Last updated
Hinepare, a woman of the Ngati Kahungunu tribe, wearing a hei-tiki Hinepare.jpg
Hinepare, a woman of the Ngāti Kahungunu tribe, wearing a hei-tiki
Hei-tiki; circa 18th century; nephrite and haliotis shell; height: 10.9 cm (4
.mw-parser-output .frac{white-space:nowrap}.mw-parser-output .frac .num,.mw-parser-output .frac .den{font-size:80%;line-height:0;vertical-align:super}.mw-parser-output .frac .den{vertical-align:sub}.mw-parser-output .sr-only{border:0;clip:rect(0,0,0,0);clip-path:polygon(0px 0px,0px 0px,0px 0px);height:1px;margin:-1px;overflow:hidden;padding:0;position:absolute;width:1px}
1/4 in.); from New Zealand; Los Angeles County Museum of Art (USA) Pendanr (hei-tiki) LACMA M.71.73.156 (1 of 2).jpg
Hei-tiki; circa 18th century; nephrite and haliotis shell; height: 10.9 cm (414 in.); from New Zealand; Los Angeles County Museum of Art (USA)

The hei-tiki ( /hˈtɪki/ ) [1] is an ornamental pendant of the Māori of New Zealand. Hei-tiki are usually made of pounamu (greenstone), and are considered a taonga (treasure) by Māori. They are commonly called tiki by New Zealanders, a term that originally refers to the first mortal. (The word hei in Māori can mean "to wear around the neck".)


Retailers sell tourist versions of hei-tiki throughout New Zealand—these can be made from jade, other types of stone, plastic, or other materials.

Origins and materials

One theory of the origin of the hei-tiki suggests a connection with Tiki, the first man in Māori legend. According to Horatio Gordon Robley, there are two main ideas behind the symbolism of hei-tiki: they are either memorials to ancestors, or represent the goddess of childbirth, Hineteiwaiwa. The rationale behind the first theory is that they were often buried when their kaitiaki (guardian) died and retrieved later to be placed somewhere special and brought out in times of tangihanga (mourning and associated activities). Because of the connection with Hineteiwaiwa, hei-tiki were often given to a woman by her husband's family if she was having trouble conceiving.

Robley, author of A History of the Maori Tiki, suggested a similarity of some tiki to images of Buddha, which were often fashioned in green jade. He believed they may have been a forgotten memory of these, in debased form.

The most valuable hei-tiki are carved from pounamu which is either nephrite or bowenite (Māori: tangiwai). Pounamu is esteemed highly by Māori for its beauty, toughness and great hardness; it is used not only for ornaments such as hei-tiki and ear pendants, but also for carving tools, adzes and weapons. Named varieties include translucent green kahurangi, whitish inanga, semi-transparent kawakawa, and tangiwai or bowenite.

A 2014 thesis by Dougal Austin supervised by Peter Adds, based on a survey of the collection of hei-tiki at Te Papa Tongarewa and early-contact examples in foreign collections, found that the mana of hei-tiki is derived from the "agency of prolonged ancestral use" and stylistically was "highly developed ... from the outset to conform to adze-shaped pieces of pounamu." [2]

Examples of hei-tiki are found in museum collections around the world. The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa (over 200) and the British Museum (about 50) have two of the largest collections, many of which were exchanged or gifted to European travellers and sailors at the earliest point of contact between the two cultures. [3] [4]


Traditionally there were several types of hei-tiki which varied widely in form. Modern-day hei-tiki, however, may be divided into two types. The first type is rather delicate with a head/body ratio of approximately 30/70 and small details such as ears, elbows and knees. The head is on a tilt, with one hand placed on the thigh, and the other on the chest. The eyes are relatively small. The second type is generally heavier than the first. It has a 40/60 head/body ratio, both hands are on the thighs, and the eyes are proportionately larger.


From the size and style of traditional examples of hei-tiki, it is likely that the stone was first cut in the form of a small adze. The tilted head of the ptīau variety of hei-tiki derives from the properties of the stone - its hardness and great value make it important to minimize the amount of the stone that has to be removed. Creating a hei-tiki with traditional methods is a long, arduous process during which the stone is smoothed by abrasive rubbing; finally, using sticks and water, it is slowly shaped and the holes bored out. After laborious and lengthy polishing, the completed pendant is suspended by a plaited cord and secured by a loop and toggle.

Pounamu (greenstone) hei tiki ornamented with paua (abalone) shell and pigments, 1500-1850. MAP Expo Maori Hei tiki 15 01 2012 1.jpg
Pounamu (greenstone) hei tiki ornamented with pāua (abalone) shell and pigments, 1500-1850.

Current popularity

Among the other taonga (treasured possessions) used as items of personal adornment are bone carvings in the form of earrings or necklaces. For many Māori the wearing of such items relates to Māori cultural identity. They are also popular with young New Zealanders of all backgrounds for whom the pendants relate to a more generalized sense of New Zealand identity. Several artistic collectives have been established by Māori tribal groups. These collectives have begun creating and exporting jewellery (such as bone carved pendants based on traditional fishhooks hei matau and other greenstone jewellery) and other artistic items (such as wood carvings and textiles). Several actors who have recently appeared in high-profile movies filmed in New Zealand have come back wearing such jewellery, including Viggo Mortensen of The Lord of the Rings fame who took to wearing a hei matau around his neck. These trends have contributed towards a worldwide interest in traditional Māori culture and arts such as Kiri Nathan including pounamu jewellery in her 2013 London Fashion Week exhibition.

The captain of HMS New Zealand, a battlecruiser funded in 1911 by the government of New Zealand for the defence of the British Empire and which took an active part in three battles of the First World War, wore into battle a hei-tiki (as well as a piupiu, Māori warrior's skirt). The crew attributed to this the New Zealand being a "lucky ship" which sustained no casualties during the entire war.

The mockumentary film Hei Tiki was released in 1935, with a New York Times review describing the plot as being about a "chieftain's daughter who is declared tabu and destined to be the bride of the war god", attributing the title to mean "love charm" (a Hei-tiki pendant interpretation). [5]

The crime writer Ngaio Marsh gives prominence to an amuletic hei-tiki (which she calls simply a tiki) in her 1937 novel Vintage Murder . She emphasises its aspect as a promoter of fertility.

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Jade</span> Ornamental stone, commonly green

Jade is an umbrella term for two different types of ornamental rocks used as jewelry, in jewelry or for ornaments. Jade is often referred to by either of two different silicate mineral names: nephrite, or jadeite. Nephrite is typically green, although may be yellow, white or black. Jadeite varies from white or near-colorless, through various shades of green, to lavender, yellow, orange, brown and black. Rarely it may be blue. However these names are mineralogically incorrect. Both the amphibole jade (nephrite) and pyroxene jade are actually mineral aggregates (rocks) rather than mineral species and thus should not be described by mineral species names. Nephrite was deprecated by the International Mineralogical Association as a mineral species name in 1978. This makes the name "nephrite" mineralogically correct for referring to the rock. As for jadeite, since this is a legitimate mineral species, its name should not be used for the pyroxene jade rock. In China, the name jadeite has been replaced with fei cui, the traditional Chinese name for this gem that was in use long before Damour created the name in 1863.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Nephrite</span> Variety of jade

Nephrite is a variety of the calcium, magnesium, and iron-rich amphibole minerals tremolite or actinolite (aggregates of which also make up one form of asbestos). The chemical formula for nephrite is Ca2(Mg, Fe)5Si8O22(OH)2. It is one of two different mineral species called jade. The other mineral species known as jade is jadeite, which is a variety of pyroxene. While nephrite jade possesses mainly grays and greens (and occasionally yellows, browns, black or whites), jadeite jade, which is rarer, can also contain blacks, reds, pinks and violets. Nephrite jade is an ornamental stone used in carvings, beads, or cabochon cut gemstones. Nephrite is also the official state mineral of Wyoming.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Hei matau</span> Ornamental Māori fish-hook, for luck

A hei matau is a bone or greenstone carving in the shape of a highly stylised fish hook. They represent good luck and safe travel across water.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mere (weapon)</span> Māori weapon

The mere is a type of short, broad-bladed weapon in the shape of an enlarged tear drop. It was used to strike/jab an opponent in the body or the head, usually made from nephrite jade. A mere is one of the traditional, hand to hand, one-handed weapons of the indigenous Māori of New Zealand, and a symbol of chieftainship.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Bowenite</span>

Bowenite is a hard, compact variety of the serpentinite species antigorite, (Mg3(OH)O4Si2O5). Classed as semi-precious gemstone it has been used for tools, weapons and jewellery by the Māori in New Zealand, and for jewellery by Fabergé. Deposits are found in several places around the world including Afghanistan, China, New Zealand, South Africa and the United States. It typically ranges in colour from dark green to light olive green, and in shades approaching yellow. Bowenite was named by James D. Dana in 1850 after George T. Bowen, who analyzed it in 1822.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tiki</span> First man in Māori mythology

In Māori mythology, Tiki is the first man created by either Tūmatauenga or Tāne. He found the first woman, Marikoriko, in a pond; she seduced him and he became the father of Hine-kau-ataata. By extension, a tiki is a large or small wooden, pounamu or other stone carving in humanoid form, notably worn on the neck as a hei-tiki, although this is a somewhat archaic usage in the Māori language. Hei-tiki are often considered taonga, especially if they are older and have been passed down throughout multiple generations. Carvings similar to ngā tiki and coming to represent deified ancestors are found in most Polynesian cultures. They often serve to mark the boundaries of sacred or significant sites. In the Western world, Tiki culture, a movement inspired by various Pacific cultures, has become popular in the 20th and 21st centuries.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Patu</span> Club or pounder used by the Māori

A patu is a club or pounder used by the Māori. The word patu in the Māori language means to strike, hit, beat, kill or subdue.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">New Zealand art</span> Arts originating from New Zealand

New Zealand art consists of the visual and plastic arts originating from New Zealand and comes from different traditions: indigenous Māori art and that brought here including from early European mostly British settlers.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Theo Schoon</span> New Zealand artist (1915–1985)

Theodorus Johannes Schoon was a Dutch-born New Zealand artist, photographer and carver.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Māori traditional textiles</span> Indigenous textiles of the Māori people of New Zealand

Māori traditional textiles are the indigenous textiles of the Māori people of New Zealand. The organisation Te Roopu Raranga Whatu o Aotearoa, the national Māori weavers' collective, aims to preserve and foster the skills of making and using these materials.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Waka huia</span> Treasure container made by the Maori people of New Zealand

Waka huia and Papa hou are treasure containers made by Māori – the indigenous people of New Zealand. Waka huia was also the name of a long-running TV series on TVNZ.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Whakairo</span> Traditional Māori form of art carving

Toi whakairo or just whakairo (carving) is a Māori traditional art of carving in wood, stone or bone.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Manaia (mythological creature)</span> Mythological creature in Māori culture

The Manaia is a mythological creature in Māori culture, and is a common motif in Māori carving and jewellery.

According to Māori mythology Ngahue was a contemporary of Kupe and one of the first Polynesian explorers to reach New Zealand. He was a native of the Hawaiki and voyaged to New Zealand in “Tāwhirirangi”, his waka (canoe). No time has been fixed for these voyages, but according to legend he discovered pounamu (Greenstone) and Ngahue killed a Moa. Pounamu was sometimes called Te Ika-o-Ngāhue and they took several boulders back to Hawaiki.

Peter Adds is Wellington-based academic, treaty negotiator and former head of Victoria University of Wellington's Te Kawa a Māui/School of Māori Studies. He is of Te Ati Awa descent. With a background in anthropology and archaeology, he has interests in Treaty of Waitangi settlements, indigenous astronomy, Māori development, and international indigenous issues.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Joe Sheehan (artist)</span>

Joe Sheehan is a stone artist and jeweller who works primarily in pounamu.

Rangi Kipa is a New Zealand sculptor, carver, illustrator and tā moko artist.

Areta Rachael Wilkinson is a New Zealand jeweller.

Paul Geoffrey Annear was a New Zealand contemporary jeweller.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Pounamu</span> Hard, green minerals in New Zealand culture

Pounamu is a term for several types of hard and durable stone found in the South Island of New Zealand. They are highly valued in New Zealand, and carvings made from pounamu play an important role in Māori culture.


  1. "hei-tiki". Lexico UK English Dictionary. Oxford University Press. Archived from the original on 2021-08-20.
  2. Austin, Dougal Rex (2014). "Hei tiki: He whakamārama hōu". vuw.ac.nz. Retrieved 2019-04-12.
  3. MNZ-TPT Collection
  4. British Museum Collection
  5. "At the Globe". The New York Times . 2 February 1935. Retrieved 3 March 2019.