Traditional carved bone jewelry pieces find their origin in everyday items that evolved into pieces of art carrying spiritual messages.
For New Zealand travellers bone carvings make great travel gifts. For the Maori and Pacific population of NZ a carving may indicate cultural identity, a valuable talisman, or family heirloom. Carved jewelry comes in many materials and shapes. Some mirror traditional shapes and others build on traditional shapes but show the distinct signature of the carver and others venture into contemporary designs. The variety available makes bone carvings a valuable gift for many occasions.
More than 1000 years ago, the migrating Maori population introduced the tradition of carved mataus, fishhooks, with their craftsmanship. Settling into a new environment required adjustments in food sourcing. Water surrounds New Zealand therefore fish became naturally a staple food to secure the migrants’ survival.
Fish varieties accessible along the coast depend on region and season. According to needs, fishhooks soon varied in shape and material to attract different species. Fishing success has had a direct influence on family and tribal well-being.
In Maori tradition objects are carrier of mana which means spiritual essence. This resulted in a design of hooks serving the purpose and symbol to support the fishing venture best. Therefore, a fishhook matau transforms to Hei-Matau. Hei-Matau is a fishhook worn as an adorning pendant. The Fishhook symbol spiritually supports abundance, prosperity and safe travel particularly over sea.
The general belief is when an ornamental carving changes owner as family heirloom the spiritual energy, mana, of its pre-possessor tied to the pendant, may strengthen spiritually the new owner. The more important and the higher the achievements of the owner have been the more valuable and powerful the carving becomes. As such, family heirlooms became important requisites to keep family history alive.
Bones of whales, birds, dogs and humans were materials used in traditional carvings alongside wood, paua shells and pounamu. Each material served a different purpose like shape, size or strength. Highly treasured were whalebones for their density and size. Traditionally only stranded whales are used. Whales embody a present of Tangaroa, the god of the sea, in Maori mythology.
Today beef bones are most widely used for carved pendants. Smoking with manuka honey or leaves results in colour variations that enhance the natural texture in carved bone jewelry. Some carvers reach their colour nuances by use of different bones. Great sources are horse bones, pig tusks, deer antlers and goat horns.
Today, whalebones still come from stranded ocean mammals and are a matter of conservation and the local iwi, tribe.Learn about mastercarver and their work...