Pounamu is valued for both its functionality and aesthethic beauty.
What is pounamu?
Pounamu is a precious stone of cultural importance to Mãori. It is of particular significance to the Ngãi Tahu iwi (tribe) in whose territory of the South Island, most pounamu resources are found. All pounamu is sourced from river boulders and no in-place deposit has ever been found. Pounamu is also known as greenstone, or sometimes as New Zealand jade.
Jade is the name given to two types of silicate minerals that come in a variety of colours, though the most valued is green. The ‘finest’ jade is jadeite that is not found in New Zealand; the other is nephrite. No fewer than 20 countries have deposits of jade and of this number at least 17 possess nephrite, jadeite being much rarer.
Mãori classify pounamu according to colour and have named four main types; kawakawa, kaharangi, inanga and tangiwai. The first three are nephrite and the fourth is bowenite, a type of serpentine. Although the Mäori considered tangiwai a variety of pounamu, they knew of its difference from the various types of nephrite, largely because of its high level of translucence.
Uses of pounamu
The first and most consistent use of pounamu by Mãori was for tools. Consequently the majority of artifacts preserved today are adzes (toki) and chisels (whao). Throughout much of Polynesia adzes were the predominant woodworking tool.
The most significant event affecting pounamu in recent times has been the settlement of the Ngãi Tahu land claim and the restoration of ownership of the resource to Mãori hands.
Today pounamu within the Arahura River is the property of the Mawhera Incorporation. Only its shareholders/owners have free access to pounamu from the riverbed. All other persons require a permit. Pounamu outside that area, but within the ancestral land boundaries and adjacent territorial sea, is now the property of Te Runanga o Ngãi Tahu. A tribal pounamu protection officer has been stationed at Hokitika.
Protecting the natural and cultural values attached to pounamu has been a common thread in all tribal discussion about pounamu management, as has kaitiaki (guardianship) responsibility for future generations. Only by careful management of the resource will pounamu be maintained and enhanced.
Reference: Otago Museum
Te Wai Pounamu is the Māori name for New Zealand's South Island which is also sometimes referred to as Te Waka a Maui (The canoe of Maui), referring to mythology.
Ngāi Tahu, the principal Māori iwi (tribe) of the southern region of New Zealand, utilised the very hard greenstone (jade) to make adzes and other implements, as well as ornaments. Particularly valued was a paler nephrite which the Māori called inanga, gathered in a remote area near what is now called the Dart Valley. Māori named the district wāhi pounamu, meaning "place of greenstone", and the South Island came to be called Te Wāhi Pounamu. This somehow evolved into Te Wai Pounamu which means "the water(s) of greenstone" but bears no relation to the original meaning