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Lesley Armstrong-Jennings
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New Zealand

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Maori designs - their spiritual meaning

The designs used in Maori artwork ( necklaces, pendants, wood carvings, tattoo, etc) all carry a spiritual meaning.  Early Maori did not have a written history, so their arts and crafts took on the role of being a record of spiritual values and beliefs, as well as a historical family record. 

Bone and greenstone jade ( pounamu) pendants and necklaces, worn against the skin and passed down through the generations, were believed to absorb the spirit of the person who wore them, making them a powerful connection to people passed.
maori koru design


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.

GNPT01 - New Zealand Greenstone Single Twist Pendant

maori triple twist carving

Single Twist

A Maori twist symbolises 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 and 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.
maori carved fish hook

Hei Matau (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 travellers, boaties, fishermen and surfers.

Click here to view examples of our Hei Matau necklaces, in bone, greenstone, pewter, paua, etc.


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


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, symbolising flight of the spirit.  Its three fingers are believed to represent birth, life and death, symbolising the life cycle of man, or alternatively, the Three Baskets of Knowledge (the knowledge mankind needed from the gods, to be able to live successfully on earth).  

Click here to view or buy this Maori Manaia Pendant .

maori bone circle necklace


The closed circle represents the circle of life, and the belief it has no beginning or end. 
maori bone whale tail necklace

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 travellers 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.
GNP13 greenstone drop (small pic)

Toki (Adze)

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

Roimata means "tear drop", and is a stylised version of the toki, a long slim shape with rounded corners.  The Roimata is a symbol of sadness, so would be given as a gesture of recognition of a person's sadness or loss, and a reassurance that you are there for them and will stand beside them.

maori triple twist carving


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.
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