Pounamu refers to several types of hard, durable and highly valued nephrite jade, bowentine, and serpentine stone found in southern New Zealand. As the mountains of the South Island formed over the last two million years, the narrow bands containing pounamu were lifted up to the earth’s surface. The action of rivers and glaciers released the stone from its host rock into screes, (river gravel) and glacial deposits.
Pounamu continues to be carried into rivers and down to the sea by erosion. In the more accessible areas, any exposed pounamu has been quickly collected.
Initially, Maori used pounamu to make tools. The toki (adze) was a useful hand tool for carving. In addition, ripi pounamu (knives) and scrapers are among the oldest pounamu artefacts known. Other less common items were fish hook barbs, awls, hammer stones, drill points and bird spear points.
In addition to tools, Pounamu was used for jewellery and adornment. A number of items were made from Pounamu, which included motoi.
There were also necklaces – the Hei Tiki, Maniaia, Roimata and thefish hook-shaped hei matau. Pōria kākā were also worn as pendants.
More than 80% of all (jade products) sold and marketed as greenstone in New Zealand are manufactured in Asia from Canadian Jade. Many New Zealand factories and some carvers also use the cheaper Canadian jade.
Pounamu/greenstone has a diverse range of colours. The strong spiritual connection Tangata Whenua (Indigenous New Zealand Maori ) have with Pounamu is revealed in the personification of the various stone types.
Each Pounamu type was given an identity by Maori that relate to the world around them. Maori were descriptive, naming pounamu after native birds, fish and plants.