Hei-Tiki

This hei-tiki is made of Kahurangi Pounamu a precious nephrite jade greenstone, discovered by the indigenous Maori in New Zealand (Aotearoa) and found within boulders of the crystal clear mountain rivers of the South Island. It was passed down to me as an heirloom (Toanga) from my sister Fiona and through our NZ born mother. Though we were raised as children in North Wales, our mother’s homeland The-Land-Of-The-Long-White-Cloud 41° 00' S and 174 ° 00' E featured significantly in our upbringing. This special relationship continues today and whenever we are away from NZ we always ensure we are closely connected to its land and people. The term tiki is applied to carved human figures, both by the Maori and by other Polynesians and is usually worn on the human figure as a pendant or neck ornament. The full name is hei-tiki. 

It is a very hard stone and a laborious skill to work, especially so with the primitive grinding tools available to the Neolithic Maori.
Although the Maori have occupied New Zealand since about 1280 AD, the historical origins of tiki are not understood as they are virtually absent from the archaeological record. For a precious item, this is not surprising because few would have been lost or discarded. Tikis are considered prestige items in New Zealand and protected as heirlooms in both Maori and European families. They increase in mana (prestige) as they pass from one generation to another with the most prized Tiki being those with known histories going back many generations. They are worn by Maori on ceremonial occasions and are highly valued treasures to their owners.

It is likely this hei-tiki was passed down to my mother through my grandmother Beatrice the great-granddaughter of William Beetham RA the English portrait artist who founded the NZ Academy of Fine Art in Wellington and who painted several Maori Kings and Chiefs and received in return their precious treasures. It may also have come via my mother’s second cousin Eric Ramsden (writer and art critic) who was a close confidante of Maori Princess Te Puea Herangi who he assisted in important Maori affairs with the colonial NZ government.

It is thought that the hei-tiki ornament is a fertility charm representing the human embryo, and should be worn only by women, although early European visitors saw Māori men wearing the hei-tiki.
My mother continued this tradition and passed the tiki to any of her friends in Wales who were hoping to have a baby and having difficulty conceiving. I know it had a successful mission on the very first occasion it was put to use and the mother was thrilled.

Toby Clark
Polymath