Since the arrival of Maori in Aotearoa (New Zealand), around 800AD, pounamu has held a significant importance to Maori.
Pounamu is the Maori name for New Zealand Greenstone.
As it is a strong, hard and beautiful stone, Maori found pounamu ideal for making a variety of tools for woodworking and carving, including pieces for personal adornment. As a raw material, pounamu was highly valued and was used for trade between tribes and with European settlers.
However, its value is more than the beauty and practical properties. It is the spiritual significance of pounamu that is of far greater value for Maori.
To this day, pounamu has continued to maintain its spiritual significance for Maori, it is a powerful symbol of rank and mana (status) and modern Maori have adapted the old skills to modern stone cutting equipment to produce beautiful traditional and innovative modern forms of ornaments and artwork.
There are two types of jade used worldwide for carving. Their geological names are jadeite and nephrite, with only nephrite found in New Zealand (along the west coast of the South Island).
Kei secures the pounamu around Hana's neck
Each carved design has a meaning and a carving given with love is believed to carry that meaning to the receiver and all that inherit it. A greenstone carving which is worn with respect or given and received with love, takes on part of the spirit of those who wear it and is a spiritual link between people over time and distance. It is powerful token of love and security.
Hana keeping a suspicious eye on us. (Love this shot, it is so typically him.)
When three friends and I decided to give a greenstone carving to our friend, Hana, who has recently turned 40, we wanted to acknowledge his status within our group of friends, and honour his achievements in life, to show our respect.
We felt a man who has achieved so much should have a greenstone befitting our opinion of him.
We first met Hana when he was 19, a scrawny Maori lad from the Waikato with a gentle, softly spoken manner and an air of unassuming self confidence. He now says he was surprised to have secured the Junior Operater position at the dairy factory he had come north to interview for and if he hadn’t been given that start he doesn’t know what might have become of him, he would probably have ended up in a gang. I was on the interview panel and there was “something about him” and I think it was in his voice, a deep, mellow voice with a soft timbre (and I still don’t believe his claim that he can’t sing). Oh OK, you don’t hire based on a voice but you can justify anything if you trust your instincts.
21 years later he is no longer scrawny, he’s filled out but nothing else has changed. He has progressed up through the dairy manufacturing industry with a quiet confidence and is now a global auditor with the world's largest exporter of dairy products.
In searching for the perfect greenstone for Hana we were lead to a noted Maori carver, Mike Mason, who hails from the home of greenstone, the west coast of the South Island, and he had for us the perfect stone. As I said before, each greenstone carving has a meaning and Hana's is Te Manaia (the Guardian Angel) which has the head of a bird, the body of a man, and the tail of a fish, representing the balance between sky, earth and water. Te Manaia, as the Guardian Angel, has a special role in the Maori world. It can be described as the unseen light surrounding each individual. It is the light we trust will always bring him safely home from his global travels. At the bottom is a whale’s tail. Whales are symbols of protection. This symbol of protection encompasses the friendship and companionship that words cannot express of the complex relationship between these mammals and Maori. It symbolises harmony and friendship.
Finally relaxing after the ceremony
So yesterday we gathered at Chris’ home to have the stone blessed (and also a smaller, but very beautiful stone that had been gifted to Chris by Mike, the carver.)
Hana was a reluctant recipient of the gift, as much puzzled by why we would want to be doing this as anything, humouring us to an extent. And yesterday he added the art of graciously receiving to his many wonderful qualities.
Yes, he was happy with his gift. Yes, he will wear it with pride and respect. And, yes, he knows he is loved by four crazy women.
A hug from Chris