History of the Tiki in New Zealand design and souvenir culture November 27 2014, 0 Comments

A Short Introduction to the Tiki

Tiki is the first man of Maori mythology. Sometimes, he is said to have been the one to make the first man using a mixture of earth and blood, while one of his brothers created the first woman. Regardless of his exact role, Tiki has a strong connection with the creation of humans, making it no coincidence that he shares a name with the famous carved figures.


The Tiki in Maori Culture

Although tiki can be used to refer to carved figures of humans throughout much of Polynesia, it tends to be used to refer to the neck ornaments called hei-tiki when used in the context of the Maori and New Zealand. The most common material used to create hei-tiki was nephrite, which might be more familiar to our readers under the vernacular name of greenstone. Hei-tiki comes in an unmistakable pose with tilted heads and bowed legs. Both the tilted heads and the bowed legs are thought to reflect the form of the human embryo, which is in line with speculation that the hei-tiki serves as a representation of the original Tiki's procreative power. In fact, Maori families are said to have presented hei-tiki to women who had problems conceiving a child.

Whatever the hei-tiki's exact meaning, its importance in New Zealand culture is clear. Greenstone is a semi-precious stone that happened to be both strong and tough, making it as well-suited for practical use as for carving beautiful objects. The characteristic hardness of New Zealand greenstone  made each piece hard to shape, meaning that the creation of a hei-tiki called for hours upon hours of careful and painstaking labor. Little surprise then that examples were so often passed from generation to generation as treasured possessions in former times.

The Tiki in Modern Times

In modern times, the hei-tiki remains an evocative symbol of Maori culture and has been transformed into a symbol of the nation of New Zealand as a whole. New Zealanders have embraced it as part of their culture, resulting in its appearance on a remarkable range of objects from the everyday kitsch examples of plastic green tikis, t'shirts and bags to high art galleries and fine ceramic pieces.


Fabulous ceramic Tikis

Follow this link to see our range of ceramic tikis that draw inspiration from the past and craft the tiki into a beautiful wall art hanging.