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New Zealand Jewelry


New Zealand Jewelry

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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 name.


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.


There are 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 figure’s foot.


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.

 Tiki is traditionally worn around the neck. The “hei” part of hei-tiki signifies this inference.

New Zealand Jewelry

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 side.



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