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Gemstone Lore: Jade - Hei-Tiki of the Maori

2 min read

Hei-tikis are ornamental heirloom pendants of the New Zealand Maoris. A hei-tiki is usually carved out of green gemstones, often Jade or Nephrite, a type of Jade. ‘Hei’ is a Maori word for ‘round the neck’ and ‘tiki’ refers to a ‘carved figure’ as well as ‘the first mortal born to God’. They are believed to embody the spirits of ancestors. The spiritual value of the hei-tiki increases as it is passed down through the generations. It is widely believed that the Goddess of Childbirth, Hina-te-iwaiwa, wore one. Some say it represents the human embryo.

In some Maori tribes, they were buried along with their owner and later retrieved to help during times of mourning. In marriage, the husband’s family often gave the wife-to-be their hei-tiki as they believed it would aid the bride during conception.

There are various designs of hei-tiki. The poked tongue version is associated with protective powers. Those with hands near their loins are linked to fertility. The eyes are often inlaid with Mother of Pearl or sea snail, and more recently the eye grooves are filled with sealing wax.

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Traditional methods of carving hei-tikis are extremely laborious. The Jade is initially rubbed abrasively against sandstone to create the basic shape, then Maori stick, sand and water hand drills are used to create the shapes and to bore holes into them. After a lengthy process of polishing, they are threaded onto a plaited cord with a toggle. Carving a hei-tiki using this method could take weeks or even months.

Traditional methods of carving hei-tikis are extremely laborious.

Today the same abrasive methods are used to carve the Jade, but Diamond enhanced tools have replaced the sandstone, making hei-tikis much more accessible and quicker to create.

They remain prestigious items in New Zealand, and aren't just worn by the Maoris, but also by New Zealanders of all backgrounds. They embrace them as being part of New Zealand's heritage.

Click here to browse Gemporia Jade jewelry.

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