Stones, value & money

G’day: here’s another 2c worth on the subject of 'what’s it worth?‘
Before the European found New Zealand, the Maori collected stones
which they found useful, and the most useful of these were jade and
argillite. Both are very hard and made excellent tools, but jade
(which the Maori called POUNAMU, green stone) had the literal edge,
for it is tough as well, and could take a sharp cutting edge which
lasted and didn’t chip too easily. Equally a blunted edge could be
re-sharpened with easily available sandstones. Whilst it didn’t flake
too well (which argillite did), the Maori found other ways of making
it into artefacts. Time consuming and laboriously. Dry, hardwood
wedges hammered into cracks and crevices, the dry wood doused with
water - and then hoping the swelling opened the crack further. No
crack? Then make one using string made from native flax (phormium
phormium) dipped in fat and garnet sandstone and pulled back and
forth… When they finally hacked off the bit of jade, the real work
began in earnest, using sandstone files and saws, wooden drills with
the end dipped in fat and garnet gravels and rotated between the hands
(they did eventually use a gadget like an Archimedian drill made of
twigs, flax, and the fly’wheel’ was weighted with stones.) Then the
weeks of cleaning up and finally polishing (diatomaceous earths when
they could get it) In the end what did they have? Beautiful,
efficient knives, adzes, hand axes, carving tools, even fish hooks,
amulets, large flat clubs capable of taking off the top of a man’s
head at one blow (so they could get at the brains in some cases!)
Often used too as a badge of high office. Some of their pre European
carvings have to be seen to be believed. And I have watched a Maori
demonstrate wood carving with greenstone tools, when the chips came
away much like those from expensive steel tools. One man had fitted a
flat blade of beautiful jade to a modern spokeshave and this was
producing shavings just like those from an ordinary sharp steel
spokeshave. Argillite couldn’t be used like that. and it was just
about the only alternative, though it was used a lot. Can you imagine
the value such jade tools had at that time? Those tools were almost
venerated and were certainly handed down over the generations. But
where could they keep them safely from loss? Well; drill a hole in
them and hang them around the neck until needed. So the men and women
had jewellery made of jade, but they were almost all of practical use
in their everyday life. So it isn’t surprising that firstly the maker
of such immutable heirlooms would be regarded with considerable awe.
But also came the thought that these men who had the tools were mostly
chiefs and ‘nobles’ (‘RANGATIRA’) gathered great MANA for their
wisdom and prowess in battle. So then it isn’t surprising that these
artefacts absorbed the wearer’s mana until they attained a value that
became very great indeed. Like a set of Crown Jewels, for instance,
and how could you price such objects in money? So, to this day, most
makers and carvers (jadesmiths?) are usually loth to part with their
products, even though they were made with diamond; saws, drills,
grindstones, polishes, and the original boulders were transported from
their remote hiding place to ‘civilisation’ by helicopter and then
road vehicles. Jade carvers and lapidarists have a certain affinity -
a ‘feeling’ - for their pieces which isn’t the same as when they
produce something in other than jade. I simply have no words to
explain it. I feel it. So when I make a jade item, the new owner is
always told the Maori philosophy, boiled down to: “Don’t put it away
in a drawer; wear it often and proudly and behave in such a manner for
it to gain great mana over the years.”

ohn Burgess


Thanks for the fascinating article on the Maori! Is Maori Jade
Nephrite or Jadeite? (I’m assuming the former…but one never
knows.) Is there enough Jade remaining in New Zealand for local use,
or do you now import it from British Columbia, Canada like most of the
rest of the world?

Neither of the Jades are like any other stones…their toughness
makes them uniquely suitable for multi-generational tools and jewelry.
Have you seen any of the New World Jadeite artifacts from the Mayan
civilization? The source of the rough has been identified as
Guatemala - and some of the material is downright strange! Unlike
most Jadeite this material sometimes forms with a large,
highly-patterned crystal structure.

-Peter- (Who likes to talk about Jade)