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Maori Customs Article

The New Zealand Maori Tiki Is A Testament To The Art And History Of Our Country

The name possibly has some connection with the myth of Tiki, the first man created by Tane. On the other hand tiki or tikitiki is also a general term for carving in many parts of Polynesia, as, for instance, in Niue, where the Tiki myth is unknown and human figures were not carved. In New Zealand, however, tiki is usually applied to the human figure carved in green stone as a neck ornament. The full name is hei-tiki.
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. The shape is also probably due to the fact that tiki were often made from adze blades. Adzes and chisels made from greenstone were also prestige items and the shape of a green stone adze lends itself to conversion into a tiki. There are several extant examples of half-finished tiki evidently originally small adzes and sometimes on completed tiki, traces of the original cutting end shaping of a adze can be seen, usually at the foot.
Tiki or heitiki are mostmonly made from nephrite, a stone related to jade and found in several places in New Zealand's South Island. It is called pounamu in Maori, green stone in New Zealand English. The Maori name for the South Island, Te Wai Pounamu, refers to this stone. There are traditional accounts for the creation of the stone which relate it to the children of Tangaroa. It is a very hard stone and is laborious to work, especially so with the primitive grinding tools available to the neolithic Maori. The tiki in the form illustrated here is unique to New Zealand and arguably the most archetypical Maori artifact, although the work tiki applied to fertility symbols is extremelymon throughout polynesia.
Green stone, like jade, is a beautiful stone - classed as semi-precious - and quite variable in appearance. The varieties have Maori names. Its luster improves with age, reputedly as a result of being worn next to the skin. Tiki were worn around the neck - the hei part of the name carries this implication. They are more often, but not exclusively, worn by women in recent times. Suspension is usually vertical but some are suspended on their side.
Some traditional tiki in bone and ivory exist, made from whale bone or teeth, but as bone tiki are nowmonly made formercial trade, a bone tiki found in a shop is more likely to be recent and of cow bone. Most tiki are one sided but a few are reversible showing a figure on both faces.
Although the Maori have occupied New Zealand since about 1000 AD, the historical origins of tiki are not understood as they are virtually absent from the archaeological record. For a precious item, this is not surprising because few would have been lost or discarded. Conventionally though they are associated with the later part of New Zealand's prehistory, as nephrite is uncommon in early sites. They were certainly in use at the time of the first contact with Europeans. Some individual tiki have names and traditional histories extending well back into the past. Others have renewed suspension perforations replacing old ones that have worn through, showing they have seen much use over a long time.
Sites of manufacture of nephrite tools and ornaments have been found on the east coast of the South Island. However, the tools and ornaments were much used in the North Island where most of the population lived. Trade and exchange appears not to have been all in finished goods because there are regional styles of nephrite ornaments in the North Island which suggest that at least some of the manufacture was local, either from native stone or from green stone adze blades.
There is some variety in the forms of tiki but this variation has not been very fully studied in relation to region of origin. The head inclined left or right appears to have no particular significance. One clear variation is between tiki with the head upright and those with the head tilted sideways. The likely explanation for the latter form is that ites naturally from the use of rectangular adze blades as raw material. Iron axe and adze blades rapidly replaced nephrite adzes in the early 19th century and coincided with an increasing market formercial tiki. Other variations occur in the positions of the arms. In some the arms are asymmetric with one arm on the torso rather than the legs, or up to the mouth.
The eyes are often filled with red sealing wax of European origin. Wax was added to the eyes of older tiki, and some have paua (Haliotus, the abalone) shell eyes.
The arrival of 19th century technology allowed a major burst ofmercial manufacture of tiki mainly for a New Zealand market. Many supposedly old tiki date from the late 19th century and reveal themselves through details such as the suspension perforation being straight sided. Some nephrite ornaments were gold mounted in the 19th century. Again this does not necessarily indicate the nephrite ornament was of that date.
Tiki remain prestige items in New Zealand today; heirlooms (toanga) in Maori families and European families as well. They are worn by Maori on ceremonial occasions. Most tiki are not ancient and some are 19th centurymercial products but nonetheless highly valued treasures to their owners.
Materials used
Hei-tiki are usually made of pounamu (green stone) and worn around the neck. They are often incorrectly referred to as tiki, a term that actually refers to large human figures carved in wood, and, also, the small wooden carvings used to mark sacred places.
One theory of the origin of the hei-tiki suggests a connection with Tiki, the first man in Māori legend. According to Horatio Robley, there are two main ideas behind the symbolism of hei-tiki: they are either memorials to ancestors, or represent the goddess of childbirth, Hineteiwaiwa. The rationale behind the first idea is that they were often buried when their kaitiaki (guardian) died and would be later retrieved and placed somewhere special to be brought out in times of tangihanga. In terms of the idea of Hineteiwaiwa, hei-tiki were often given to women having trouble conceiving by her husband's family.
The most valuable hei-tiki are carved from green stone or pounamu. New Zealand green stone consists of either nephrite (a type of jade, in Māori: pounamu) or bowenite (Māori: tangiwai). Pounamu is esteemed highly by Māori for its beauty, toughness and great hardness; it is used not only for ornaments such as hei-tiki and ear pendants, but also for carving tools, adzes, and weapons. Named varieties include translucent green kahurangi, whitish inanga, semi-transparent kawakawa, and tangiwai or bowenite.
Types of Hei-tiki
Traditionally there were several types of hei-tiki which varied widely in form. Modern-day hei-tiki however, may be divided into two types. The first type is rather delicate. with a head/body ratio of approximately 30/70, with small details included, such as ears, elbows, and knees. The head is on a tilt, and one hand is placed on the thigh, and the other on the chest. The eyes are relatively small. The second type is in general heavier than the first. It has a 40/60 head/body ratio, both hands are on the thighs, and the eyes are proportionately larger.
From the size and style of traditional examples of hei-tiki it is likely that the stone was first cut in the form of a small adze. The tilted head of the pitau variety of hei-tiki derives from the properties of the stone - its hardness and great value make it important to minimise the amount of the stone that has to be removed. Creating a hei-tiki with traditional methods is a long, arduous process during which the stone is smoothed by abrasive rubbing; finally, using sticks and water, it is slowly shaped and the holes bored out. After laborious and lengthy polishing, the completed pendant is suspended by a plaited cord and secured by a loop and toggle.
Current popularity
Among the other tāonga (treasured possessions) used as items of personal adornment are bone carvings in the form of earrings or necklaces. For many Māori the wearing of such items relates to Māori cultural identity. They are also popular with young New Zealanders of all backgrounds for whom the pendants relate to a more generalized sense of New Zealand identity. Several artistic collectives have been established by Māori tribal groups. These collectives have begun creating and exporting jewelery (such as bone carved pendants based on traditional fishhooks hei matau and other green stone jewelery) and other artistic items (such as wood carvings and textiles). Several actors who have recently appeared in high-profile movies filmed in New Zealand havee back wearing such jewelery, including Viggo Mortensen of The Lord of the Rings fame, took to wearing a hei matau around his neck. These trends have contributed towards a worldwide interest in traditional Māori culture and arts.
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