Ancient cultural tradition of the
Maori people of New Zealand hold that the great fisherman and mariner Maui
caught a giant fish with a woven line and a fish hook carved from the jaw bone
of his grandmother. The hook caught in
the fish’s side, requiring it to be dragged ashore in Hawke’s Bay on the North
Island of New Zealand. The Maori people
call the North Island of New Zealand “Te Ika a Maui,” (The fish of Maui), so in
acknowledgement of this tradition, the hei matau is an ornately carved hook
that resembles the shape of Hawke’s Bay.
It was always carved from whale bone, but with bans on whale fishing,
they had to find alternative materials, such as green stone, cow bone, or even
ground cow bone in resin. New Zealand
law, however, allows the Maori the right to harvest the bodies of any whales
stranded on the islands that are unable to be refloated.
The significance of the hei matau
is that it is considered a taonga, or cultural treasure, and is commonly worn
as a necklace to honor both their culture and Tangaroa, the God of the
Sea. It acknowledges their close ties to
fishing, and is believed to show a great respect for the sea, and to insure
safety while traveling on water.
International trade has carried the hei matau around the world, so it is
now seen elsewhere. It is supposed to carry
particular significance when presented as a gift, so Jean purchased one and
made a gift of it to me. The beads that
I have added to the cord each represent 100 miles of paddling.