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Art with Bones- Maori Designs

Art with Bones- Maori Designs

Maori Design
Do you love travelling and adventure? Going on such excursions or travelling to beautiful places, hilly areas, beaches, sand dunes, mountains, lakes and beaches in different countries not only makes us more experienced and healthy but also is a wonderful treasure of memories to speak about. Often such travelling to exotic places we also shop and buy the local goodies that we cherish and boost later. Such things known as souvenirs and mementos make up a good collection and remembrance of the place and culture we visit.

While travelling to New Zealand, you will get to see one of the most beautiful places with lots of adventure, sightseeing, road tripping, camping, diving, rich beaches, thick glaciers and the fun with entertainment and heritage of cultural festivals.

The Maori culture of New Zealand is rich and diverse forming an integral part of Kiwi life and adds a unique, dynamic experience for visitors. Though the present culture of the Maori has been strongly influenced by western European culture but remnants of the old culture have been retained and revived, though often in a modified modern form.

One of the beautiful things that you will find is the art of Maori green stone and  bone carvings. You can find them easily in shops at New Zealand and these art pieces of ornaments are carved with top top Maori craftsmen. Whether you are looking for Maori green stone (pounamu) carvings, bone carvings,  shell carvings or  authentic  Maori wood carvings, paintings on green stone and  you can find these jewelry items and artworks with authenticity tag of their culture.

Let us see what these artwork of Maori Culture symbolize and the legend that it speaks of.

Bone Carvings

Bone Carvings
Bone carvings and artwork have a very special feel about them, unlike anything else you will ever experience. Their milky white appearance and soft flowing lines are just the start. They are soft and warm to the touch yet the finish is like polished glass, they seem to blend with your body and become a part of you, especially when worn as a pendent against your skin. Over a period of time bone carvings absorb oils from your skin and change colour to a very light honey gold. The Maori believe this to be the carving taking on some of your spirituality or essence and thus truly becoming a part of the wearer.

Ornaments, as well as being decorative, also had symbolic and ceremonial significance and were connected to Maori mythology.

The uses of reel and tooth elements in the earliest forms of personal adornment show the broad Pacific heritage of their creators. Discovery of distinctively New Zealand rock types such as bowenite and nephrite or pounamu (green stone or jade) led to the development of unique art forms carved with stone tools. Other forms of embellishment came from mammal and bird sources.

Neck pendants – reel and tooth ornaments


Necklaces left by the people known as moa hunters show they could equally have been called the ‘whale-tooth people’. Pendants made of sperm whale teeth have been found throughout the country. Teeth of orcas were also favored. When actual whale teeth were not available, long hours were spent carving painstaking replicas in stone or bone. Their special significance is no longer known, but meticulous workmanship signifies their importance. They may have conferred the mane of the whale on the wearer, or indicated some spiritual connection. They provide a link between Maori and other Pacific cultures.

Some such pendants hung from necklaces with grooved or ridged reels, which were carved from bone or stone. Elegant tongue-shaped and chevroned (V-shaped) pendants were carved from whalebone. Often these had intricate stylized carving along the edges. Sometimes such chevrons were paired. By the 18th century, the reiputa had evolved – this was a single whale-tooth, often with a stylized face and eyes engraved at the end, which was worn by men of high status.

Other forms of necklace were also worn. Some were made of drilled shark teeth, reels of whalebone, shell or stone, or tubes of bird bone. Some took the form of pendants reminiscent of fish and fishhooks, eels, bird figures and seals. Others had humanoid elements such as bird-headed men.

Hei tiki

Hei Tiki

Hei tiki are carved neck pendants that have a human-like form, of which the origins are lost. Some think they relate to Tiki, the first man created by the god Tane, or to other ancestors. Others believe they link to the human embryo, or to Hineteiwaiwa, the spiritual guardian of childbirth. They were the most highly valued of green stone ornaments, although some were made of whalebone and other materials.

There are some variations in form, but hei tiki retain their prestige today. Like all important taonga, hei tiki were sometimes buried on the death of their owner, but could be uplifted and ritually cleansed so that they could be worn by successive generations.

Perfumed pendants


Māori blended barks and mosses in aromatic gums and hot oils to create pleasing perfumes. Pieces of bird skin were dipped into these blends to create perfumed pendants that were worn around the neck.

Ear pendants

Ear pendants

Maori had a wide assortment of ear pendants. Long polished drops of pounamu might be set off with pieces of white aute (paper mulberry). Shark teeth and even human teeth of departed loved ones were worn. Other items to adorn the ear-lobes were birds’ tails, or even live birds. Puhoi were white balls of gannet or albatross down, or pieces of rolled white bird skin.
The meaning of Maori Bone and Green stone Pendant Designs.

Maori Bone and Green stone Pendants carved in traditional designs carry a spiritual meaning as well.

Koru (looks like a curl)


The Maori Koru design is inspired by the New Zealand fern frond unfurling as it grows. It represents peace, tranquility, personal growth, positive change and awakening. It is associated with new life and harmony, so makes a wonderful gift for a new parent or child, newlyweds, or anyone starting on a new phase of their life.

Single Twist

Single Twist

A Maori twist symbolizes the path of life. It is believed to have been based on Maori kete basket weaving. The path of life takes many twists and turns but carries on regardless. In the case of the Single Twist, the design simply means the path of life and can be called the Maori Eternity Symbol.

Double or Triple Twist

Triple Twist

The Double and Triple Twist depict two new shoots growing together – it represents the joining of cultures, the bonding of friendship for life. The design shows the joining of two people in love or friendship for eternity, so makes a wonderful wedding or friendship gift. The Twist can also relate to the joining of two peoples or cultures.

Hei Matau (Fish Hook)

Fish Hook

The fish hook was an important resource for Maori, as the sea provided a rich source of food. In Maori mythology, New Zealand was fished up out of the sea by Maui.The fish hook signifies abundance and plenty, strength and determination.

It is believed to bring peace, prosperity and good health. It is a device for catching good luck and energy, and is believed to provide safe journey over water. It is therefore considered a good luck charm by travelers, boatmen, fishermen and surfers.



The Tiki depicts the first mortal born to the Gods. It is also a strong fertility symbol, with the hands on the loins symbolizing fertility. The Tiki is a good luck charm, and believed to give the wearer clarity of thought and great inner knowledge.



The Manaia is a spiritual guardian, a guardian angel, to ward off danger and protect against intruders. It acts as a provider and protector over the sky, earth and sea.
The Manaia has a bird-like head, symbolizing flight of the spirit. Its three fingers are believed to represent birth, life and death, symbolizing the life cycle of man, or alternatively, the Three Baskets of Knowledge that is the knowledge mankind needed from the gods, to be able to live successfully on earth.



The closed circle represents the circle of life, and the belief it has no beginning or end.

Whales and Dolphins


Whales and dolphins, and in fact all sea creatures and birds, were of huge importance to the Maori as a food and utensil source. Sea creatures were particularly revered. The whale is a symbol of great size and intelligence, and carvings of whales appear on some Maori meeting houses or food storehouses.

Whales and dolphins were believed to help some Maori navigate their way across the South Pacific during the Great Migration. Thus Whales and Dolphins are symbols of protection, and today this includes protection for travelers on all modes of transport.

The dolphin is also a symbol of friendship and harmony, and of playfulness, as seen in the way they playfully interact with humans swimming or boating in New Zealand waters.

Toki (Adze)


The Toki (adze) was an important Maori implement. In bone or green stone, it was traditionally worn by Maori elders, as it represented power, wisdom and authority.



Kowhaiwhai is the beautiful scroll-like patterns seen on Maori meeting house ridge poles (tahu or tahuhu) and on the rafters (heke). They are usually painted red, white and black. These rafter paintings usually depict tribal lineage and thus represent authority by descent.

Kowhaiwhai was also seen on gourd water vessels, paddles, and the underside of canoe prows. Nowadays, its incorporation into Maori carvings or art represents the importance and significance of a loving family.