Possession of pounamu has long been a mark of wealth and prestige, a mark of mana (high esteem) because of its merits for use as weapons or personal adornment, and traditionally because of the many hours of required to produce a taonga (unique treasure) by hand.
Pounamu is the Māori name. These rocks are also generically known as "greenstone" in New Zealand English. Pounamu (New Zealand greenstone) is a treasured stone for Maori and all New Zealanders. It is valued for its beauty, strength, and durability, and there are many stories of its origins.
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.
MĀORI USE OF POUNAMU
Initially, Māori 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. They were motoi (earrings) There were also necklaces – the tiki, maniaias, roimata tear-shaped pendants and the hook-shaped hei matau. Pōria kākā (rings to tether pet birds) were also worn as pendants.
Today many contemporary forms based on these traditional shapes are made by Ngai Tahu Carvers working under the branding “Iwi Made” which guarantees not only the authenticity of the pounamu, but also that the carvers and artisans are of true, ethnic Maori origin.
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.