Hei tiki (pendant in human form)
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Hei tiki (pendant in human form)

Pounamu - An iconic stone

Pounamu (New Zealand greenstone) is a treasured stone for Maori and all New Zealanders. It is valued for its beauty, strength, and durability, and there are many stories of its origins.

There are two systems for classifying pounamu. Geologically, the name pounamu refers to three different types of stone: nephrite, bowenite, and serpentinite. Maori classify pounamu by appearance.

Pounamu is found only in the South Island of New Zealand, Te Wai Pounamu (the greenstone waters). It begins its journey in the rock where it is formed, then is slowly ‘freed’ by erosion. Most pounamu settles in riverbeds, and some is carried out to sea and scattered along the coast.

The taonga (treasures) in this exhibition are from throughout Aotearoa New Zealand.

He kohatu ahurei

Ko te pounamu tetahi kura e kaingakautia ana e te iwi Maori, otira e nga tangata katoa o Aotearoa. I noho ai te pounamu hei kahurangi, he kohatu ataahua, e mohiotia ana tona kaha me tona maro, a, he maha nga purakau mo tona takenga mai.

E rua nga tikanga wehewehe i te pounamu. E ai ki nga putaiao-a-nuku, hei ingoa te pounamu mo nga momo kohatu e toru, he rereke katoa: ko te nephrite, ko te bowenite, me te serpentinite. Ko ta te Maori wehewehe i te pounamu, kei te ahuatanga o te kohatu.

Heoi ano nei te wahi e kitea ai te pounamu i Aotearoa, ko Te Wai Pounamu. Ka timata mai tona heke i nga kohatu i hangaia  mai ai, ma te horo whenua e ‘ata whakaputa’ te pounamu. Ka tau te nuinga o te pounamu ki nga kukupango o nga awa, ko etahi ano kawea atu ai ki te moana, u rawa mai ki te takutai.


Pounamu - A stone of many colours
Kaka poria (bird leg ring / pendant)  1700-1850

Pounamu - A stone of many colours

Maori classify pounamu according to its colours, markings, and translucency. There are many local names for different pounamu, but four main varieties are widely recognised by iwi (tribes): inanga, kahurangi, kawakawa, and tangiwai. more>
Geological origins of pounamu
Kohatu pounamu (nephrite boulder)

Geological origins of pounamu

Pounamu only occurs naturally in the South Island of New Zealand. It is found in seven areas: Nelson, Westland, South Westland, Makarora (Wanaka district), Wakatipu, Milford Sound, and the Livingstone Mountains. more>
The origins of pounamu
"Waitaiki" sculpture  Aug 2009

The origins of pounamu

Poutini is the name of a taniwha – a supernatural being. He is the guardian of Ngahue, the atua (god) associated with pounamu. There are several iwi (tribal) stories of the origins of pounamu. more>