The carvings based on Maori designs in particular have special significance. The pre-European Maori had no written language so tribal history and the stories of the gods were kept using many forms of fine arts and crafts ranging from basket and cloth weaving to complex wood, bone, shell and jade carving. These artifacts were then handed down through generations of tribal elders and became sacred objects or treasures "Taonga", telling the history of a tribe and taking on the spirits of past great leaders and warriors who had worn them.
It is believed that a carving which is worn with respect or given and received with love, takes on part of the spirit of those who wear or handle it. In this way it becomes a spiritual link between people spanning time and distance. A carving that has been worn by family or tribal members over many generations contains the spirit of all of those people and is truly a great and powerful treasure.
Pendants, jewelry 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.
The Maori have a great respect for nature and have many legends about the creation of the earth and all its inhabitants. Many of these legends revolve around the spirits or gods who created or protect each part of their world such as the mountains, the forests, the lakes and the creatures of the sea.
Most carvings combine elements from several areas of mythology which interact with each other to tell a story. Each element has its own specific meaning and the way they are portrayed or combined is what gives a carving its own special character.
The meanings of some elements vary from region to region but all share common roots.