Hei Tiki

The Hei Tiki represents the human form and one's ancestors. It links the past, present and future.

Hei Tiki necklace

The Meaning of the Hei Tiki

Some believe Tiki was the first man in Māori legend, created by the Atua Tāne (God of the forest). Others consider Tiki to be the Atua himself and the forefather of humankind. Whether man or God, there is consensus in Māori culture that humankind descends from Tiki lineage. When you break the word down into its separate parts, "Hei" donates something worn around the neck and "Tiki" is a word used by Māori for human images carved into wood, bone, stone, or other material. A Hei Tiki is therefore an image carved in human form that is worn around the neck.

Traditionally, Hei Tiki are passed from parent to child or used for protection and good luck. Over time, as each generation has adorned the Hei Tiki, and as korero (stories) are told, the meaning and the prestige of the form has grown.


Hei Tiki Necklaces

Tiki is the chief son of Ranginui and Papatūānuku (the Sky Father and Earth Mother). Some believe that Hei Tiki (Tiki pendants) serve as dwelling places for ancestral spirits, or act as vessels for gods and supernatural beings.

A legend of Hei Tiki

One legend tells of Ngahue (the ancestor like God) fleeing from tropical Hawaiki (traditional Māori place of origin) with his coveted pounamu fish Poutini. They were chased away by Hine-tū-a-hōanga and her abrasive cutting stone Whaiapu. They arrived in Tuhua (Mayor Island) in the Bay of Plenty, but sensing their foe close by, they continued to the beautiful Arahura River in Te Waipounamu - New Zealand's South Island. Here Ngaue deposits Poutini into the river as an eternal resting place for his precious stone. Ngahue then returned to Hawaiki with a portion of pounamu taken from the side of the fish and worked upon the stone to fashion the first Hei Tiki adornment. With time, Hawaiki became a mythical origin for everything good and powerful in the Māori worldview. With the origin attributions of the Hei Tiki and pounamu to Hawaiki, it is understandable why they are highly regarded cultural treasures with deep meaning.

The Hei Tiki is deemed to be one of the highest achievements of early pounamu artistry and today's jade carvers take great care in protecting the culturally iconic figure in their work.

Hei Tiki leaning on writing pad

Connecting us with ancestors

For different reasons, Hei Tiki have long been adorned by Māori. Some wear Hei Tiki to remember revered tūpuna (ancestors) who once possessed them. Others wear it as tohu rangatira (symbols of chiefly rank). Hine-te-iwaiwa, the deity of child birth and all womanly tasks, was the goddness credited with owning the first Hei Tiki. For this reason, women are also known to wear Hei Tiki as a talisman of fertility and easy childbirth. Many also believe that when worn Hei Tiki can act as a kaitiaki (guardian), protecting the wearer in times of peril.

Man wearing hei tiki necklace on a plain white shirt


pounamu meanings & designs