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New Zealand Jade


New Zealand jade is the type called Nephrite. And is known as 'pounamu' in the Mâori language. Jade plays a very important part in the Mâori culture. It is regarded as a treasure, 'taonga' and is protected under the Treaty of Waitangi*.

New Zealand jade can only be found in the South Island (Te Wai Pounamu in Mâori: "The [land of] Greenstone Water", or Te Wahi Pounamu, "The Place of Greenstone) and its production is monitored to restrict exploitation.

Jade was, and still is, used by the Maori for tools and ornaments. It used to be used for weapons as well, the 'adze' or short club being common. More famous these days is the Hei-Tiki worn as a neck pendant. These are considered to have their own 'mana' or life force and are handed down through the generations as valuable heirlooms. They are also very often given as gifts to seal important agreements.

It is found principally in and around the rivers of the West Coast where Maori search for it and carved it into intricate, beautiful and culturally significant decorations and weapons. The great Maori legends feature in traditional Pounamu jewelry, often given as a gift to love and protect the wearer.

One name often used for nephrite jade in New Zealand English is "greenstone." Although widely used to describe the material used for jewellery items made for the tourist trade, it is a misnomer and simply engenders confusion. The stone should be correctly referred to as "nephrite" or "nephrite jade." Nephrite jewellery of Maori design is widely popular with locals and tourists, although some of the jade used for these is now actually imported from British Columbia and elsewhere.

*Treaty of Waitangi. The Treaty of Waitangi (Mâori: Te Tiriti o Waitangi) is a treaty first signed on February 6, 1840, by representatives of the British Crown, and various Mâori chiefs from the northern North Island of New Zealand. The Treaty established a British governor in New Zealand, recognised Mâori ownership of their lands and other properties, and gave Maori the rights of British subjects.

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