The term “tiki” is generally
applied to human figures which are carved, both by
the Polynesians and the Maori.
It is entirely
possible that the name is connected to the legend of Tiki, the first man created by the god Tane.
Tiki or sometimes tikitiki, on one hand, is also a
term general used to mean carving in many regions of
Polynesia, as, for example, in Niue, where the myth
of Tiki myth is unfamiliar and carved figures of
humans are not practiced.
However, in New Zealand, tiki is the term usually
used to describe the carved human figure in
greenstone as a necklace.
Hei-tiki is its complete
It is widely believed that this adornment is a charm for
fertility symbolizing the human embryo, and therefore should
only be worn by females. And yet, early visitors from
European witnessed men sporting the hei-tiki and it is
possible that the figure’s thickset shape was caused by the
material’s hardness and that it was later associated with an
embryo and empowered with magical properties.
It is also possible that the shape is because of the
fact that adze blades were often used to make the
tiki. Chisels and adzes made out of greenstone were
also esteemed items and the form of a greenstone of
adze converted into tiki is a prized item.
many examples still existing today of tiki that had
been half-finished which had obviously once been
small adzes or sometimes even on completed tiki is
evidence of its original adze form mostly on the
The most commonly used material to
make tiki or heitiki is nephrite, a stone which is a
close relation of jade and indigenous in several
parts of the South Island of New Zealand.
In Maori it is called pounamu while in the English of New
Zealand it is called greenstone. Te Wai Pounamu, the name of
the South Island in Maori, signifies this stone.
The creation of the stone has traditional stories
which link it to the Tangaroa children. The stone is
very hard and is difficult to work, particularly so
with the ancient grinding apparatus used by the
Maori of the Neolithic Age.
Like jade, greenstone is a beautiful stone. Its
classification is semi-precious and has certain
varieties available. Maori names have been assigned
to these varieties.
Its luster gets better with age, supposedly as a
result of being worn close to the skin.
is traditionally worn around the neck. The “hei”
part of hei-tiki signifies this inference.
They are usually, but not always, worn by females in
contemporary times. Usually, it is suspended vertically but
there are instances wherein it is suspended on its side.
Some traditional tiki made of ivory and bone exist,
fashioned from the teeth or bone of whales. But since tiki
made of bone are now usually manufactured for commercial
purposes, the ones sold in shops are most likely made of cow
bone and designed recently. Tiki are mostly one-sided but a
some are reversible depicting a different figure on each