Maori Carving Symbol Meanings

Maori Carving Symbol Meanings


The Manaia is a mythological creature in Māori culture, and is a common motif in Māori carving and jewellery.

The Manaia is usually depicted as having the head of a bird and the body of a man, though it is sometimes depicted as a bird, a serpent, or a human figure in profile. Other interpretations include a seahorse and a lizard.

The Manaia is traditionally believed to be the messenger between the earthly world of mortals and the domain of the spirits, and its symbol is used as a guardian against evil. In this form, it is usually represented in a figure-of-eight shape, the upper half culminating in a bird-like beak. Manaia designs vary subtly in form between iwi, though they are often depicted as three-fingered, with these digits representing the trinity of birth, life, and death. A fourth finger, representing the circular rhythms of the life cycle and the afterlife, is also sometimes shown.



The Koru (Māori for "loop") is a spiral shape based on the shape of a new unfurling silver fern frond symbolizing new life, growth, strength and peace. It is an integral symbol in Māori art, carving and tattoos. The circular shape of the koru helps to convey the idea of perpetual movement while the inner coil suggests a return to the point of origin.


Pikorua, The Maori Twist Symbol

The Maori twist or Pikorua resembles two intertwined pikopiko ferns. Pikopiko is a pale green new-growth fern frond that thrives in shady, damp areas of the New Zealand woods and Rua is the Maori word for the number two.

The entanglement has no beginning or end which refers to an eternal bond between two autonomous entities. These entities might be two persons. The pikorua symbol shows how individuals sometimes go their own way on their path of life but always come back together because of their strong bond hence the description of pikorua as “The path of love and life”. Another common description because of its meaning is ‘two person friendship pendant’.

The Pikorua symbolizes the strength and beauty of enduring friendship and interwoven lives. It is inspired by the symbols of life and growth.

Because the pikorua stands for infinite partnership, it makes it a perfect gift for lovers, newlyweds, fiancees, or others who want to emphasize their connection, their love for each other, their loyalty and friendship.



The name translates as hei (suspend, around the neck) and tiki (man). According to Te Papa, New Zealand’s national museum, the origin of the hei tiki pendant is obscure. One theory is that the hei-tiki represents Hine-te-iwaiwa, a celebrated ancestress associated with fertility and the virtuous qualities of Maori womanhood. In marriage the family of the husband often gave a hei-tiki to the women if she was having trouble conceiving. Another theory is that the hei-tiki is connected with Tiki, the first man in Maori legend. In some Maori tribes, hei-tiki were buried when their guardian (the person wearing the hei-tiki) died, and would later be retrieved and placed somewhere special to be brought out in times of mourning. It would then be handed to the next generation to be worn. This is how the mana (importance) of the tiki increased and increases.

Toki - Adze

Toki were originally a practical tool employed in axes, chisels and weaponry. They were also used in toki poutangata, a purely ceremonial taonga (treasures) wielded by the leader in the tribe with the most importance. The new age understanding of the design is that it represents strength and courage. This is because it had to be strong so as not to break when being used as a tool, and because only strong important individuals wielded the toki poutangata in traditional Maori society.


Hei Matau

A hei matau is a bone or greenstone carving in the shape of a highly stylised fish hook. It represents strength, good luck and safe travel across water.

The fish-hook shape of the hei matau finds its origins in Māori legend, which holds that the North Island of New Zealand was once a huge fish that was caught by the great mariner Maui using only a woven line and a hook made from the jawbone of his grandmother. Legend holds that the shape of the Hawkes' Bay is that of the hei matau, which caught in the fish's side on the beach. The Māori name for the North island, Te Ika a Maui ("The fish of Maui") reflects this legend.

For the Māori, the hei matau is taonga (a cultural treasure). It represents not only their land, but also prosperity, fertility and safe passage over water. They also denote the importance of fishing to Māori, and their relationship to Tangaroa god of the sea.

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