Explore the meanings and traditions behind precious taonga that are often given to tamariki.

Whānau are often given special taonga for their children. These gifts can link pēpi to their wider whānau, hapū and iwi, and to those who gifted the taonga to them.

Whakatipu booklet Te Pihinga 3 has information to share with whānau on gifting taonga (pages 7, 8).

Pounamu – greenstone

Pounamu taonga like kape ū, manaia or tiki were sometimes used when tamariki were teething. They were used because they’re large so there's no risk of pēpi choking. The hard and cool stone was just right for soothing sore gums and helping the first teeth push through the gums.

Ahakoa he iti, he pounamu
Although it is small, it is precious – like greenstone

This whakataukī expresses the value put on pounamu, and anything likened to pounamu. It’s a metaphor for something precious or to be treasured. When something is likened to greenstone, it must be very important; very precious indeed.

In 1849, Wiremu Maihi Te Rangikāheke was the first to write down a version of the love story of Hinemoa and Tūtānekai. He used the whakataukī to refer to the love felt between people. He said, ‘Ahakoa, he aroha iti, he pounamu tonu.’ (A love that is brief is love nonetheless.)

Pounamu is found in Te Wai Pounamu (the South Island) or Te Wāhipounamu (South Westland) – the place of greenstone. In 1997 the Crown returned ownership of pounamu to Ngāi Tahu.


A tiki is a carved figure often made of greenstone and carved in the form of a human. Similar figures are found in many Polynesian cultures.

Tiki can be a large or small carving. Smaller versions were often worn as an adornment around the neck. They’re considered a good luck charm, and were believed to give the wearer clarity of thought and great inner knowledge. The tiki depicts the first mortal born to the gods. It’s also a symbol that represents the human embryo, fertility and life.


The koru design is inspired by the ponga (New Zealand tree fern), and represents new life, personal growth, positive change and awakening. Koru are also associated with peace and harmony, so it makes a wonderful gift for a new parent or child, or anyone starting out on a new pathway.

Read the legend of Te-Ika-a-Māui in Whakatipu booklet Te Pihinga 3 (pages 28, 29). It tells how Māui uses a magical jawbone – a taonga – to fish up the North Island.

Other resources

Taonga | Wikipedia(external link)

Hokitika - Pounamu | Hokitika NZ (YouTube)(external link)

Koru | Wikipedia(external link)

Helpful resources for whānau