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Pounamu

  

Pounamu

The Maoris are excellent storytellers, and the stories and legends that have helped to shape the culture over time creating a fascinating world to immerse one's self in. All of the shapes and symbolism in Maori culture is very symbolic and everything has a reason.

Pounamu is the Maori name for what the New Zealanders call greenstone, and what is commonly referred to as jade. The stone has played an important part in the history and the culture of the Maori tribe, and has carved itself into modern Kiwi culture. Most New Zealanders will own a piece of pounamu, and seldom will they take it off, so much so that if you spot somebody with some greenstone around their neck abroad, chances are they will either be from New Zealand or that they have spent some time over there.
For the Maoris, it has been used to make weaponry and jewellery for centuries. The stone itself is very strong and has to be carved using diamond coated tools. As with everything, they have a story that describes it's origins. Waitaiki, a beautiful woman who was married to the Maori chief Tamaahua, caught the attention Poutini of the taniwha, which is a mythical dragon type creature that lives in the water. Poutini kidnapped Waitaiki and fled southwards from the Bay of Plenty towards the West Coast of the South Island, chased by Waitaiki's husband Tamaahua.
To keep her warm, Poutini lit fires that also left a trail for Tamaahua, in which he found a precious stone. Poutini was scared of his determined pursuer and took sanctuary on the West Coast, stopping in Milford Sound. Here, he decided that Tamaahua would not stop until he had taken back Waitaiki, and Poutini decided that the only way he could keep her was to turn her into stone, which is the pounamu that New Zealanders find on the West Coast. Poutini, upon discovering that the love of his life had been turned into stone, sang a song of sorrow, that some believe you can still hear resonating around the hills in Milford Sound if you listen very carefully.
The Maoris also believe that the stone, while absorbing some of the oils from somebody's skin, absorbs some of the person's essence. They believe that you are not supposed to buy it for yourself, but that instead you are supposed to buy it as a gift, and will usually wear the greenstone a little before giving it to the recipient to pass on some of their essence. It is considered a treasure, and the stone is actually protected by the Waitangi treaty. The most treasured stones are those with a long history of being passed down through generations, and are sometimes given as a gift when making important agreements.
The stone is usually carved into pendants of Maori symbolism. One popular example is the spiral, known as a Koru, which resembles a young silver fern about to unravel, and is lucky in new beginnings and change. Another is the little indigenous warrior, the Tiki, which is supposed to bring power and strength to those who wear it. It is also very common to see the fish hook, or Hei Matau, which also represents strength as well as safe passage across water. These symbols and shapes are also found in the indigenous buildings, in their tattoos, and in many other aspects of their culture.
The stone can only be found on the West Coast of the South Island, and is easiest to find on the rocky beaches and on the mountain stream riverbeds. As you are travelling down the West Coast there are a number of greenstone carving workshops and shops where you can find out more about the stone and it's place in Maori culture. It makes an excellent souvenir with a lot of personal meaning, and is something you can't find anywhere else in the world.
Next time you're on the West Coast, make sure to keep an eye on the stones under your feet in case you happen to come across some Pounamu, but also remember it's bad luck to hang onto your first piece and that you should pass it on as a gift.

 

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