The Mystery of the Korotangi

In the heart of Maori history lies a mysterious relic, 'The Korotangi,' a sacred and remarkable stone bird that embarked on an extraordinary journey from the ancient homeland of Hawaiki to Aotearoa. Carved from a green mineral known as serpentine, originating from China and Indonesia, this enigmatic artifact has captured the imagination of scholars and enthusiasts alike. In this blog post, we delve into the intriguing tale of Korotangi, its origins, significance, and the mystical role it played in the lives of the Maori people.

The Origins and Material:
The Korotangi, measuring 10.25 inches (26.5 cms) and weighing 4 lb (1.81kg), is a testament to craftsmanship beyond the knowledge of the Pacific people. Carved with metal tools unfamiliar to the Maori, it is widely believed to be of Indonesian origin, dating back to around 790 AD. The green serpentine used in its creation suggests a connection to China and Indonesia, raising questions about the trade routes and cultural exchanges that might have led to its presence in Aotearoa.

The Mysterious Journey:
The circumstances surrounding how the Korotangi came into the possession of the Maori ancestors and found its place aboard the Tainui canoe remain shrouded in mystery. Theories abound, speculating whether it was a gift from its original owners in Hawaiki or lost by a group of travelers passing through Indonesia. The journey of this stone bird, possibly mined in Sulawesi and carved in Java or Formosa Island, may have followed trade routes from Jakarta, an Arab-held trading port at the time.

The Korotangi as Protector and Oracle:
Legend has it that the Korotangi played a pivotal role during the long voyages, serving as a protecting power and oracle. Credited with ensuring the safe arrival of immigrants after traversing 13,000 miles, the stone bird became a taonga—a sacred treasure. Interpreted as "the crying dove," it holds mana and tapu, embodying prestige, authority, spiritual power, and sacredness. Its connection with the past and ancestors is revered, demanding respect to maintain harmony between the world of the dead and the living.

War and Consultation:
For generations, the Kawhia Maoris safeguarded the Korotangi, utilizing its mystical influence during war times. Placed on a hillside near battle scenes, the bird served as a consultative tool, with the war party gathering around to seek its guidance. Its influence on the fortunes of battle made it an invaluable asset during times of conflict.

Rediscovery and Repatriation:
Around 1880, the Korotangi was discovered buried in Kawhia, entwined in the roots of a fallen Manuka tree—a strategic move by the Tainui keepers to hide it during inter-tribal warfare. After nearly a century in the wrong hands, the Maori treasure was returned to the Tainui people in 1995 as part of the government settlement under the Treaty of Waitangi. Today, the Korotangi resides in Ngaruawahia, a testament to its enduring significance in Maori culture.

The Korotangi's journey from Hawaiki to Aotearoa is a tale woven with mystery, cultural exchange, and spiritual significance. As a taonga, this stone bird symbolizes the enduring connection between the Maori people and their ancestral past. Its rediscovery and repatriation mark a poignant chapter in New Zealand's history, highlighting the importance of preserving and respecting cultural treasures that bridge the gap between the realms of the living and the dead.