Thursday, 6 September 2012

'Green Nephritick Stone'

1886.1.1150 Mere pounamu

This Maori cleaver is thought to be Forster No. 115, 'A ditto (pattou-pattou) of green nephritick stone.'

1886.1.1150 showing modified blade edge

The cleaver is interesting because it appears to have been modified to form an adze blade.  Possibly this was because of the flaw in the stone which has affected the shape of the handle - this part would be hidden by the bindings holding an adze blade onto its wooden handle. Some grooves are present in the stone - these could be more evidence of re-shaping. Jade (greenstone, pounamu) could be sawn, using sandstone to rub the surface, with a little water as a lubricant.  Once the groove was deep enough, quartz sand was introduced which would speed up the sawing process.

1886.1.1150 Surface of greenstone

There are three main sources of jade in New Zealand, all of them on the South Island, which became known by the Maori as Te Wai Pounamu, the water of jade. Jade was traded over the whole of New Zealand, and as Roger Neich writes in 'Pounamu: Maori Jade of New Zealand' (Auckland Museum, 1997), 'Famous jade artefacts provided links between ancestors and their present descendants, confirming rank and tribal status…jade carried connotations of the mythological homeland of Hawaiki, the source of life, knowledge and mana. It provided a direct tangible contact with the ancestors.  By handling and wearing jade treasures once owned by illustrious ancestors, living Maori people are able to share in the strength and power of their ancestors.'

Several types of jade were described.  Inanga pounamu was the colour of the native New Zealand minnow, being pearly-white or light green.  The most common variety was called kawakawa, because it was the colour of the young leaves of the kawakawa bush (Macropiper excelsum).  The third main variety was called kahurangi, 'the robe of the sky', because it was highly transparent and of a vivid colour.  There were other varieties, such as pipiwharauroa (breast of the shining cuckoo) and totoweka (blood of the weka bird) but there is some overlap in using these names.