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Pounamu - Māori Sacred Greenstone

Waters's edge, Punakaiki-1

The South Island Ngāi Tahu people have a particularly close relationship with pounamu, which is found only within their tribal area. It is valued for its strength, durability and beauty. However, its value transcends the aesthetic and practical properties. Because of its link with chiefs and peace making, it is considered to have mana (status) and to be tapu (sacred).

~ Te Ara

There are many different tribal traditions about the origins of pounamu. The following is adapted from a version given by Tipene O’Regan of the Ngāi Tahu tribe.

Poutini was a taniwha or guardian of pounamu. He feared another taniwha named Whaitipū, the guardian of Hinehōaka, who was the goddess of sandstone. Traditionally, sandstone knives were used to cut pounamu.

Once, Poutini was being pursued in the sea by Whaitipū and took refuge in a bay at Tūhua (Mayor Island, in the Bay of Plenty). There, Poutini observed a beautiful woman named Waitaiki coming down to the water to bathe. Enthralled by her beauty, he captured her and swam towards the mainland.

When Tamaāhua, Waitaiki’s husband, discovered that his wife was missing, he used karakia (incantations) and divination with a small, dart-like spear to find her. He threw the spear, which pointed towards the location of Poutini.

Tamaāhua chased Poutini through the North Island and down to the South Island, eventually finding him at the Arahura River. Fearing capture, but refusing to give Waitaiki up, Poutini turned her into his own essence – pounamu – and laid her in the river bed at the junction of the Arahura and a nearby stream. That stream became known as Waitaiki, and ever since it has been a significant source of pounamu, as is the Arahura River. Tamaāhua did not see Poutini, who slipped past him, and on finding his wife turned to īnanga (a type of pounamu) he grieved for her and then returned home.

Poutini, having eluded Tamaāhua, continued down the river to the coast. Since that time, he has swum the West Coast acting as a guardian spirit of the land and pounamu. From this comes the name Te Tai Poutini (the tides of Poutini) for the West Coast.

~ Te Ara on Origins of Pounamu

The 1996 Deed of On-Account Settlement included, as a sign of the Crown's good faith, an undertaking to return ownership of Pounamu (greenstone) to Ngāi Tahu. This was given effect through the passing of the Ngāi Tahu (Pounamu Vesting) Act 1997 on 25 September 1997. This recognises that in selling land to the Crown last century, Ngāi Tahu never intended to give up ownership of the highly-prized Pounamu resource. As the legislation has now been passed, ownership of Pounamu has returned to Ngāi Tahu. Pounamu is now protected by our Kaupapa Taiao unit and is subject to the Pounamu Management Plan, which was released in 2002.

~ Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu

Milford sound, Fiordland-1

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Greenstone Trails

"Prized for its beauty and durability, honored for its spiritual powers and its mana, greenstone was fundamental to the life of the indigenous peoples of New Zealand. Yet it was not won easily, for in nature it lies hidden deep in most inhospitable terrain."

"Barry Brailsford follows in the footsteps of those who searched the rivers and mountains of the wilderness for the precious pounamu. In this edition he has written much that is new to open even wider perspectives on New Zealand's past."

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