60. The story behind pounamu (aka New Zealand jade)
Māori culture can – and should – be experienced in all forms across the country: from the historical to the geothermal and, in some cases literally carved into the storied landscape: here is No. 60 of our 101 Reasons To Stop Dreaming About New Zealand And Go.
Many Australian holidaymakers return from New Zealand with a souvenir of greenstone tucked into their luggage, but many don’t know the rich cultural backstory of this beautiful gem. Pounamu, also known as New Zealand jade or greenstone, has a treasured spiritual significance to the Māori people and has been used over centuries to denote status and power, carved into jewellery, weapons and tribal heirlooms. Mere pounamu were greenstone weapons bestowed upon tribal chieftains, and were considered by Māori to be as valuable as any precious gem (if not more so). The fact that pounamu is only found naturally on the South Island, hence its Māori name of Te Waipounamu, also makes it completely unique.
There are four main types of pounamu, differing in colour and translucence –kawakawa, kahurangi, īnanga and tangiwai– a fact that Arahura Greenstone Tours in the West Coast/Te Tai o Poutini region is well placed to explain. Offering a singular cultural experience, Māori guides will share ancient legends of pounamu’s creation and help visitors find this most coveted of treasures on a guided walk along the sacred Arahura River, known as one of the richest sources of pounamu in the country.
The local guides have a unique connection to the river and the surrounding area that goes back many generations, and are generous in sharing their knowledge and love of Te Tai o Poutini. During your time with Arahura Greenstone Tours you’ll be shown how to find small pieces of pounamu and learn how to carve this precious stone into a necklace; the resulting taonga (treasure) is yours to keep and cherish.
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