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The Greenstone Pendant Meanings


What are the meanings behind greenstone pendants?

Pounamu, more commonly known as jade or greenstone, is a stone mostly found on the West Coast of the South Island of New Zealand. This precious stone has been used for hundreds of years by the New Zealand Maori in tools, weapons and jewellery. The tradition still lives on today, mostly seen as pendants for necklaces. With that, these greenstone pendants come in many different designs, each with their own meanings. So what are the greenstone pendant meanings?

There are six commonly-used designs in greenstone pendants, which we explain in this article. However, with a significant number of master carvers throughout the country creating their own designs, you’re likely to see designs beyond the ones mentioned below. What’s more, many carving studios in New Zealand can custom-make greenstone pendants or even give you a masterclass on carving your own. A popular method is to combine traditional designs or make your own additions to original designs.

Greenstone pendants are traditionally gifted to another, so knowing the greenstone pendant meanings will make it easier to choose the perfect gift. Get more gift ideas at 10 Fun Gifts to Bring Back from New Zealand and 11 New Zealand Souvenirs for your Friends and Family.

The 9 Shades of Jade

Greenstone is found in many different colours and patterns. If you find some greenstone (perhaps by following the tips in 10 Tips to Find Greenstone in Hokitika) you can identify it as one of the following stones.

  • Inanga – A grey/green colour that is found either opaque or translucent
  • Kahurangi – One of the rarest types of greenstone, Kahurangi is a highly translucent light green shade free from flaws
  • Kawakawa – A dark green shade with varying intermediate shades
  • Tangiwai – An olive to blueish-green bowenite
  • Auhunga – A pale green opaque stone
  • Kahotea – Greenstone flecked with white
  • Kokopu – A dark brown stone with olive and yellow markings also known as trout-stone
  • Raukaraka – A kawakawa stone flecked with shades of olive green
  • Totoweka – A rare kawakawa type with small red flecks and spots.
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The Koru (spiral)

What does it look like?

The koru is a simple spiral shape and a very common design for greenstone pendants, Maori tattoos and art.

What does it mean?

Said to have derived from the unfurling fern frond seen on New Zealand’s silver ferns, the koru depicts new beginnings, growth and harmony. The koru greenstone pendant can also mean the promise of a meaningful relationship.


The Fish Hook (Hei Matau)

What does it look like?

The fish hook is exactly what it says on the tin: it is shaped like a fishing hook. This common Maori design derives from the Maori ancestors being seafarers and relying on the ocean to provide.

What does it mean?

The fish hook represents strength, determination, prosperity and good health. To gift a fish hook to someone wished the wearer safe passage over water.



What does it look like?

The Toki is a simple design shaped like a rectangular chisel. Perhaps one of the most important symbols in Maori culture, the Toki was originally used as a carving tool and is developed as a ceremonial token or inherited treasure (taonga).

What does it mean?

The Toki symbolises strength and courage.



What does it look like?

The twist comes as one or more crossovers, much like the infinity symbol. Twist designs most commonly come as a single, double or triple twist.

What does it mean?

The twist represents the bonding of a special friendship or relationship: two lives becoming one for eternity.



What does it look like?

A more complex design, the Manaia looks like an “S” or backwards “S”, likely to have decorative elements around it. Traditionally, the shape is depicted with the head of a bird, the body of a man or the tail of a fish.

What does it mean?

With the traditional elements of the bird, man and fish, the Manaia represents the sky, earth and sea and the balance between them. More generally, the Manaia is a spiritual guardian and the carrier of supernatural powers.


Hei Tiki

What does it look like?

Another complex design, hei tiki is shaped like a person with a large head tilted on its shoulders. The mouth is usually open with the tongue sticking out. Its eyes are often inlaid with paua or mother of pearl.

What does it mean?

Traditionally, hei tiki is the chief son of Rangi and Papa (the Sky Father and the Earth Mother). It often represents a vessel for ancestral spirits or supernatural beings.

To learn more about Maori traditions, see The Maori Culture in New Zealand.

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