Fine and Rare Maori Pendant in Human Form, New Zealand
Greenstone/Nephrite Jade (inanga variety pounamu)
height 4 1/2in (11.4cm)
Private Collection, New York
Private Collection, London
When Capt. James Cook asked the Maori in Queen Charlotte Sound about the greenstone or pounamu, he wrote:
"We were told all this stone is originally a fish...where they tie a rope to it, and drag it ashore...it becomes a stone" (Brailsford, Barry, Greenstone Trails - The Maori and Pounamu, Hamilton, New Zealand, 1996, p. 6).
According to Neich (1997: pp 23-5), 'Distinct from all of these forms, the jade breast ornament called hei-tiki is the most characteristic and most highly valued of all Maori personal ornaments. In some Maori origin myths, Tiki was the first man, having been created by the god Tane. Thus carvings of human figures in any material whether bone, stone or wood, may be called a tiki. The prefix hei indicates something suspended from the neck, as in hei-tiki and hei-matau. Hei-tiki may be worn by both men and women, usually hanging vertically but sometimes horizontally from a suspension point on the side, especially by women. They are passed down through the generations as family heirlooms, and during a funeral they will be displayed near the deceased, along with other family heirlooms. With their own personal names, many hei-tiki are remembered in tribal songs and oral histories. Most of the mana or prestige of the hei-tiki derives from its close contact with those great ancestors who have worn it in the past, rather than from any magical or mystical meaning. Some would argue for a phallic symbolism in hei-tiki, while others claim that they represent fertility, perhaps in the form of a human embryo. Most commentators would agree that many of the current meanings attached to hei-tiki are relatively recent interpretations of an ancient symbol refined by many generations of artists. It is only natural that such a potent image as the hei-tiki would be subject to continuing reinterpretation. Consequently, any search for the "original meaning" of the hei-tiki is probably futile.'
This exceptional hei-tiki is finely stone carved from the most highly sought after variety of pounamu or nephrite jade from the Maori inanga stone, named after the young white bait fish because of its pearly-white, blue-white or light green color; the considerable wear evidenced on the back and to the suspension hole indicate an early, possibly 18th century production date.