The Story Behind Maori Tikis

You may have seen tikis in popular culture, movies, or during tropical vacations, but do you know the story behind these fascinating items? Tikis are deeply rooted in native Maori history, with rich cultural significance that is often overlooked. Let’s explore their origins, different types, and their importance to Maori culture.

What is a Tiki?
Definition and Origin
The term 'Tiki' refers to a carved human-like figure traditionally worn around the neck by the Maori of New Zealand and other Polynesians. The name 'tiki' is believed to originate from the myth of Tiki, the first man created by the god Tane. The full name for these carvings is Hei-tiki, where 'hei' means to wear around the neck.

Cultural Significance
In Maori culture, Hei Tikis are considered family heirlooms and are worn during ceremonial occasions in New Zealand. Even if a tiki is not ancient, it is still highly prized by the family. This value comes not only from the precious materials and labor-intensive process required to create it but also from its spiritual significance.

The Styles of Tikis
Materials Used
Hei Tikis were most commonly made from nephrite, known locally as greenstone or pounamu, a highly valued stone found in southern New Zealand. Whale bone and whale teeth were also used. In contemporary times, modern iterations of the tiki are often carved from beef bone.

Design Features
Tikis usually have a human shape, with a head either upright or tilted to one side. Some tikis also feature a torso, arms, or legs. The eyes of the tiki are traditionally filled with red wax or paua shell, adding to their distinctive appearance.

Find Your Tiki
We offer a wide selection of traditionally and contemporary designed tikis for you to choose from. Visit our store to see our collection and find a piece that connects you to the rich cultural heritage of the Maori people.