Exploring the niho (tooth) design.
The greenstone niho (tooth) design is thought to represent strength, leadership and resilience and its symbolism is commonly associated with two animals – the whale and the shark.
In Māori culture, whales were considered gifts of the ocean and believed to be treasures cast onto the beach by Tangaroa (the great god of the sea). When a whale washed up onto the shores, Māori would use its meat as food, the blubber as preserving oil, and the bones and teeth were carved into adornments and weaponry.
Traditionally, whale teeth are important cultural objects throughout the Pacific.
In Fiji, tabua (sperm whale teeth) were used in negotiations between chiefs and gifted as a symbol of respect or to pay penance for wrongdoings. In New Zealand the Rei Puta (whale tooth neck pendant) was fashioned by early settlers and thought to represent wisdom, mana and knowledge. Such as many Māori adornments, the Rei Puta was not only decorative - it had ceremonial significance and was believed to be a talisman connected to Māori mythology.
Whales were not actively hunted by Māori, therefore genuine Rei Puta (whale tooth neck pendants) are rare - but they have been found in some of New Zealand’s earliest archaeological sites. However, imitation Rei Puta were often made from the bones of moa or painstakingly carved into stone - such as pounamu - and have been found throughout New Zealand.
Mako (shark tooth adornments) were also highly esteemed and treasured by Māori and often worn from the ear. Sharks play a role in many Māori legends and have been symbolic throughout time of guardianship, trust and protection. It was thought that by wearing mako, or a replica carved from pounamu, you would be spiritually connected to the shark’s energy and take on its characteristics of ferocity, strength and persistence. As with other pounamu adornments it is also believed that when shark pendants are passed down through whanau (family), the strengths and traits of tūpuna (ancestors) would be passed on through the stone.
Sharks are known as powerful, resilient creatures that dominate the oceans.
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