The Maori Hei-tiki (ca.800-1300 AD)

By: The Scribe on Saturday, April 14, 2007

TikimanAround 750 AD, a tribe of people from the Polynesian islands arrived in New Zealand. These Maori people remain in New Zealand today, and the descendants of the original settlers continue to maintain a sense of connection with their ancient ancestry.

Some of the most well-recognized elements of ancient Maori culture are small, carved figures, called Hei-tiki. These were most commonly carved from pounamu (greenstone), or nephrite, a stone similar in quality and appearance to jade. Nephrite is an extremely hard stone, and would have been immensely difficult for the Neolithic Maori to work.

Hei-tiki were likely worn around the neck, and it has been suggested that the figures were fertility charms worn only by women, intended to represent human embryo. This is highly speculative, for there is almost no contextual evidence from the archaeological record through which their purpose might be surmised. Indeed, it was probably Europeans settlers who first proposed the fertility theory after seeing an unfamiliar symbol used by aboriginals with whom they were unable to communicate. A second theory suggests that they were used as memorials to ancestors.

tikisThe forms of hei-tiki can vary: the head may be tilted right or left, or even placed upright. This may be representative of changes in the tools being used to carve the figures, since different blade styles would allow different kinds of cuts.

One theory of the hei-tiki’s origin suggests a connection with Tiki, the first man created by Tane in Maori mythology. Today, replica hei-tiki are sold in New Zealand tourist shops, while modern-day Maori may pass on their family’s hei-tiki as heirlooms or wear them as prestige items.

Want to read more?

Tomorrow: India’s vanishing city


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2 Comments so far

click at October 20, 2007

This site is interesting as well as informative. Enjoyed browsing through the site. Keep up the good work. Greetings..

The Scribe at October 21, 2007

Glad you liked it!

Please come back often 🙂

– The Scribe

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