Maori Hei Matau

Hei Matau is a Maori carving design that is in the shape of a fish hook. The Hei Matau is traditionally made from bone (whale bone) or jade (greenstone). The Maori make beautiful necklaces, pendants, and other types of jewelry with this design. Hei Matau carving designs range from very simple to very ornate. The design has several meanings to the Maori including prosperity, strength, land, fertility and safe voyage over water. The design also represents the importance of fishing to the Maori. It is worn by both Maori women and men and is considered a cultural treasure (taonga).

On this page of Maori Source we provide information on why this symbol is important to the Maori people, where you can buy beautiful Hei Matau jewelry, and materials used to carve these beautiful necklaces and pendants.

There are many online stores that offer Maori jewelry, including Hei Matau jewelry, for sale. Many of these stores offer cheap non-traditional products. Often these pieces are produced in China or India and are made from resin, plastic, or a bone paste. For traditional, high quality, and genuine Maori jewelry, including Hei Matau carvings you should visit The Bone Art Place. They offer necklaces, pendants, and other traditional Maori jewelry made in New Zealand by very talented artist.

Why the Hei Matau is an Important Symbol to the Maori

As mentioned above fishing was very important to the Maori. The Maori regarded fishing as tapu (a sacred activity) and there were rules dictating when they could fish and how fishing nets should be made. The fishermen would release the first fish they caught to please the god of the sea, Tangaroa. They also tried to please Tangaroa through prayer, rituals and talismans such as the Hei Matau which they hoped would protect them on fishing voyages.

Materials used for Hei Matau Carvings

As mentioned above whale bone has traditionally been the main material the Maori used to carve fish hooks. The Maori also used bone from other animals such as cattle, birds and dogs. Modern day laws put in place to prevent whale hunting have made wale bones scarce and therefore cattle bone is usually used instead. Pieces made of whale bone are highly valued. Maori carvers can still obtain whale bone from beached whales. In New Zealand the Maori have legal rights to the bones of beached whales.

Hei Matau Carvings made from greenstone (New Zealand nephrite jade) is even a more valued carving material than whale bone for the Maori. Greenstone has spiritual significance for the Maori and is a highly valued material. This jade is extremely hard and the fact that the ancient Maori craftsman could carve it into beautiful works of art is an amazing accomplishment. The Maori valued greenstone so highly that items made for this material were often passed down from generation to generation.