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Maori Design Meanings

Simply New Zealand and NZ The Gift offer unique souvenirs, giftware and handcrafts that celebrate kiwiana, Aotearoa and Maori culture. Below is an introduction to traditional Maori designs that you may see featured in product collections in our stores NZ wide or online, and their unique history and/or meanings. Much of the jewellery ranges we stock are of traditional maori designs, available in sterling silver, pewter, or hand carved bone, greenstone (jade), wood and paua. Browse online, or visit us in store to truly admire the beauty that is New Zealand, Aotearoa.


Greenstone Jade (Pounamu)
The Maori word for greenstone is pounamu. Greenstone is highly valued by the Maori and it plays an important role in their culture. It is considered a treasure. Greenstone sold in our stores are handcrafted in New Zealand to the highest standard of workmanship.  Colour may vary slightly with each piece. Over time greenstone absorbs the body's natural oils, taking on qualities unique to its wearer. 

Bone Carving (Bovine)
Choose from a Maori fish hook, koru, twist, or manaia. Bone Carved Hair Combs (Heru) are also available at selected stores. Our designs are all made in NZ, and hand-carved in New Zealand from bovine bone (fine grain cow bone) in traditional Maori designs. The Bone is a by product and no animals are harmed as a result of these pieces being made. Hand carving is done using engravers, files and chisels then highly polished.

NZ Paua
Although part of the Abalone family, Paua is unique to New Zealand's environmentally pure coastal waters.  The Paua is renowned throughout the world not only for its beautiful shell but also for its edible dark, full flavoured flesh.  For many centuries the Maori have used the Paua shell for personal adornment and as ornamental inlay eyes for the carvings that decorated their weapons and meetings houses. Paua is often referred to as the Sea Opal due to its blue/green colourings and the incredible swirls that create individual patterns on each and every piece of jewellery.

Koru (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
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 or 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)
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.

Tiki
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.

Manaia
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).

Circles
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 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.

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.

Kowhaiwhai
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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About Us

We’re 100% New Zealand owned and operated and have been offering the very best gifts; kiwiana art, designer homeware and souvenirs from New Zealand since 1965. We’re New Zealand’s first retailer to be accredited the Qualmark Retailer endorsement so you can shop with confidence online….