Aotearoa Pounamu

It is sometimes hard to find the perfect souvenir, especially from a place that was once also home.  I was looking for something particularly meaningful, a bit of a statement of my past. I already have a bone fishhook – a very traditional symbol representing the hook used by Maui when he hooked and pulled Aotearoa from the sea.  Hei Matua (the fishing hook) represents strength & determination, and safe passage over water.

Polynesian Sailing Canoe at Auckland Museum

I wanted to add to this something carved from Greenstone (also known as Jade). With such a flood of cheap Chinese knockoffs, and non-New Zealand Jade being sold as if it was genuine, I tried hard to identify something locally crafted, from genuine New Zealand stone. As a woodworker, there was an extra layer of meaning in the piece I chose – a traditional adze-head form. Greenstone is Pounamu in the native tongue (an official language in New Zealand).

It is said that each piece absorbs the mana (the spirit) of the individual, and the stone forever yearns for its source- Aotearoa, and a promise that those whole leave the shores will one day return. (Added importance therefore of getting New Zealand stone, and not some Chinese knockoff.  To be fair, Canada is also a source of quality Jade, and a lot of that is also sold in New Zealand.  Look for “New Zealand Nephrite Jade”.  If it just says “Nephrite Jade” it is likely British Colombian.  If it doesn’t have that, it is likely to be Chinese. You have to ask if it is not clear.  Not that Chinese jade is necessarily of lesser quality, but I have a problem with the concept that I am trying to buy something authentic- hand crafted/carved Aotearoa Pounamu (New Zealand Greenstone), and don’t want some cheap crap machine manufactured, potentially inferior quality jade that may or may not be chemically treated so it looks better than it is.)

Greenstone is a traditional material chosen primarily for its ornamental properties. It was used as a practical material although was often reserved for obsidian- a volcanic glass. Very hard, and being glass, can be chipped to form an extremely sharp working edge.

Adze Heads at Auckland Museum

I must admit to being very disappointed (but I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised) when I discovered that there was so much foreign jade imported, and shaped offshore into traditional designs.  Why there isn’t a ban on the importation of it is rather confusing. Is the pursuit of the almighty dollar more important than heritage? One major reseller of jade in Rotorua looked as if almost 3/4 of their stock was foreign materials and/or foreign shaped & carved.

Something to be aware of, if shopping for a memento, and wanted something traditional. Not everything green is (NZ) stone.

Aotearoa Pounamu

Other than the bone fish hook (Hei Matua) that I already had, the Adze head piece was the one that I added this time.  Known as Toki, it was originally a carving tool that became ceremonial, inherited Taonga (treasure), which symbolises strength and courage.

The final piece was one my wife got, which incorporates the Koru, which is the unfurling fern frond and depicts new beginnings and growth.  Both jade pieces were carved by a young Rotorua carver Scott Parker.

Silver Fern Frond

2 Responses

  1. Hi Stu,
    Probably for the same reason NZ apples are imported into OZ, you can’t stop them.

    • Except Coles and Woolworths have decided not to stock them, so that still keeps them away from a large portion of the shopping population. And when they do sell fruit, they plainly advertise the country of origin.
      So even though there is the opportunity to import, the reseller doesn’t have to offer them.

      It is a shame there is so much animosity between New Zealand and Australia: disguised under a veil of “friendly competitiveness” but it does seem to run deeper than that. The media are particularly guilty of it, but scare tactics such as not wanting to get Fireblight into Australia being the justification used to block apple imports don’t help (seeing as there is already Fireblight in both countries)

      Bananas are another example – at the moment, Australian growers cannot supply due to reasons beyond their control. Offering the few fruits that are available for $12-$13/kg discourages anyone from buying, so a vast majority of the remaining fruit sits in the store until it rots – a stupid waste. NZ imports their bananas, and are currently paying around $0.80/kg and they are not inferior bananas either. Not sure how the Australian growers are protected by overcharging for the few that are available – means they don’t sell anyway. The temporary shortage could be propped up by import, tapering it off as local supply is restored.

      But getting back to the original point – it is one thing to have imports – fruit or greenstone. It is another to try to offload a non-genuine product by deception, rather than being open and honest in your trade and letting the purchaser make their own decision. Trade embargoes can be in place – in the main they do work when required to stop an unwanted import (such as bananas), and lifted when no longer justified (as has happened in the case of NZ apples).

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