Maori Hei Matau

Hei Matau
Hei Matau Jewelry
Hei Matau is a Maori carving design that is in the shape of a fish hook. The Maori make beautiful necklaces, pendants, and other types of jewelry with this design. On this page you will find a list of facts about the Hei Matau. This information, written for kids and adults, includes why this symbol is important to the Maori people, what materials Maori artist use to create Hei Matau jewelry, and where you can buy beautiful Hei Matau jewelry.
Bone Art

Hei Matau Facts

Why the Hei Matau is an Important Symbol to the Maori

As mentioned above fishing was very important to the Maori. The Maori regarded fishing as tapu (a sacred activity) and there were rules dictating when they could fish and how fishing nets should be made. The fishermen would release the first fish they caught to please the god of the sea, Tangaroa. They also tried to please Tangaroa through prayer, rituals and talismans such as the Hei Matau which they hoped would protect them on fishing voyages.
Bone Art

Materials used for Hei Matau Carvings


As mentioned above whale bone has traditionally been the main material the Maori used to carve fish hooks. The Maori also used bone from other animals such as cattle, birds, and dogs. Modern day laws put in place to prevent whale hunting have made whale bones scarce and therefore cattle bone is usually used instead. Pieces made of whale bone are highly valued. Maori carvers can still obtain whale bone from beached whales. In New Zealand the Maori have legal rights to the bones of beached whales.

Greenstone (Jade)

Hei Matau Carvings made from greenstone (New Zealand nephrite jade) are even more valued than whale bone for the Maori. Greenstone has spiritual significance for the Maori and is a highly-valued material. This jade is extremely hard and the fact that the ancient Maori craftsman could carve it into beautiful works of art is an amazing accomplishment. The Maori valued greenstone so highly that items made from this material were often passed down from generation to generation.