Monday, 24 October 2011

Greenstone ~ also known as pounamu

Greenstone, known to the Maori people as pounamu, is nephrite jade, a form of jade.  It is special to New Zealanders due to its high significance in Maori culture and also for its own sake.  For many generations Maori used it for personal jewellery, in axe heads for domestic purposes, and also for weaponry. It's a hard stone and fairly heavy.

The simple piece photographed here has a good feeling about it for me. 

Greenstone is a very personal stone to own, and it's important to feel completely comfortable with it as it can have a moody effect on the wearer.  If buying another piece I would always want to meet the carver and have a good feeling about them and the purchase. 

I had a beautiful and ornate greenstone piece which I liked initially but came to feel that it was not quite right for me, so I was pleased to pass it on to someone who I know is delighted to have it.  I liked the man who carved it and he was happy to sell it to me so I was confident that the good feeling would go with it. 

There are many fine carvers in New Zealand and a host of lovely pieces to choose from.  
Paul points out that much greenstone sold in New Zealand tourist shops is made from imported greenstone; some of it is even carved in China.  It is unfortunate that many shoppers get the impression that it is local, so if you want the local product it pays to be sure of your source and possibly to buy direct direct from carvers.  Some years ago when I was enquiring about such things I was told that no greenstone beads were locally sourced as no one in the country had the equipment to make them. 

In this country greenstone only occurs in the South Island where it is often found in the rivers of the West Coast.  The Maori call the South Island Te Wai Pounamu, which means the [land of] greenstone water. 

The story of how pounamu came to be widely known to the Maori is a fascinating one, and you can read it here:
"First over the Alps - the epic of Raureka and the greenstone"
Anyone who knows the New Zealand Alps will be astonished by this story as the Alps are real mountains complete with ice, snow and glaciers, and can be treacherous even for well prepared people of modern times, and this trail blazer was a woman with only one companion!  Let's hear it for Raureka! 

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