Maori artisan jewelry: unique handcrafted jewelry of the Pacific
When you hear or read about Maori culture it is almost always about the intricate designs of the Maori tattoos and the martial grace of the Maori Haka dance. But there is a unique product of the Maori culture and tradition that is often passed under silence: the fascinating wood, jade and bone carvings handicraft. Among the world's jewelry Maori designs is one that is the most in harmony with its crafters tradition and beliefs. This article will explore this extraordinary culture, its origin and specificity and discover with you the hidden marvels that are Maori handcrafted jewelry.
The Maori people are native of New Zealand, two big islands in the southern Pacific ocean, 1600 km east of Australia. New Zealand had been settled by Polynesian voyagers from Hawaiiki around the 10th century (the exact date is unknown but believed to be between 950 - 1350 AD). Maori remained completely isolated on the islands for several centuries and developed a unique society, completely different from their Polynesian ancestors. During that period Maori made spectacular achievements in wood and bone carving, tattooing and other art forms.
Maori designs are strongly anchored in tradition, history and religion. Before the arrival of the first Europeans on the islands, stories, legends and traditions were transmitted orally and by the mean of carving and weaving. Some carvings have been found older than 500 years. The gods were said to express Themselves through Master carvers.
Traditional carvers are well respected as the guardians of Maori culture. They create complex work of art where every shape, every curve has a profound signification. To those who know how to read it, Maori art is the bridge between our mortal world and that of the ancestors and the gods. For the rest of us it is simply amazingly beautiful artistic creations.
The Maori have strong spiritual ties with their land. They are of the belief that everything has some sort of soul (the wairua) and a spiritual essence (the mana), hence their profound respect for anything living. For example permission have to be asked through ritual incantation before cutting a tree. This has had a great impact on their jewelry designs, you can't help, but feel the deep connection between Maori designs, the land and the world of spirituality. To the contrary of their Polynesian cousins, Maori designs elevate curves over strait lines, perhaps to better express the way nature seems to wander aimlessly but always reach its target. This gave Maori designs of jewelry its strength and its incomparable elegance.
Among Maori symbols most commonly used jewelry handcraft are the Koru, the Hei-Matau, the Twist, the Manaia and the Tiki:
The Maori Koru is a spiral shaped symbol that is a representation of the silver fern frond as it unfold into a new leaf. It is a symbol of peace, tranquility, personal growth or new beginnings. The Koru is also associated with a return to a primordial state and symbolises the fact that life with its perpetual evolution remains essentially the same.
The Maori Hei Matau is a very stylised fish hook. The sea has always be a very important resource for Maoris as the local fauna didn't provide any mammals they could feed on. The Hei Matau is a symbol of strength, prosperity abundance, fertility, and more generally of respect for the sea. It is also believed to be a good luck charm when traveling over water and is often worn by fishermen and surfers.
The Maori Twist is a symbol of the many paths of life and love bonding two people together. Even though their paths may separate, send each on her separate journey, they will share their life again blending to become one. It is showing that the bond of love, friendship and loyalty will last forever. The double and triple twists have a similar meaning but refer more to the joining of two peoples or cultures rather than individuals. They also refer the the three baskets of knowledge. they are often integrated with other elements such as the Koru or the Hei Matau
The Maori Manaia is an ancient mythical being usually depicted with a bird head, human torso and snake-like lower end. It is regarded as a holder of great spiritual energy, a guardian against evil and a protector against intruder. The Manaia is also said to be the messenger between the earthly world of mortals and the domain of the spirits. Often mixed with many other Maori designs with subtle differences from a tribe to another.
The Maori Tiki is a very ancient symbol and by far the least understood. Several legends exist about its meaning. One of the most Some say he came from the stars and that he was the first man of the world. Some others believe it to be the first mortal created by the gods. The 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.
Of all handmade and cultural jewelry, Maori carving is one of those, owners develop the strongest attachment to. Maori's bone carving jewelry is said to retain some of its owner aura and to bond with him, especially when worn in direct contact with the skin. Bone is a living material, in contact with the skin, will slowly absorb your body oils and adopt this golden overtone that makes it so precious to the long term wearer. As a gift, Maori's bone carved jewelry strong symbolism is one that make a huge impression on the reciever. It is not uncommon to hear testimonials of people who almost never take off their carved bone necklace, or the heart breaking stories of those who lost or broke theirs trying to find a replacement.
Result of centuries of rich history and tradition, authentic Maori carved jewelry is always handmade, though sharing the same general design no two pieces are exactly alike. It is one of the few that still have this "waow" effect on the public and one that you will enjoy more and more as time passes.