My Pounamu broke, can I get it fixed?  


So your pounamu taonga dropped on the concrete floor and broke in two.  What do you do now? Are you allowed to get it fixed or reshaped so it can be worn again? Does this mean it never really belonged to you?  Should you bless it, cleanse it and bury it or give it back to the awa? Is this a sign of bad luck?  What can you do with your broken pounamu? 

It is an interesting question and one we hear a lot. It is great to see people recognising the wairua that pounamu holds and wanting to respect correct cultural practices around dealing with a broken pounamu. Unfortunately there are a lot of superstitions around best practice and pounamu. We are here to unpack those myths, so let’s dive in and see where this question takes us.

Please note; In everything we do here at Taonga by Timoti we look to Tim’s tupuna for guidance and knowledge. So of course, we turn to that knowledge again to find out what is tika in how we treat a broken pounamu. 

First, let’s have a look what pounamu means to Māori so we can understand why this question of what to do with a broken pounamu taonga is even asked in the first place.

What is the value of Pounamu for Māori?

Pounamu was, and still is, a highly prized taonga that deserves great respect. Pounamu taonga were tapu items and held great mana. Pounamu taonga were used to seal peace agreements (tatou pounamu), to symbolise authority, to carry the stories of battle and great achievements. Pounamu taonga carried your whakaapa and connected you to your ancestors. Pounamu taonga were often given names and venerated in songs. Pounamu taonga are just that, a treasure to be revered and respected.

For Māori, who’s life depended on stone tools, the characteristics of pounamu made it an incredibly important tool for living. In addition to its obvious beauty, pounamu was (and still is) the strongest stone that Māori had. It also holds a mean edge when sharpened.  This made pounamu the height of technology in a time when stone tools were the implements of choice.  With this one stone Māori were able to create homes, waka, weapons, tools, jewellery, fine arts and ta moko. 

The hardness, which made it so useful, also meant that creating taonga from pounamu was a long, slow process. In addition to that, pounamu is a rare taonga, only found in specific places in Aotearoa.  So, if you were fortunate enough to be in possession of a pounamu taonga you were an incredibly lucky individual and guarded that pounamu taonga with your life. 

Pounamu is rare, beautiful, strong, holds a sharp edge and was an invaluable commodity to a stone tool people.  But that is not all of it. For Māori, pounamu also has its own wairua. Wairua is a complex topic that deserves its own page but in short, wairua encompasses all aspects of physical, mental, spiritual and emotional health and wellbeing.  Wairua is similar to the Pākehā concept of spirit and soul and physical well being, but really not the same and actually quite impossible to explain with the english language. Suffice to say, pounamu has a kind of life essence, wairua, thus making it much more then just a pretty, rare, useful stone.  It is this wairua that enables pounamu to carry the wairua of the person who wears or wields it. It is this wairua that helps people to feel strong and confident when wearing pounamu. And it is this wairua that draws people inexplicably to the stone.

So, I hope you can begin to see now how precious pounamu was, and still is, for Māori?  Its value is far beyond that of a pretty stone. Hence why people want to be careful in the way they deal with a taonga that has been broken.

If my Pounamu taonga breaks should I bury it or return it to the awa?

Think of your most useful, valuable, spiritually prized and difficult to obtain possession.  What would you do with it if it broke?  Bury it in the ground or find a way to repair it for future use?

Historically, when a pounamu taonga broke you made this valuable and highly prized object into something new. There are numerous examples in museums and galleries of new taonga made from the pieces of broken taonga. Kuru, the long pounamu ear pendants you see being worn in old photos, were made both from the offcuts of pounamu carvings and from the shards of broken taonga.  Hei tiki were often carved from the pounamu adze, hence their squat shape.  Infact, if you visit Te Papa you will see a broken taonga that was repaired with metal binding(obviously repaired after the arrival of Europeans, but repaired to be worn again none the less).  

The evidence is clear, broken pounamu taonga were reworked in to new taonga to be worn and used again.

It is true, there are some instances in which pounamu was buried. Let’s have a look at those and see if they apply to you, the every day modern wearer of pounamu.

In the event of a raiding party coming to attack Iwi had pre-arranged places where taonga would be buried to keep them out of the hands of the attackers.  When, or if, the raiding party was repelled these taonga would then be recovered to continue on in use.   There were of course times when defeat was the end result and the taonga were left in their hidden place.  In recent times some of these taonga have been recovered and restored to their rightful place. I am sure there will be some still out there, waiting to be found by their whānau again one day.  But the continued burial of these taonga was not intentional, it was simply the inevitable result of defeat.

Pounamu would also be buried with it’s owner if they were a highly revered tohunga or ariki.  However these pounamu taonga did not stay buried. The taonga would be exhumed a year later to be passed on to its new kaitiaki and continue down the whanau line.  

In more recent times, from the early to mid 1900s, Māori were known to bury pounamu taonga with their people as a way of protecting them from being taken by Pākehā. This was an uncommon and more modern practice enacted in response to a time when Māori had had their land, language, culture and spiritual practises taken from them by colonisation.  

And as for returning it to the awa, well the only situations we know in which this happened was when pounamu was thrown in the awa or moana as offerings to the local taniwha.  These practices continue today.  Also some carvers, including Tim, return their offcuts and uncarvable pounamu back to the awa, back to its home.

So, if your pounamu has broken and you are thinking about burying it or returning it to the awa just take a moment and think, do any of these situations above apply to me?  No? Well then let’s take a look at what actions you might want to take with your broken pounamu taonga. 

Can my broken pounamu be fixed?

If your broken pounamu can be fixed than it is absolutely ok to get your broken pounamu fixed. We usually do this by inserting silver pins into each piece to connect the broken parts and give them that internal strength.  The join is then glued for extra protection.  To cover the break and give it that extra bit of strength we may bind the break with waxed cord or muka to finish it off. Alternatively, we have been known to use the ancient Japanese art of kintsugi to create something beautiful out of that which was broken. We are still practising with this method to perfect it. 

Can my broken pounamu be reshaped into something new? 

Absolutely it can! And as we’ve outlined above, this is exactly what Tim’s tupuna did with these precious possessions.  Tim has turned broken taonga into earrings, whanau sets, toki, roimata and more. Tim quite enjoys the challenge of repairing and reshaping broken taonga. It is a whole art in itself and one that allows the artist to show their respect for the inherent value of pounamu. 

What does it mean when your pounamu breaks? 

There are those who believe that a broken pounamu is a sign of bad luck or a message sent from the atua.  On this matter, it is really up to the individual to decide.  For Tim and I, we have never seen any bad luck or obvious messages from the atua coming from the breaking of a pounamu taonga. 

Māori did believe in tohu, or signs, from the atua but they were read in context with the situation.  For example, if in battle a mere was broken and subsequently the rangatira wielding it was killed, those around may have read it as a sign of inevitable defeat and given up.  However, the rangatira was killed because his mere broke and his men were defeated because they gave up.

The answer to the question on luck and messages is really about individual spiritual practises and beliefs.  But again, we have seen and repaired many broken taonga with no ill outcomes or obvious signs from the gods.

What to do with a broken pounamu taonga?

So, what do you do with your broken taonga that is in-line with the practises and values of our tupuna?  Well, if you want to bury your broken pounamu or throw it in the awa, you can.  But unless one of those situations above applies to you, this is not what our tupuna would have done with this highly valued taonga.  You remake this precious taonga into something that can be used and/or worn for many years to come.  In doing so you are respecting the spiritual and physical aspects of this precious and rare taonga and respecting that practises of our tupuna.

Kāhu hawk pounamu pendant

4 thoughts on “My Pounamu broke, can I get it fixed?  ”

  1. Kia Ora Timoti. No Dan Hawke ahau. I am one of the kaiako that came out with Dave Atoa and the foundations team last year.
    My 7 year old daughters taonga just broke, 2 clean breaks on the curve.
    Was wondering if it could be repaired or reshaped for her.

  2. We gifted a bone toanga to our son at 21. It broke. Can it be repaired. Also my husband was given a rakau from his oldest of 7 brothers. I asked a respected fuent cultural teacher of carving to surprise my husband. He wrecked it. Abysmal. Who where can I go to improve. Do you have any advice. NGA mihi. Maureen

    1. Kia Ora Maureen, Āe, they can be repaired. We do not work with bone or rakau but you could contact your local marae and see if they can recommend anyone. Nga mihi

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