Maori Bone Carvings

I must say I’m intrigued and will definitely get me one! Cos I love the designs……

*update as at 1300hrs* Yay my order just arrived in the letterbox! Look towards  the end of this post…Oh and try not to laugh too loud eh!

The Maori & Their Bone Artwork

Bone carving is a traditional and often sacred craft practiced by some of the more warlike native tribes around the world. Bone carvings by the New Zealand Maori are some of the most beautiful wearable art works available today and come in a wide variety of styles from very traditional pieces to the more contemporary or modern styles.

The New Zealand Maori Tribes settled New Zealand nearly a thousand years before the white man (Pakeha) arrived in their tall ships. They had themselves also come by sea, paddling and sailing their long canoes from the far away Pacific islands. Those that survived the journey were a very fierce and warring group of tribes who quickly settled into their new home, living in large fortified villages called “Pa’s”. These, like medieval castles had lookout towers, high spiked wooden walls and lethal traps around the perimeter which could hold off even very formidable forces. The British troops later found out just how effective these fortifications were and also how fierce the Maori warriors were in battle.

New Zealand is known as “Aotearoa” to the Maori which means “Land of the long white cloud” and refers to the clouds hanging over the mountain peaks which the ancient Pacific island settlers in their canoes first noticed as they approached the land.

The pre-European Maori had no written language so tribal history was kept using many forms of fine arts and crafts ranging from basket and cloth weaving to complex wood, bone and jade carving. These artifact were then handed down through generations of tribal elders and became sacred objects, telling the history of a tribe and taking on the spirits of past great leaders and warriors who had worn them.

Pendants, jewellery and various tools such as needles, spear tips and fish hooks made from bone developed into a fine art form with great importance being placed on every piece, many of which took years to make using stone tools. Some have inlays of precious stones or colourful shell and all have a story or meaning behind their design.

Hei-Matau Bone Carvings:

These very stylised fish hook bone carvings or pendants represent prosperity,abundance, fertility and strength. They are also seen as good luck charms, particularly for those traveling over water. Hei-Matau are symbols of power and authority which are held in great reverence by the Maori people. Some also incorporate inlays of beautiful rainbow coloured Paua shell.

Manaia Bone Carvings:

The Manaia is an ancient mythical being with a birds head and a human form. It is said to be the messenger between the earthly world of mortals and the domain of the spirits. The Manaia is a holder of great spiritual energy and is a guardian against evil. It can be seen blended into many Maori designs with subtle differences between tribes. This section also includes many other beings from Maori mythology.

Koru Bone Carvings:

The Koru, represents the fern frond as it opens bringing new life and purity to the world. It also represents peace, tranquility and spirituality, along with a strong sense of regrowth or new beginnings.
The Koru is also often associated with nurturing so when interlocked with others is frequently used to represent the strength and purity of a loving relationship or family.

The Koru is often intertwined with other forms such as twists and matau to tell a very special and powerful story.

Twist Bone Carvings:

The twist with its crisscross form represents the many paths of life and love and as such is regarded as the original eternity symbol. The single twist in particular shows the joining together of two people for eternity. Even though they sometimes move away from each other on their own journeys, they will always come together again sharing their lives and blending to become one. It tells how the strength of bond of friendship, loyalty and love will last forever.

My Manaia!

My Manaia!


Close Up....

*Drum Rolls* Presenting………………….

Maori Jules! (Tribal name Maowannabe)

Maori Jules! (Tribal name Maowannabe)

10 Responses

  1. I had to wiki the myth surrounding Manaia. Looks good 🙂

    I hope Seth gets over his stomach flu soon.

    • Oh you mean the design looks good or that it looks good on me? 😳

      Well it will take at least another 24hrs before we might see improvement….*sighs*

      Didn’t really manage to find anything useful on Wiki but I found this elsewhere.

      This curious feature of Maori carving has been the subject of much controversy and is variously seen as a bird-headed man, a bird, a serpent, or a human figure in profile. The name is all that has been left to us by authoritative Maoris. Williams’ Dictionary of the Maori Language gives the following meanings for manaia: a grotesque beaked figure sometimes introduced in carving; ornamental work, a lizard; the sea-horse; a raft; and, as an adjective, fastidious. It is interesting that in Samoa the word (with the causative prefix) fa’amanaia means to decorate or embellish. In Niue the cognate word fakamanaia means the same. As the main use of the manaia is to embellish the principal figures, it seems very likely that the name simply means “embellishment” or “decoration”.

      A study of Maori carving quickly brings out two outstanding features. The first is that, apart from the naturalistic figure, every type of full-faced figure has a manaia to match. The second feature is that the head of the manaia can, in each case, be recognised as half of the head of the appropriate matching figure divided down the middle of the face. This obvious fact does not appear to have been noted in a scientific paper until Archey drew attention to it in 1933. It is quite clear that most, at least, of the manaia in carving are grotesque human figures shown in profile – see the poupou in the porch below. ( view is supported by the fact that full-faced figures and manaia may be used interchangeably in certain types of carving. A good example is the pare, or door lintel, which almost invariably has three main figures. These may be three full-faced figures or one central full-faced figure with a manaia on either side.

      Many experts strongly contend that the manaia is a bird-headed man, or even a bird. There is very little traditional evidence to support either view and, as Archey has pointed out, the manaia normally has the distinctly non-avian characteristic of teeth, or at least one tooth. The very fact that only the name has come down to us from the ancient carvers seems to imply that there was nothing extraordinary about the manaia and that it was just another example of the primary element in carving the human figure.

      The manaia is a most versatile creature of the greatest use to carvers, as it can be distorted or mutilated, almost at will, to fit any space which needs to be filled. It may simply be an eye and a mouth, with or without a nose, tongue, or teeth; it may be a head and one arm, with or without hand; it may have two arms and no body, one arm, one leg, and a body, or the full complement of body and extremities. Manaia may be used to form the hands or fingers of large figures, or sometimes even the arms or feet. In most carving compositions, the background between the high-relief figures is filled in with manaia engaged in the most amazing contortions. It is common for a part of one manaia to form part of another one; for instance, the curved arm of one may also be the mouth of an adjacent manaia. Occasionally a manaia may look very like a snake, but what appears to be a snake body may simply be a curved arm with the hand not shown. There are no terrestrial snakes in New Zealand, and sea snakes are rare.

      Manaia – mythical bird-like person with the head in profile and coming to a point which gives the appearance of a beak. Sometimes the head portion only was used as a separate design to replace the hands and feet of an otherwise normal figure. It was much used in the carved barge boards of canoes and for the door and window lintels of carved buildings. The manaia can mean many things in Maori folklore, but this spritual and mythical creature was and still is regarded as a tribal guardian. Some were grotesque figures while others were almost human, but still with a fierce facial expression. There are three fingers and toes or claws on each limb.


      Manaia: man-ni-ah, n. New Zealand (Maori)

      Mythical creature, traditionally depicted with the head of a bird the body of a man and the tail of a fish – representing sky, earth and sea and the balance between;

      The Manaia is thought to act as a guardian or conscience, reminding those in its care of right and wrong and offering protection from mistakes of all magnitude.

      Revered as a supernatural being the Manaia acts as a guardian to ward off danger and frighten away intruders and will guide your spirit to where it is supposed to go.

  2. wow very nice! mine looks similar, but much simpler design.
    i wore my taonga for years when i lived in nz, never took it off. i still kept it on when i went back to singapore, but eventually exchanged it for a cross. 🙂
    it’s hanging on my mirror now. i’ve had it for 13 years, and it’s still very dear to me…

    • Taonga as in treasure, heirloom eh?! Well any idea what yours was? As in…was it a manaia too?

      What I particularly love about the design I chose, is that apart from what is said about the Manaia….this one also shows it intertwined with the curled form of the fern frond which represents new life and purity. In addition to that, it also has a similar form to the Hei-Matau which represents the sea and prosperity or abundance.

      I now wear the cross on my heart…. 😉

      I own three physical crosses which are my favourites :

      a gold crucifix, the titanium one I blogged about in an earlier post and this one…..
      the inscription reads “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. Jesus” (John 15:13)

  3. oh my gosh that nail cross is beautiful and the words so niiiice!

    i can’t remember what mine is, but i’m pretty sure it’s a hei-matau. i love it so much, i’d probably cry if i lost it. haha.

    • *nods* I chose that particular inscription out of many!

      And I fully understand how it feels when you treasure something.

      However as I’ve aged, so have I learned not to hold dearly that which will perish or simply that which I cannot take with me when I’m laid to rest.

  4. i must say i know nothing bout those carvings but u really look like one of the natives!~! aahhhaha

    • Why Thank You…..I think… 😕

  5. had a manaia a long time ago.. got it from NZ when i lived there.

    dont have it anymore though.. 😦

    nice piece!

    • Thanks I love it! In fact I also got a Hei Matau done by Artist Hepi Maxwell better known for his jade pieces!

      cheers! 😉

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