New Zealand Post marks the start of the Maori New Year with its Matariki 2011 stamps – Hei Matau. The appearance of the star cluster known as Matariki is a time to celebrate New Zealand’s unique history and place in the world.
Meaning ‘fish hook’, matau are traditionally an important aspect of Maori life, providing Maori with the means to catch their kai moana or ‘food from the sea’.
Many fishermen had their own ‘lucky’ fish hook, which they would wear around their necks (hei matau) for safekeeping.
Today hei matau are used less for catching fish and more for catching someone’s eye when worn as pendants. They remain a cultural treasure (taonga), and have an important link to the origins of Aotearoa, New Zealand.
According to Maori legend, New Zealand’s North Island was once a giant fish that was caught by the half-god and seafarer Maui, using a woven line and his magic bone matau.
Hei matau have a strong connection to Tangaroa, god of the sea, and as such the stamp products in this collection feature the common stylised element of the sea.
Meaning ‘the fish hook of Maui’, the phrase ‘Te matau o Maui-tikitiki-a-Taranga’ has also been incorporated in the design.
Matariki 2011 stamps
This modern hei matau has been handcrafted by Lewis Gardiner. Made from pounamu, it is representative of strength, abundance and provision.
This hei matau dates from 1500 to 1800, is housed in The Museum of New Zealand – Te Papa Tongarewa, and is an example of a functional fish hook that might have hung around a fisherman’s neck.
Made from whalebone, it’s elaborately carved with manaia (Maori spiritual guardian) faces at the apex of the shank and also at the bait-knob. The traditional hook shape is designed to cut into the fish’s mouth.
This hei matau dates from around 1800, and is also housed in Te Papa Tongarewa. Sourced from Westland in the South Island, it is made from inanga (milky white) pounamu.
The elaboratively carved crown is entirely decorative, and the barb point has also been decorated with delicate notching.
$1.90 Te Puia
This hei matau was crafted for this stamp issue by Te Puia, the New Zealand M?ori Arts and Crafts Institute. Made by Lewis Gardiner, Head of the National Bone, Stone and Greenstone Carving School, it is based on the traditional pakahawai, i.e. made from multiple materials and lashed together.
Pounamu, whalebone, feathers and muka (flax fibre) are used for the hook, while the eye inserts are made with paua.
Housed in the Auckland War Memorial Museum (Tamaki Paenga Hira), this hei matau is made from wood and dates from around 1800.
The wood was trained to grow into the shape of a fish hook, then carved and combined with an unusually large bone barb designed to hook the fish’s mouth securely. The top of the hook features an intricately carved manaia face.
Also housed in Te Papa Tongarewa, this hei matau dates from 1750 to 1850. It is a classic symbolic representation of the fish hook used by the Polynesian cultural hero Maui.
Made from whalebone, some say its shape is designed to wedge in the fish’s mouth rather than hook it.
Title: Matariki 2011 – Hei Matau
Date of Issue: 2 June 2011
Country: New Zealand
Denominations: 2 x 60c, $1.20, $1.90, $2.40, $2.90
Source: New Zealand Post