The pounamu toki (adze head) gleamed in the soft light of the museum gallery, silently humming an ancient song.

A song of survival against all odds, a song of settlement in a wild untamed land.

A song of blossoming potential, te ao marama, the world of light. A world of possibilities. First, you must survive in this new world.

Māori were a people of technology, and experts in stone masonry. They had to be. If they were to survive, they had to be resourceful, as a matter of life and death.

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The early Polynesians needed tools. A rau (toki when it has a handle attached) was firstly a symbol of survival.

If you had a stone toki and you knew how to use it, you had it made! A tool and a trade allowed you to build a shelter, start a fire, cook your food and you could trade your skills for other essential resources.

Every time a toki was used, it would have to be sharpened, making it smaller. Eventually, maybe decades or a generation later, your toki would be too fragile to use as a tool.

By this stage, your toki has become part of your family and imbued with the mauri (life force) of everyone who has used it.

It has a name and a provenance. You are not going to throw it away. You will repurpose it, change its form and turn it into a tiki.

If a toki represents survival in a new land, then a tiki represents permanent settlement.
When people have time to carve the human form and then wear it on their bodies, it speaks of an understanding and oneness with their new home.

There is no longer a desperate fight for survival. The people have a food source and warmth, and now, the time and space to be creative and artistic.

They are now able to tell their stories through their art.

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Lisa Reweti, Maudie's granddaughter, wearing Te Rauna in 2018. Photo / Te Papa Tongarewa
Lisa Reweti, Maudie's granddaughter, wearing Te Rauna in 2018. Photo / Te Papa Tongarewa

This is why toki are often associated with attributes like determination, control, strength, focus and honour.

You needed to have those attributes if you were to survive in those early days in the Aotearoa climate – so different from the Pacific Islands. Tiki, on the other hand, are associated with new life, fertility and the promise of new generations yet to come.

When my grandmother Maudie Reweti passed away, I inherited her tiki, Te Rauna.

He taonga tuku iho - a precious family heirloom.

Te Rauna was given to Maudie in the late 1930s by her aunt Kara Teki.

Tahupōtiki Rātana, prophet and healer, had given Te Rauna to Kara in the late 1880s.

He had been gifted a rare piece of tangiwai (an intense green bowenite stone) by a South Island family as payment for healing one of their children.

From toki to tiki. A toki pounamu has been remodelled into a tiki, and is not quite complete. Photo / Whanganui Regional Museum ref: 1972.56
From toki to tiki. A toki pounamu has been remodelled into a tiki, and is not quite complete. Photo / Whanganui Regional Museum ref: 1972.56

While in Germany, Rātana took the tangiwai to a jade factory and three tiki were made.

One of these was Te Rauna.

Kara named her when she handed her to Maudie.

Te Rauna means "around", because she had been on a few trips around the world with Kara in the 1930s as part of the travelling Rātana kapa haka group that accompanied Tahupōtiki Rātana.

Te Rauna also went with Maudie in the 1990s when she was part of a group who were moving taonga Māori (treasures) from one European museum to another.

While Te Rauna did not start her life as a toki, she is symbolic of the continuation of our family, our whānau. I am not the owner of Te Rauna but her guardian, her keeper.

I will keep her safe so that when the time comes, I can pass her to my sister's daughter Peppa, who will then in turn pass her on to her children, thus keeping the stories of our family alive.

* Lisa Reweti is the public programmes presenter at Whanganui Regional Museum.