Hei tiki (neck pendant), 1500-1800
pounamu (greenstone). Purchased 1948 as part of the Oldman Collection
Strength and beauty
Traditionally, Māori made and wore items of jewellery to decorate the head, ears, neck, and breast. Highly prized and durable items were made of pounamu (greenstone), whale ivory, and whale bone. But pounamu was the most valued of these because of its strength and translucence.
Pendants - including kapeu - were sometimes worn along with feathers suspended from the ear. Hei tiki and hei matau were the most common breast adornment - ‘hei’ means ‘to wear around the neck’.
Tiki is the ancestor of all humans - the form is sometimes thought to symbolise a human embryo. The hei matau, a type of hook design, may have similar symbolic meanings.