October 4, 2022
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The Maori, New Zealand’s Indigenous individuals, navigated to the nation from Polynesia by sea, some arriving as early as the tenth century. Matau, or fishhooks, have been amongst their instruments, common from wooden, bone, shell, stone — and pounamu, the Maori identify for New Zealand jade or greenstone.

Over time, the hooks turned more and more stylized and now are a well-liked form for ornamental pounamu pendants known as hei matau, the first phrase indicating that the matau is worn round the neck. Creators say a hei matau provides the wearer power, security and good luck for journey, particularly throughout oceans.

There’s a frequent perception in New Zealand that pounamu must be obtained solely as a present. “We don’t know the place that situation got here from, however it’s actually not one thing from my individuals,” mentioned Lisa Tumahai, the kaiwhakahaere, or consultant, of the tribe Ngai Tahu, primarily based on the South Island. “Since earlier than the settlers got here, we have been buying and selling pounamu and we have been economically affluent from it.”

A Hero’s Story

The matau has deep roots not solely in Maori historical past but additionally in a few of the tradition’s best-known tales. Elementary school-age kids in New Zealand be taught that Maui, a hero of Polynesian mythology, used a woven fishing line and a hook common from his grandmother’s jawbone to haul New Zealand’s North Island — generally known as Te Ika a Maui, or the Fish of Maui — out of the sea. Maui was so happy together with his catch, the story says, that he threw his hook into the sky, the place it caught amongst the stars. The constellation Scorpio generally is named Maui’s Fish Hook in Maori astronomy.

The Geology

Pounamu is most commonly really nephrite, a semiprecious mineral. Nephrite is fashioned about six miles underground, the place the warmth and stress create an extremely arduous stone, making pounamu helpful to early dwellers for instruments. (Iron and chromium deposits account for its distinctive inexperienced hues.) Bands of pounamu have been lifted to the floor as mountains fashioned over thousands and thousands of years on New Zealand’s South Island, which the Maori name Te Wai Pounamu, or the Place of Pounamu. Over time, erosion has uncovered deposits and the boulders and stones tumble into the island’s many rivers, the place they’re both gathered or finally wash into the sea.

Loss, and Restoration

In the 18th and nineteenth centuries, settlers from Britain and Europe pushed Maori off their land and discouraged the use of their language, and by the Fifties legal guidelines and rules prevented their carvers from accessing and dealing pounamu. Later, items of jade jewellery carved with Maori designs generally have been imported from China. “Our individuals carried on carving,” Ms. Tumahai mentioned. “By no means to the scale that we’d have had in the 1800s, however we by no means misplaced the craft.” In current a long time, New Zealand’s authorities has made settlements with iwi, or tribes, to get well what was misplaced — and in 1997, a legislation declared that iwi Ngai Tahu was kaitiaki, or guardian, of all pounamu, making it the solely privately owned mineral in the nation. Right now, together with promoting or distributing the stone (1,800 kilos yearly) to carvers and cultural our bodies and managing an accreditation course of, Ngai Tahu runs a pounamu jewellery enterprise.

A Treasured Stone

New Zealand’s modern-day legal guidelines acknowledge pounamu (pronounced poe-nuh-moo) as a taonga, or treasure, for the Maori individuals. “With out the taonga, we don’t have life, so we now have to present respect to it,” Ms. Tumahai mentioned. A few of New Zealand’s 5 million residents put on hei matau, and lots of of its guests — 3.8 million in 2019 — purchase them as souvenirs. However some vacationers have been “horrified,” Ms. Tumahai mentioned, once they realized their purchases didn’t have the authentication particulars current on jewellery manufactured from legally sourced pounamu. “We simply say a karakia and bless their stone,” Ms. Tumahai mentioned, utilizing the phrase for a Maori prayer.

The New Technology

As a boy on the South Island’s West Coast, Shannon Mahuika thought carving was the area of outdated males but additionally felt that Maori artwork ran in his blood. He left college at 15 to work for his father, who made and offered easy pendants, then spent three years in formal coaching at Te Puia, the nationwide Maori arts and crafts institute in Rotorua, below the famend carver Lewis Gardiner. He was one in all the first college students at the institute’s stone and bone carving college, a selective program that accepts purposes solely from Maori males. (Presently, Ms. Tumahai mentioned, there are 200 to 300 pounamu carvers in the nation, about 120 of whom are registered with Ngai Tahu and about 70 of whom are actively working.) Mr. Mahuika, 33, now lives and works in a former college on a lonely stretch of West Coast freeway, simply minutes from Makaawhio, a river wealthy in pounamu. “To be on the doorstep of the supply of the pounamu, it appears like safety of my future,” he mentioned. Mr. Mahuika typically buys his stone provides, however generally he takes his keen nieces and nephews to the river to seek for it, as his father did with him.

Making Hei Matau

Conventional footage and tales — in addition to new concepts — encourage Mr. Mahuika, who initially sketches his designs with pencil on paper. He then cuts a stencil to position on the stone, and makes use of diamond instruments to form it. A bench grinder helps create the curves and element, and diamond burrs of various sizes and styles are used to complete the design. Every software leaves abrasive scratches on the stone, Mr. Mahuika mentioned, and he spends as lengthy cleansing a hei matau — smoothing out the carving marks — as he does crafting it. It is not uncommon for a bit to take two days to carve and one other two days to scrub, like the piece proven right here, which will probably be priced at 720 New Zealand {dollars}, about $500. “I can’t discover it in me to hurry it,” he added. His items are all one-of-a-kind and he sells by way of social media and by direct request.

Defending Pounamu

In current a long time New Zealand has skilled a revival of curiosity in Maori arts and tradition — together with pounamu jewellery. “There wouldn’t be a day go by once I don’t see individuals carrying it,” Ms. Tumahai mentioned. However at the similar time Ngai Tahu has been battling a rising black marketplace for the stone; on the authorized market, it sells from about 30 New Zealand {dollars} per pound for the poorest high quality to about 500 {dollars} per pound for the finest. Uncooked pounamu can’t be exported legally, however the iwi is aware of it’s being smuggled onto industrial flights and in freight. And regardless of the undeniable fact that many carvers stopped working when the pandemic started and New Zealand closed its borders, the quantity of pounamu provided for illicit sale on net boards and social media platforms had elevated, Ms. Tumahai mentioned, as individuals have been “determined” for cash. A conservation plan created by the iwi with enter from New Zealand’s geological science company ought to imply that provides won’t be in peril of depletion — however nobody is certain, Ms. Tumahai mentioned, as a result of nobody understand how a lot has been eliminated illegally.

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