Submission by Polaris Black:
Once on New Zealand, the Māori were very isolated for several centuries and developed a unique society consisting of many tribes that were proficient in woodcarving, tattooing, and other art forms. The symbolic meanings embodied in carving, knots and weaving were widely understood. Te Reo Māori, their native language, is related to Tahitian and Hawaiian and was the only language spoken throughout New Zealand before the 1800s. Literacy and expanded numeracy were two exciting new concepts that Māori took up enthusiastically when missionaries worked to systematize the written language. In the 1820s missionaries reported that Māori all over the country were teaching each other to read and write.
Koru (spiral) – this symbol represents new beginnings, growth, and regeneration. It symbolizes the fern frond seen in New Zealand's native bush and there is an old Maori proverb that when translated means "As one fern frond dies - one is born to take its place.” The design is said to have human characteristics (head, eye, neck, body, tail) and could represent parenthood, ancestry, and genealogy, or in other words, a family tree.
Hei Matau (fish hook) – this symbol represents prosperity and safe travel over water. The Māori had a very strong connection to Tangaroa, god of the sea and attributed their survival to him because of their reliance as a people on the bounty caught from the sea. Also, in Māori mythology, Maui used a magic fish hook carved from the jawbone of his grandmother to pull up the North Island of New Zealand from the bottom of the ocean in the form of a huge fish.
Pikorua (twist) – this symbol represents the path of life and the strong bond between two loved ones. The arms of the twist have no end point so it is a powerful expression of loyalty. The design may be based on the weave pattern of the kete or the arms of the pikopiko fern. It is relatively new because the Māori didn’t possess the required tools to create the complex undercuts in the design until New Zealand was colonized by the Europeans. Perhaps at that time (post 1800) these became symbols for trade.
Manaia (spirit creature) – this symbol represents a messenger between the living and the dead. It always appears in profile, with one half of its body in the realm of the living and the other half in the realm of the dead. It traditionally had the head of a bird, the body of a man, and the tail of a fish but today there are many stylized versions. It is worn as a personal guardian to protect against evil.
Hei Tiki (first man) – this symbol represents Tiki, the first man in Māori mythology. It was passed down through the family and in the process of succession, it increased its power or prestige. Its main function was to connect deceased family members to the living and was worn as a sign of remembrance. This is not a common practice today as it is worn more for cultural identity.
Toki (adze) – this symbol represents strength, control, and determination. In traditional Maori society the toki was used in tool, either to cut and carve or as a ceremonial axe wielded by strong chiefs in the tribe. Today the toki is largely ornamental.