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The Significance of Pounamu

Sir Tipene O'Regan explained the importance and significance of pounamu well when he said: "It has been sought after and fought for, wept over and treasured, for the whole human story of Aotearoa. Its merits as weapon or ornament, tool or treasure, are the stuff of the proverbial Whakataukī and metaphor; possession of pounamu has long been a mark of wealth and prestige, a mark of mana (respect)."

What is Pounamu?

Pounamu is a greenstone mainly found in the Arahura Valley on the West Coast of New Zealand that is believed to be sacred by Māori people and represents a sign of power and status.

Throughout history, Māori have turned pounamu into various objects such as tools, weapons, jewellery, and talismans, with many Māori symbols carved into these which carry spiritual importance to those who wear or use them. In Māori tradition, the greenstone is typically gifted to others, as Māori believe that one shouldn’t carve or buy it for themselves, as it was given to us as a gift from the land.


Why is Pounamu Important to Māori People?

Pounamu holds great significance in Māori culture and is deeply embedded in their sense of self. The Ngāi Tahu iwi tribe, who were designated as the lawful protectors of the greenstone in 1997, are the only ones allowed to mine it for commercial or tribal purposes.

The Ngāi Tahu iwi tribe not only have the authority to extract pounamu, but they also bear the responsibility of ensuring its sustainable management. This includes taking care of the rivers from which it originates, as well as the communities and artists involved in working with this precious stone.


What do Pounamu Shapes Symbolise?

Greenstone carving of a man's face

The various forms of pounamu carry great symbolic meaning and cultural importance. Each shape symbolises a distinct element of Māori culture, spirituality, and the environment, which is why pounamu is highly cherished by Māori people and has been passed down through many generations. 


Pounamu Shapes and Their Spiritual Significances

  • Manaia – Represented by a mythical creature and seen as a spiritual guardian
  • Toki – Historically utilised as a practical tool for woodworking, it carries great meaning as a symbol of strength and authority
  • Koru – Resembling the unfolding frond of a fern native to New Zealand, the Koru signifies the importance of Māori culture
  • Hei-tiki – Employed by women to enhance fertility and provide protection, the Hei-tiki takes the form of a human figure with a tilted head and hands resting on the thighs
  • Pikorua – A twisted shape that symbolises the connection between family, friends, and loved ones, representing unity even when physically separated
  • Hei Matau – Resembling a fishing hook, the Hei Matau signifies the significance of fishing to the Māori people and their deep connection with the sea


Ahipara Pounamu Māori Experience

Bevan Climo showing one of his Pounamu creations

Here at Ahipara, we believe that Pounamu is the heart and essence of the country, and the final result is always breathtaking. That's why Ahipara is proud to offer this authentic Māori experience with Bevan Climo because everyone should have the opportunity to discover this beautiful traditional Māori art. 

Bevan lives on the stunning West Coast of Aotearoa, New Zealand's South Island and is recognised as one of the last descendants of Arahura Valley's esteemed Paramount Chief. The Arahura Valley is a river that is privately owned by Bevan and other indigenous Māori individuals from the local community. According to Māori legend, it is believed that pounamu were once living beings who escaped from their enemies in Hawaiki. However, when their canoe named Tairea was wrecked, these people transformed into pounamu boulders found in the river. 


Bevan Climo at the Arahura Valley collecting Pounamu

Bevan collects pounamu from the Arahura Valley as it is a significant and abundant source, and he believes that pounamu has a way of revealing itself to individuals, rather than individuals actively seeking it out.

As a carver, Bevan derives immense pleasure from carving greenstone because not only has it existed for centuries, but it will continue to endure on our planet for many more. To sculpt the greenstone, Bevan utilises diamond-tipped instruments specifically designed for carving, and he affirms, “Sometimes the stone tells you what it wants to be.”


Join Us on Our Pounamu Experience

On this Māori Experience, Bevan will guide you to the Arahura River, assist you in searching for greenstone, provide a more detailed explanation of its meaning to him, and later showcase his workshop and artwork. Join us to discover this exceptional opportunity and learn about pounamu. If the budget allows, add a helicopter so Bevan can take you to some remote boulders far from any road, and showcase even more natural beauty!


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Posted by Jean-Michel Jefferson on December 20, 2023