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4 Maori Symbol Necklaces and their Meanings

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Maori symbol necklace with traditional binding

Maori symbol necklace with traditional binding

Hooked on Maori Symbol Necklaces

I am completely hooked on Maori symbol necklaces. These pendants are commonly carved from bone and jade (greenstone or pounamu) sometimes attached to their cords with authentic, traditional bindings.(As on the photo to the right)

Not only are these carved pendants very well crafted, highly detailed pieces of art. They also resemble various Maori symbols which in their turn represent Maori culture, history, and spiritual beliefs.

The origin of these nifty little pieces of art goes back thousands of years ago. The first Maori in New Zealand already carved pendants and other ornamental items. These historic pendants also have huge spiritual and cultural significance. Their function is to commemorate ancestors and honor mythological beings and their stories.

Meaning of Maori Symbols

Symbols recurring in various art forms such as bone, wood, and jade, carvings, murals, and tattooing are an important part of Maori culture. This because the Maori passed on their cultural heritage and history by oral lore. At least that was before the Europeans arrived at the shores of Aotearoa. (the Maori word for New Zealand meaning 'land of the big white cloud')

Because of this oral tradition such symbols were important means to tell historical tales and cultural beliefs. This is why each Maori symbol has its own particular meaning. Many of them have several meanings and most also refer to important Maori myths.

There are dozens of different Maori symbols of which I will list a few of the most well known. These are the koru (spiral), tiki (human-like figure), matau (hook), and pikorua (twist).


The Maori Koru Symbol

Koru is the Maori word for the unfurling fern frond of New Zealand's silver fern. Both the symbol as the baby fern are characterized by an inward, circular or spiral shape. This shape, as well as the fresh fern frond, resemble new life, growth, a fresh start, new beginnings. But koru also, more spiritually, stands for; nurturing, tranquility, purity, personal growth, awakening and positive change.

The Maori koru symbol isn't only used frequently in carvings but also in the famous Maori tattoos, the moko.The koru as a part of the tattoos represents the spiritual power, authority, prestige called mana of a person.

Photo by Greencolander | Creative Commons

1. Maori Koru Necklaces

Most carved Maori necklace pendants are carved from bone or pounamu (a special type of jade endemic to New Zealand). So are koru pendants. Other materials used are wood, pacific pearl shell (of which you see a few on the photo below), mother of pearl shell, Australian black jade, and red agate.

Koru's spiral form simulates perpetual movement. The inner curl resembles going back to the origin. The koru therefore resembles the concept of ever changing life and also staying the same.

Because of their symbolism koru necklaces are often given as a present during mile-stone occasions. The symbol matches perfectly with taking a new step in life such as someone going to live on him- or herself, marriages, or getting a (first) child. The koru symbolizes the strength of the bond between people.

Also referred to as hei koru. Hei means suspend, to wear as a necklace.

Maori koru symbol necklaces

Maori koru symbol necklaces

2. Maori Tiki Necklaces

Tiki is a Polynesian concept commonly known as the human shaped totem poles made of stone and wood endemic to many Polynesian cultures in the Pacific Ocean. The Maori tiki symbol is derived from the more broad Polynesian tiki.

The precise meaning of tiki is unclear. The legendary tiki is believed to be the first man on earth who came from the stars who created the first woman after his image. The Maori tiki symbolizes fertility and childbirth. The frequently occurring hands placed on the loins are said to illustrate this meaning. As a necklace it is used as a good luck charm. A protector against evil spirits.

Above all the Maori tiki is also a symbol of commemoration of ancestors. A tribute to forefathers. Especially pounamu (greenstone jade) carved tiki pendants, as shown on the photo below, were thought to adopt the spirits of the persons who wore them before. This way they became vessels of ancestral knowledge, spirituality, and energy.

That's probably why the wearer of a tiki necklace (or hei tiki) is considered to possess inner balance and strength, great wisdom, and a clear mind. He is said to be a thinker, a wise and loyal person. The reference to tiki as "the teacher of all worldly things" fits into this description.

Pounamu (jade) tiki symbol necklaces by master carver Ewan Parker

Pounamu (jade) tiki symbol necklaces by master carver Ewan Parker

3. Maori Fish Hook Necklaces

The hei matau or Maori fish hook necklace is my personal favorite. In short the fish hook resembles prosperity, good luck, abundance, good health, and safe passage over water. What's unique about this particular symbol is that it's the only Maori symbol that evolved from a tool, namely an ordinary fish hook, to a highly valued piece of jewelry. Well in fact that is not entirely true, the Maori toki (adze) is also a jewelry symbol derived from a tool.

About thousand years ago when the Maori settled in New Zealand they lived mainly on fish they caught in the seas. Because fishing was that important for their subsistence the fish hook was not only an essential tool but a symbol of surviving as well. This symbol evolved into a symbol of prosperity, abundance, good luck, and even prestige.

The first fish hooks were simply worn as a necklace to prevent loss. Later on, when the items became more ornamented by intricate detailed carvings the fish hook really became a piece of jewelry. With a lot of significance.

Bone fish hook symbol necklaces

Bone fish hook symbol necklaces

Courtesy photo: Shop New Zealand.


4. Maori Twist Necklaces

The Maori twist symbol is a very popular symbol because of its meaning. The pikorua as the twist is called in Maori stands for the bond between two people. Whether this might be by friendship, love, or blood.

The twist symbol also resembles the path of life and eternity. In this context it refers to the everlasting bond between two persons which will never fade even if these persons will be separated for short or longer periods.

The shape of the pikorua resembles the paths of life of these persons and how they always will be back to together. Therefore the Maori twist symbol necklace is a popular gift among lovers, family, friends, and even in situations when someone has passed away.

Double and Triple Twist

Apart from the single twist there are also the double and triple twist. The meaning of double and triple twists is roughly the same but these designs merely refer to the bond between different cultures or peoples instead of individuals. They also refer to the three baskets of knowledge.

A Quick Poll on Your Favorite Maori Necklace

A Maori chief named Rangui. Not the chief of the quote.

A Maori chief named Rangui. Not the chief of the quote.

The Soul of Maori Symbol Necklaces

A beautiful quotation of how the Maori perceive their art work, it's symbolism, and significance. This is what a Maori chief said about the spiritual force of their art:

"We treat our artworks as people because many of them represent our ancestors who for us are real persons. Though they died generations ago they live in our memories and we live with them for they are an essential part of our identity as Maori individuals. They are anchor points in our genealogies and in our history. Without them we have no position in society and we have no social reality. We form with them the social universe of Maoridom. We are the past and the present and together we face the future."

source: Art, Belief and Experience in the Maori of New Zealand

Courtesy photo Chief Rangui: Wikimedia Commons



Ken on October 01, 2019:

I live between Scotland and New Zealand, and find the similarity between some of the Maori and Celtic symbols amazing considering the distance between the tribes and clans, and with similar meanings.

Kristen Strobak from Orlando, FL on September 24, 2014:

My best friend is Maori and I got to visit her this year in Wellington-she got me the pikorua necklace as a welcoming! Cool!

Jessica on July 01, 2014:

I just found out i have a Maori necklace. I found it walking along Myrtle Beach. It washed up in a wave at my feet and I'm curious to know it's exact meaning.

Ryan on March 28, 2013:

I like the fish hook design best both for its pure looks as well as its meaning of safe journey over water. New Zealand was fished up by Maui in Maori folklore giving this design extra meaning I reckon.

These are some of the best designs I've found because the jade is of such high quality.

I don't like all the artists, but I do have my favourites :)

Cam on March 16, 2012:

Hi I would just like to point out that Aotearoa actually means 'land of the LONG white cloud' not 'big' haha. im a Kiwi by the way. NZ'er.

Mika on February 09, 2012:

New Zealand = Paradise

The most beautiful place in the world!!! (and I am Mexican)

Edward Matthews on January 17, 2012:

orsum place 2 visit

PADDYBOY60 from Centreville Michigan on October 16, 2011:

Very nice article. I would love to go to New Zealand, and learn about their culture first hand. thanks.

HomerMCho on August 14, 2011:

Excellent article! Well-done and well-researched!Good thing to hear about Maori necklaces.

realfree from Indonesia on December 08, 2010:

I love New Zealand.

I like the art and culture in New Zealand. I have been in New Zealand in 1992.

Please visit:

candace on November 21, 2010:

i ham a maori and i have got 2 of them they are very nice to wear and i always get the jade ones instead of the bone ones i think there cruel

Elayne from Rocky Mountains on August 10, 2010:

My husband is part Maori and I really admire their jewelry. Thanks for a very informative hub.

isabel on July 12, 2010:

Thankyou so much for this information about these beautiful objects.

Irene on June 16, 2010:

I never realized there are these kinds of necklaces before. Your hub gave me a lot of information.

Irene of