Meaning of Maori Symbols and Designs
Maori culture has historically been oral. This means they had no written language to pass on cultural heritage. As a result carvings and other art forms flourished as a means to pass on ancestry, major historic events, beliefs, legends, and other cultural elements. Even upon today the designs and their symbolism still tell the wonderful Maori tales. That’s why Maori symbols form such a substantial part of the national Maori identity and culture.
The elaborate artistic traditions of the Maori have in common that the large deal, if not all, make use of these Maori symbols. Some of the most well known symbols or designs are the tiki, twist and koru. Read on to learn more about the meaning of Maori symbols.
One of the most popular Maori symbols. Also known as an emblem of other cultures belonging to the Polynesian culture. According to legends tiki was the first man on earth who originated from the stars. The first mortal person who created the first woman after his image.
The exact meaning of the tiki symbol is disputed. There are several opinions but the most accepted are that tiki stands for fertility, and is a good luck charm meant to keep evil spirits away. Other theories state that tiki represents the human embryo, or the Maori god Tiki who was considered responsible for the creation of life.
Koru is the Maori word for “bight” or “loop” and refers to new shoots of the silver fern. The spiral shaped koru design is derived from this unfolding silver fern frond. The circular movement towards an inner coil refers to ‘going back to the beginning’. The unfurling frond itself is symbolic for new life, hope, perfection, rebirth, a new start, awakening, personal growth, purity, nurturing, a new phase (in life), the spirit of rejuvenation, and peace.
The koru design, often worn as a Maori necklace, but present in many cultural expressions, is an integral symbol in Maori art forms. Both on itself as well as incorporated in more intricate designs.
Worn around the neck the hook became a symbol of prosperity, abundance, good health, power, authority, and respect for the sea and its life in it. It is also believed to provide good luck and safety while traveling over water.
Although people will take different paths in their lives they will always be connected and will return to each other. The twist is a powerful statement of loyalty, friendship, and love.
Double and Triple Twist
Also an eternity symbol. Refers to the bond between peoples or cultures rather than individuals. These Maori pendants were traditionally given as an offering of friendship between different tribes.
Maori twist symbols also refer to the so called ‘three baskets of knowledge’. This is a concept that, very roughly translated, has to do with how, the for humankind necessary knowledge to survive, came to the world. According to the legend the god Tane (creator of the first man Tiki) brought down those three baskets from the heavens.
Symbolizes strength, power, pride, and independence.
Indicates healing and comfort, reassurance, and positive energy. Often called a comfort stone.
Muri Paraoa (Whale Tail )
Core meaning; speed and strength. Indicates the support often shown by dolphins and whales to humans in distress. Therefore a symbol of protection. But also of speed, strength, sensitivity, the bond between animal and human. Expresses respect for the sea and nature. Also a good luck charm providing safe passage over water.
Another Maori symbol of protection. Schools of dolphins were reported to attack sharks circling around canoes. The dolphin shows affinity with the sea and nature in general. Resembles a free spirit. Nowadays the dolphin represents protection on all types of travelers.
Maori guardian angel. The invisible light surrounding a person. Mythological being with a bird’s head, a man’s body, and a fish tail.
Kaka poria / Kaka ring Kaka is the Maori word for the indigenous parrot (Nestor meridionalis). These bone or stone rings were historically used to tether the medium sized (up to 18 inches) New Zealand parrot. The kaka were eaten and used as pets to lure wild bird during the hunt. When not in use the kaka rings were worn as pendants. The most valuable items were those crafted of pounamu. More on the Kaka Poria Wikipedia page.
Can’t get enough of Maori symbols and their meanings? Maybe this book will satisfy your needs: Symbols of the Maori World
Want to buy a Maori carved pendant or another carving based on these symbols? Check out these New Zealand based stores: