Thursday, February 23, 2012

Pounamu Tāonga...The Maori Hei Tiki.

Am I on a roll lately, or what? February is making up for my lack of posting in January, that's for sure.

At work, we were planning an ad for a local magazine, and were trying to find pieces in the museum's collection to emphasize. One of my favorite options was this one, a Hei Tiki pendant from New Zealand, created by the Maori peoples. It is the most brilliant green (I'd describe it as a cloudy emerald color), and its eyes are made of haliotis (abalone) shell, which really shines. In New Zealand, this shell is called a paūa shell.

Maori peoples, New Zealand
Hei Tiki
Nineteenth century
Nephrite, haliotis shell
H. 9 in. (22.9 cm)
Raymond and Laura Wielgus Collection,
Indiana University Art Museum

I traveled to New Zealand as a People to People Student Ambassador when I was 13. The trip left an indelible mark on me, and spending time with the Maori was one of the incredible experiences. If you are a parent reading this blog, I must absolutely recommend to you that you allow your child the opportunity to participate in one of these international leadership adventures. It helped me grow as a person and become more aware of the world, instead of just myself.

But back to the art.

Foy Brothers, Thames, Young Maori Woman with Moko Wearing Korowai Cloak and Hei Tiki, c. 1872-86, Albumen carte-de-visite photograph, 10.5 x 6.3 cm. Via.

The Indiana University Hei ("something suspended from the neck") Tiki ("human figure") is superficially very similar to most other hei tikis I discovered in my brief look around the web. Most are made of nephrite ("pounamu"), a type of jade, and have eyes inlaid with paūa, like I said. These pendants are considered a tāonga, or "treasure."

Most are either sexless, or female. The British Museum writes that the significance of these tiki is unclear, but it has been suggested that they promote fertility or represent one's ancestors. They can be passed down through families through generations, and sometimes are given names. They are worn by both men and women, though I only have pictures of women wearing them to show you today.

Rotorua, New Zealand, Iles Photo, Young Maori women with moko (facial tattoo); wearing a kahu huruhuru (feather cloak), a huia feather in her hair, and a hei tiki (neck pendant), 19th century, Gelatin silver print. Via.

The markings under the lips of the two women in these photographs are a type of body art called Ta Moko. These markings symbolize achievement, adulthood, and aristocracy. As with most forms of tattoos and body art, the process doesn't sound particularly pleasant (chiseling skin open and applying charcoal into the gouges). This practice is not limited to the face, but can, in some occasions, encompass the entire face (usually on men). This tradition carries on even today.

This website that I found suggests a connection between these tiki and the Gorgons of Greek mythology. An interesting read!

1 comment:

  1. I love that cloudy jade color. So smooth and detailed! It is amazing to imagine someone engraving it by hand, isn't it?