Story: Pounamu – jade or greenstone

Page 7. Pounamu and peace-making

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Peace agreements using pounamu

Heirlooms or weapons of great status, often made of pounamu, were exchanged as a symbol of a peace agreement. An example is a mere pounamu named Hine-nui-o-te-paua, which the Ngāpuhi tribe gave to the Ngāti Pāoa people many generations ago. This was later gifted to Governor George Grey to emphasise the desire for peace with Europeans. The mere was believed to have such great status and sacredness that it could promote peace.

The tatau pounamu (greenstone door)

Pounamu was used in a metaphorical sense to seal peace agreements – in the concept of a tatau pounamu (a greenstone door). This symbolised a passageway between the territories of warring parties. Each party to the peace pact chose a hill to represent the greenstone door. The door was closed to all who wanted to draw blood. The enduring nature of pounamu also symbolised the permanence of the peace agreement.

This would sometimes also involve arranged marriages between the parties. Such a tatau pounamu was made between the Ngāti Kahungunu and Ngāi Tūhoe tribes.

Three Ngāti Kahungunu chiefs requested a meeting with chiefs of the Ngāi Tūhoe tribe. Principal negotiators were selected from each tribe – Te Āhuru of Ngāi Tūhoe, and Hipara of Ngāti Kahungunu. In the discussions, Te Hipara offered his daughter in marriage to Ngāi Tūhoe. While she represented the tatau pounamu, the gesture was purely symbolic as she did not marry a Ngāi Tūhoe man. However, Hipara also offered a hill, Kūha-tārewa, as a marriage partner for Turi-o-Kahu, a Ngāi Tūhoe hill. The symbolic marriage of these hills represented the tatau pounamu.

How to cite this page:

Basil Keane, 'Pounamu – jade or greenstone - Pounamu and peace-making', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 21 April 2024)

Story by Basil Keane, published 12 Jun 2006