Every carving has a very special meaning
or story behind its design.
The carvings based on Maori designs in particular have special significance.
The pre-European Maori had no written language so tribal
history and the stories of the gods were kept using many forms of
fine arts and crafts ranging from basket and cloth weaving to complex
wood, bone, shell and jade carving. These artifacts were then handed
down through generations of tribal elders and became sacred objects
or treasures "Taonga", telling the history of a tribe and
taking on the spirits of past great leaders and warriors who had worn
It is believed that a carving which is worn with
respect or given and received with love, takes on part of the spirit
of those who wear or handle it. In this way it becomes a spiritual
link between people spanning time and distance. A carving that has
been worn by family or tribal members over many generations contains
the spirit of all of those people and is truly a great and powerful
Pendants, jewelry and various tools such as needles,
spear tips and fish hooks made from bone developed into a fine art
form with great importance being placed on every piece, many of which
took years to make using stone tools. Some have inlays of precious
stones or colourful shell and all have a story or meaning behind their
The Maori have a great respect for nature and
have many legends about the creation of the earth and all its inhabitants.
Many of these legends revolve around the spirits or gods who created
or protect each part of their world such as the mountains, the forests,
the lakes and the creatures of the sea.
Most carvings combine elements from several
areas of mythology which interact with each other to tell a story.
Each element has its own specific meaning and the way they are portrayed
or combined is what gives a carving its own special character.
The meanings of some elements vary from region to region but all share
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Some Basic Design Elements & Their Meanings
The spiral is a Koru, represents
the fern frond as it opens bringing new life and purity to the
world. It also represents peace, tranquility and spirituality
along with a strong sense of re growth or new beginnings.
The Koru is also often associated with nurturing so when interlocked
with others is frequently used to represent the strength and
purity of a loving relationship within a family.
The twist with its crisscross form represents the many paths
of life and love and as such is regarded as the original eternity
symbol. The single twist in particular shows the joining together
of two people for eternity. Even though they sometimes move
away from each other on their own journeys, they will always
come together again sharing their lives and blending to become
one. It tells how the strength of bond of friendship, loyalty
and love will last forever.
The double and triple twists have a similar meaning but
refer more to the joining of two peoples or cultures rather
They also refer the the three baskets of knowledge.
These very stylised fish hooks represent strength,
prosperity,abundance, fertility and a great respect for the
It also is said to provide good luck and safety when
traveling over water so is often worn by travelers.
Hei-Matau are also symbols of power and authority which are
held in great reverence by the Maori people.
They were used as a practical tool for fishing and
were often decorated as a sign of respect for the creatures
of the sea.
There are many styles of Hei-Matau from the true hook designs
to the more ornamental styles which became treasured heirlooms
for generations following.
The Manaia is an ancient mythical being with a
birds head and a human form. It is said to be the messenger
between the earthly world of mortals and the domain of the spirits
illustrating the strong links the Maori people have with spirituality
and the spirit world.
It is a holder of great spiritual energy and is a guardian against
evil. The Manaia can be seen blended into many Maori designs
with subtle differences between tribes.
The Manaia is often depicted with the three fingers
of birth, life and death. It can also be shown with a fourth
finger representing the afterlife and describing the circle
The closed circle is said to represent the circle
of life which is has no beginning or end, is seamless and of
which we are all a part. It also tells of the stars and planets
which are part of the circle of life and contain the knowledge
of our origins.
It is often used to enclose other elements such as the Koru,
linking love and new life or new beginnings with the circle
For an artist the circle represents the relationship
or oneness between the artist and his craft, bringing together
head, hand and heart.
The Tiki is a very ancient symbol and is by far
the least understood so there are a number of legends about
Some say he came from the stars and that he was the first man
of the world. He is also often depicted with webbed feet which
suggests a strong link to the creatures of the sea.
Tiki was respected as the teacher of all things and the wearer
of this symbol is therefore seen to possess clarity of thought,
loyalty, great inner knowledge and strength of character.
The Tiki is regarded as a good luck charm when worn and in some
areas is also regarded as a fertility symbol.
This design represents the Toki or Adze ("adz" in American English) which was used to carve the great canoes and also to cut and work timber for the fortresses or Pahs in which the Maori lived.
It was such an important tool in Maori life that it became regarded as a symbol of power, authority and good character.
It is also the mark of the craftsman and artist.
Whales, Dolphins and Turtles:
The ocean has always been the dominant force for
the Maori people who traveled huge distances in their long canoes
and lived on the bounty of the tropical waters. They had a great
respect for the creatures on the sea and in particular dolphins
The whale with its great size and obvious intelligence
played an important part in the culture of the Maori people.
They were often represented as an example of family love with
mother and calf always side by side and touching at every opportunity.
Beached whales were treasured as gifts from the
gods. They were particularly prized for the bone which after
several years of curing was used to carve ornate jewelry and
art works, often passed down for many generations.
A dolphin is s symbol of playfulness, harmony and
friendship while the turtle is the sign of a navigator.