” said Ms. Tumahai, using the word for a Maori prayer.
When Shannon Mahuica was a boy on the west coast of the South Island, he thought that carving was the prerogative of the elderly, but he also felt that Maori art was in his blood. He dropped out of school at 15 to work for his father, who made and sold simple pendants, and then spent three years in formal training at Te Puia, the National Maori Institute of Arts and Crafts in Rotorua, with the renowned carver Lewis Gardiner. He was one of the early students of the institute’s School of Stone and Bone Carving, a selective program that only accepts applications from Maori men. (Currently, according to Ms. Tumahai, there are between 200 and 300 Punamu carvers in the country, about 120 of whom are registered in Ngai Tahu and about 70 of them are active.) Mr. Mahuika, 33, is now living and working. in a former school on a secluded stretch of the West Coast Highway, minutes from Macawhio, a river rich in pounamu. “Being on the cusp of the source of punamu is a sense of security in my future,” he said. Mr. Mahuica usually buys his stone supplies, but sometimes he takes his impatient nieces and nephews to the river to find them, as his father did to him.
Making Hei Matau
Traditional drawings and stories, as well as new ideas, inspire Mr. Mahwick, who first draws his pencil drawings on paper. He then cuts a stencil to place it on the stone and shapes it with diamond tools. A bench grinder helps create curves and details, and diamond burrs of various shapes and sizes are used to complete the design. Mr. Mahuica said that every tool leaves abrasive scratches on the stone, and he spends as much time cleaning the hei-matau – smoothing out the thread marks – as it does making it. It usually takes two days to cut the piece and another two days to clean, as shown here, which will cost NZ $ 720, about $ 500. “I cannot find the strength to rush,” he added. All of his works are unique and he sells them via social media and upon direct request.
Defense of Pounamu
In recent decades, New Zealand has revived interest in Maori art and culture, including Punamu jewelry. “Not a day goes by that I don’t see people wearing it,” said Ms. Tumahai. But at the same time, Ngai Tahu is struggling with the burgeoning black market for stone; in the legal market, it sells from about NZ $ 30 per pound for the lowest quality to about $ 500 per pound for the best. Raw pounama cannot be exported legally, but eevee knows it is being smuggled on commercial flights and as cargo. And while many carvers stopped working when the pandemic began and New Zealand closed its borders, the number of punamu offered for illegal sale on web forums and social media platforms increased, Ms. Tumahai said, as people “desperately needed “In Money. The conservation plan, created by iwi with the Geoscience Agency of New Zealand, should mean the reserves will not be in danger of depletion – but no one is sure, Ms Tumahai said, because no one knows how much has been exported illegally.