New Zealand pounamu is a stunning greenstone, sometimes nephrite jade, sometimes bowenite or serpentinite. Most pounamu now refers to nephrite jade, and it is a gorgeous semi-precious stone used in Māori carvings and modern jewellery. It is found only in rivers in the South Island of New Zealand. In Te Reo Māori, the South Island is names Te Waipounamu, meaning water and greenstone.
Pounamu is a Māori taonga (treasure) protected under the Treaty of Waitangi. While we have a few pounamu-set rings in store at Albany Village Goldsmiths, we encourage you to buy your pounamu taonga from Māori craftspeople.
Types of NZ Greenstone (Pounamu)
Geologically speaking, NZ Greenstone is classified as either nephrite jade, bowenite, or serpentinite. However, Pounamu is a Māori taonga, and as such is usually classified in the traditional Māori way, by its appearance. There are four main types of pounamu.
- Īnanga pounamu is named after a native New Zealand fish, and is pearl-white to grey-green
- Kahurangi pounamu is a rich green and translucent, and the rarest and most prized variety of pounamu
- Kawakawa pounamu is the most common variety, and comes in many shades, and is named after the native kawakawa tree
- Tangiwai pounamu is a clear glass-like green, and is a bowenite, unlike the other three, which are nephrite jade.
This classification, however, is not universally accepted, and other types you may come across include:
- Totoweka pounamu has a reddish-brown tint, named after the native weka bird
- Raukaraka pounamu has orange and yellow tones through its green, and is named after the karaka tree
- Kokopu pounamu has a mottled texture and ranges from blue-green to reddish, and is named after a native fish species
- Flower Jade pounamu has creamy to orangeish inclusions, and is formed when the pounamu is exposed to the elements over thousands of years
Kaitiaki - Guardianship of NZ Pounamu
In 1997, kaitiaki (guardianship) of the taonga that is pounamu was given back to the Ngāi Tahu people of Te Waipounamu. They were the traditional kaitiaki of pounamu before colonisation, and the return of pounamu to the tribe was part of their Treaty of Waitangi settlement.
Since the return of control over pounamu supplies to Ngāi Tahu, Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu have worked hard to create traceability for each piece of pounamu carved in Aotearoa. Prior to 2010, much of the raw material carved into ‘pounamu’ carvings was sourced overseas, and was not true Aotearoa pounamu. Now, all Ngāi Tahu pounamu displays a mark of authenticity, and a code which allows the buyer to trace the stone’s origins and artistry.
The NZ Greenstone/pounamu that we have at Albany Village Goldsmiths does not have this origin data due to being found prior to the institution of this system in 2010, however, everything that we have advertised as NZ Greenstone or Flower Jade is sourced in New Zealand.
NZ Greenstone/Aotearoa Pounamu Traditions
The most significant tradition around pounamu is that it is never carved or bought for yourself, only ever as a gift. Raw pounamu is a gift from the land to its people, and so pounamu carvings and jewellery should always be a gift to another person.
When worn, pounamu jewellery is thought to take on the mauri, or life force, of the wearer. As a pounamu taonga is passed from generation to generation, it acquires the mauri of each wearer, strengthening their connection with their ancestors and bringing strength and prosperity to each new wearer.
Pounamu is a hard stone, but it is possible to chip it or break it if it is knocked hard. It should not be worn while doing chores for its own preservation. Additionally, it is thought that it should be worn on the skin as much as possible, as it is imbued with the wearer’s wairua or spirit, and should not be separated from them if possible.
It is also sometimes thought that pounamu items can disappear from their carers and reappear at the right time and place for the pounamu’s purpose.