The Manaia is a messenger and spiritual kaitiaki (guardian) of the sky, earth and sea.

Manaia necklace

The Meaning of the Manaia

Believed to be a messenger that moves freely between the spirit realm and the human world, the Manaia is a mythological creature, greatly respected in Māori culture and a predominant motif in wood and greenstone carving. 

Originally Māori had no written language, and symbolic meanings such as the manaia were embodied in carving, knots, and weaving to communicate and record stories, while traditional songs and dances shared the myths and folklore of ancestors. 


Manaia Necklaces

What Manaia traditionally meant to Māori remains somewhat a mystery, but commonly it is considered that they are magical creatures and spiritual kaitiaki (guardians) of things worth protecting. 

Watch how we carve manaia

Depiction of a bird, fish and man

Although subject to much controversy, the profile of a Manaia is commonly thought to depict the head of a bird, the tail of a fish, and the body of a man. Yet, this depiction varies between iwi (tribes), and the Manaia is also seen as a bird-headed man, bird, serpent, reptile, and human figure in profile.

Just as the human figure, Manaia are one of the most malleable motifs within Māori design and are often found in fragmented forms and contortions, and incorporated with other symbols such as the Tiki. As a versatile symbol, they are distorted in artworks by utilizing an eye, mouth, tooth, arm, body, leg or foot to create artistic compositions and fit any space needing to be filled.

manaia balancing on jade

Bringing Balance and Protection

Today, pounamu Manaia are gifted between loved ones for protection and worn to ward off evil. Our carvers draw meaning and inspiration from the significance and adaptability of the Manaia motif and use their creativity and personal influences to craft unique Manaia designs.

Man wearing manaia necklace with a misty backdrop
Diagram showing the difference between Koropepe and Poria designs.


Another form which many think to be a Manaia is the Pekapeka design. Pekapeka (bat) are New Zealand's only native land mammals are believed to symbolise spiritual protection and guardianship.
Marakihau necklace


The Marakihau is another design many think of as a Manaia and has the form of a sea taniwha (sea monster). Marakihau were spirits of ancestors that had taken up residence in the ocean. But unlike the bat form of the Pekapeka, Marakahui are depicted as mermen with sinuous bodies that terminate in curled tails.
Diagram showing the difference between Koropepe and Poria designs.


The koropepe is believed to be an eel-like fish and spiritual guardian.


pounamu meanings & designs

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