Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Hei tiki: He whakamārama hōu

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posted on 2021-11-14, 08:23 authored by Austin, Dougal Rex

This thesis addresses the problem that while hei tiki are the most culturally iconic of Māori adornments, there still remains much uncertainty concerning their origins, lineage of development and cultural use. A collections-based study investigates these areas of uncertainty in search of new mana-enhancing understandings.  A position developed in the review is that hei tiki were probably highly developed stylistically from the outset to conform to adze-shaped pieces of pounamu, with the common hei tiki style likely appearing and rising to prominence quickly. A case is argued for local conventions of style exerting an early and ongoing influence upon the stylistic diversity and development of hei tiki, with a close relationship with wood carving appearing likely. The mana of hei tiki derived from the agency of prolonged ancestral use is investigated in relation to the view that, while hei tiki making and use probably reached their height in the early 19th century, a significant portion may have been made as European trade items. The manifestation of indigenous agency is a reoccurring theme investigated in this thesis and is argued to have implications for the mana of hei tiki.  Features of hei tiki belonging to the early contact period 1769-1777 and to a general sample of 50 hei tiki from the Te Papa collection were recorded and enabled shape, style, pounamu and wear analysis.  The results indicate that by 1769-1777 the adze shape was common amongst hei tiki, the most common style predominated, conventional proportions and most of the stylistic features apparently common to hei tiki in general had been established. Supporting evidence is found for a trend of increasing hei tiki size over time, and for hei tiki making and use having peaked in the early 19th century. Shape-to-size analysis also indicates early origins and continuity for the adze-shaped hei tiki.   Furthermore pounamu and wear analysis results indicate that hei tiki continued to be used primarily by Māori. Overall the results are interpreted as supporting or being consistent with the arguments developed in the literature review and they are held to be mana-enhancing for hei tiki.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Maori Studies

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Arts

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

970120 Expanding Knowledge in Languages, Communication and Culture

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Maori Studies : Te Kawa a Māui


Adds, Peter