Is it OK to buy your own pounamu? Tikanga explained

When buying taonga many of us grapple with the question: is it OK to buy pounamu for myself?  

Re:’s reo Maori series Ohinga set out to find the answer. 

We met with Maaka Te Pō Toi at his south Auckland home studio where he repairs and carves custom taonga. He’s the son of master carver Gordon Toi and is now following in his father's footsteps. 

As interest around pounamu grows - so too is people’s desire to understand the tikanga surrounding it. 

When asked if it was OK to buy your own pounamu, Maaka said: 

“In my opinion, you can buy your own taonga but the question you need to ask yourself is: what are you buying and who are you buying from?”

“If we look at the history when Pākeha arrived here, they wanted to buy taonga because of their beauty. They'd acquire a taonga from their enemy not knowing the cultural significance, and that the life force of their enemy remain within those taonga"

Purchasing taonga that held the energy of their enemies would make you sick. 

Maaka says the concept evolved into what is now a generally held belief that you can not buy your own pounamu. 

He has these tips for people when buying pounamu:

“Buy from someone in Aotearoa who does this work,” he says. “You could maybe go to someone in your iwi or to a carver that you can trust.”

Maaka only took up making taonga as a full-time job earlier this year. Before that he was in the New Zealand Army infantry. He says the switch to making taonga makes him feel more connected to his culture. 

“This work connects me to my ancestors - to my dad and the work he does. These are the things I love about the work that I do.”

And he’s hopeful his children will come to love the art as much as he does. 

My aspiration is for my children to see me doing something that I love - entrenched in the Māori world - with my family by my side. I want to be an example for them.”

This is part of our reo Māori series, Ohinga, created by Mahi Tahi Media, with funding from Te Māngai Pāho and the NZ on Air Public Interest Journalism Fund.

Stay tuned for a new episode every week.

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