11 Maori Symbols: A Complete Guide

Have you ever been curious about the meaning behind Maori symbols? Maori symbols are ancient forms of art and communication that have deep cultural significance. Understanding the meanings behind these symbols can provide insight into Maori traditions and beliefs.

In this article, we’ll explore the meanings of various Maori symbols and their significance in Maori culture. From the mighty koru to the intricate manaia, each symbol has its own unique story and representation. Join us on this journey to learn more about Maori symbols and the rich history they hold.

What Are Maori Symbols?

The Maori culture of New Zealand is rich with symbolism, and the use of symbols is an important aspect of their art, tattoos, and traditional practices. These symbols carry deep cultural and spiritual meanings that connect to their tribal heritage and ancestry. Here, we will explore some of the prominent Maori symbols and their significance.


The Koru is a significant Maori symbol that represents new beginnings, growth, and harmony. It is often portrayed as an unfolding fern frond, symbolizing the unfurling of new life and potential. The spiral shape of the Koru depicts the journey of life, as well as the connection between the past, present, and future.

In Maori culture, the Koru is often associated with personal growth and transformation. It represents the idea of continuous learning and the exploration of new possibilities. It is also a symbol of peace, tranquility, and renewal.

The Koru is commonly used in Maori art, carving, and tattooing. Its beautiful and symmetrical design is admired for its aesthetic appeal. The symbol is often incorporated into jewelry, clothing, and other decorative items.

The meaning of the Koru can vary slightly depending on the context and individual interpretation. However, it is generally recognized as a symbol of positivity, change, and the eternal cycle of life.


The Manaia is a powerful and significant symbol in Maori culture. It is often used to represent spiritual guardianship and protection. The Manaia is a creature that combines the head of a bird, the body of a human, and the tail of a fish. This fusion of elements symbolizes the connection between the spiritual realm (bird), human realm (human), and natural world (fish). The Manaia is believed to act as a link between the physical and spiritual realms, guiding and protecting individuals throughout their lives.

In Maori mythology, the Manaia is associated with supernatural abilities and is believed to bring good fortune and protection from evil spirits. It is also seen as a symbol of balance and harmony, representing the balance between the physical and spiritual aspects of life. The Manaia is often depicted with intricately carved details, showcasing the creativity and craftsmanship of Maori artists.

The Manaia symbol can be found in various forms of Maori art, such as carvings, tattoos (moko), and jewelry. It is often worn as a pendant or incorporated into traditional Maori designs. The Manaia serves as a reminder of the spiritual connections and ancestral guidance that is deeply rooted in Maori culture and traditions.


The Tiki is one of the most widely recognized Maori symbols. It represents the first human being and serves as a protective charm. The Tiki is typically depicted as a humanoid figure with large eyes, a prominent nose, and a mouth in a wide grin. It is believed to bring good luck, fertility, and protection from evil spirits.

In Maori culture, the Tiki is often carved out of greenstone or bone and worn as a pendant or talisman. It is also commonly seen in traditional Maori artwork and tattoos. The design of the Tiki can vary, with some depicting male figures and others female figures. The symbolism behind the Tiki remains consistent, representing the connection between humans and the spiritual world.

The Tiki symbolizes the ancestors and their presence in everyday life. It holds great significance in Maori culture as a representation of the origin of mankind and the protective power of the ancestors. It is a reminder of the importance of preserving cultural heritage and embracing the spiritual connection with the past.

Additional facts about the Tiki:

  • The Tiki is often associated with fertility and is believed to bring good fortune to those trying to conceive.
  • It is considered a guardian of spiritual and physical wellbeing.
  • The Tiki is sometimes depicted with a paua shell, representing the connection between humans and the ocean.

In the next section, we will explore another significant Maori symbol: the Hei-tiki.


The hei-tiki is a traditional Maori symbol that represents the human figure. It is usually a carved pendant made from bone, greenstone, or other materials. The hei-tiki is highly regarded in Maori culture and holds significant cultural and spiritual meaning.

The pendant is often worn as a necklace and is considered a taonga, or treasure, passed down through generations. The hei-tiki is believed to bring fertility, protection, and good luck to the wearer. It is commonly associated with childbirth and is worn by both men and women.

The design of the hei-tiki is characterized by a human figure with a large head and a curled body. The head is often tilted to one side, and the hands are placed on the stomach. The design may also feature other intricate details and symbols, representing different aspects of Maori culture and mythology.

The hei-tiki is a unique and beautiful symbol that holds deep cultural significance in Maori tradition. It represents the connection between past, present, and future generations and serves as a reminder of the rich history and spirituality of the Maori people.

Pikorua (Double Twist)

The Pikorua, also known as the Double Twist, is a significant Maori symbol that represents the bond between two people. It is often depicted as two intertwined spirals, symbolizing the coming together of two separate paths or journeys into one. The twisting form of the Pikorua represents the strength and enduring nature of this connection.

The two paths in the Pikorua can represent various relationships, such as the union between two individuals, the connection between different cultures, or the bond between nature and humanity. It is a symbol of unity, balance, and harmony, highlighting the interdependence and interconnectedness of all elements in life.

The Pikorua is often used as a symbol of love, friendship, and loyalty. It represents the idea that two individuals, while distinct and independent, can come together and create a stronger entity through their connection. It is a symbol of support, trust, and mutual respect.

In Maori culture, the Pikorua is also associated with the concept of eternal love. It is believed that the intertwining paths of the symbol demonstrate an unbreakable bond that lasts beyond this lifetime. It represents a connection that transcends time and space.

The Pikorua is a powerful symbol that can hold different meanings for different people. It is often worn as a pendant or incorporated into various forms of Maori art and design. It serves as a reminder of the importance of relationships, unity, and the interconnectedness of all beings.

Koru and Pikorua (Double Twist)

The Koru and Pikorua (Double Twist) are two significant Maori symbols that carry deep cultural meanings. The Koru is inspired by the unfurling new fern frond and symbolizes new life, growth, and harmony. It represents new beginnings, regeneration, and the interconnectedness of all living things. The circular shape of the Koru symbolizes the cycle of life and the eternal nature of the world.

The Pikorua, also known as the Double Twist, depicts two intertwined spirals. It is a symbol of the bond between individuals, representing the strength and interconnectedness of relationships, including family, friendship, and love. The two twists symbolize the joining of two separate paths in life, coming together to form a stronger entity. The Pikorua also represents the concept of eternity and the continuous flow of life.

Both the Koru and Pikorua are commonly depicted in Maori art, carving, and jewelry. They hold deep cultural and spiritual significance for the Maori people and are often embraced as powerful symbols of identity, heritage, and connection to the natural world.

In the next section, we will explore another significant Maori symbol – the Moko, and delve into its meaning and cultural importance.


Moko is a traditional Maori tattooing technique that holds significant cultural and spiritual importance. The art of moko involves the carving or tattooing of intricate patterns and designs onto the skin, often using chisels or needles. Moko is more than just a decorative body art; it is a visual expression of one’s identity, heritage, and personal story.

In Maori culture, moko is seen as a sacred art form that connects individuals to their ancestry and spiritual beliefs. It represents a person’s mana (prestige, honor) and their whakapapa (genealogical connections). Moko designs can vary in style, with different patterns and symbols representing different aspects of an individual’s life, such as their family lineage, achievements, or tribal affiliations.

Traditionally, moko was worn by both men and women, with each gender having their own distinct patterns and placements. Men would often have full facial moko, which included intricate designs on the forehead, cheeks, and chin. Women typically had moko on their lips and chin, showcasing their status and beauty. Today, moko is still practiced, but its significance and style may vary depending on the individual and their connection to Maori culture.

It is essential to approach moko with respect and understanding of its cultural significance. Maori tattoo artists, known as tohunga ta moko, are highly skilled and trained in both the technical and spiritual aspects of the art form. They guide individuals through the process, ensuring that the design and placement of moko are appropriate and meaningful. Before getting moko, it is recommended to consult with a tohunga ta moko and learn about its cultural significance and the stories it represents.

Matau (Fish Hook)

The Matau, also known as the fish hook, is a symbol of connection to the sea and its bountiful resources. It represents strength, good luck, and prosperity. The fish hook was an essential tool for the Maori people, used for fishing and providing sustenance for their communities.

The design of the Matau varies, but it typically features a curved shape resembling a hook. It may also incorporate other symbols or elements such as koru (spiral), manaia (mythical creature), or hei-tiki (humanoid figure). The Matau symbolizes not only the importance of fishing but also the deeper meaning of the sea as a source of life and abundance.

In Maori culture, the fish hook is also associated with Tangaroa, the god of the sea. It is believed that wearing or carrying the Matau brings blessings from Tangaroa and ensures a bountiful catch. The Matau is often passed down through generations as a cherished heirloom, symbolizing the bond between ancestors, nature, and the present. The Matau is not only a significant symbol in Maori culture but also a beautiful piece of jewelry or artwork.

It can be found in various materials such as bone, wood, or precious metals, adorned with intricate carvings or embellishments. The Matau serves as a reminder of the Maori people’s deep connection to the sea and their reliance on its resources for survival and prosperity.

Paua Shell

The paua shell, also known as abalone shell, holds significant cultural and spiritual importance in Maori symbolism. It is highly regarded as a prized material for creating various forms of Maori art and jewelry. The paua shell is not only aesthetically beautiful but also carries deep meaning and symbolism within Maori culture.

In Maori symbolism, the paua shell represents both strength and beauty. The vibrant colors and iridescence of the shell symbolize the beauty of the natural world and the diversity of life. It is seen as a reflection of the rich and varied landscapes of Aotearoa (New Zealand) and the interconnectedness of all living things.

Additionally, the paua shell is associated with the ocean, which holds immense importance in Maori culture. Maori people have a deep spiritual connection to the sea, and the paua shell serves as a reminder of this connection. It symbolizes abundance, fertility, and the life-giving properties of the ocean.

The paua shell is often used in traditional Maori carvings, jewelry, and artwork. It is carefully crafted into intricate designs that showcase its natural beauty and spiritual significance. Paua shell jewelry, such as necklaces, earrings, and bracelets, are popular among both Maori and non-Maori individuals, as they represent a connection to Maori culture and a unique piece of art.

It is important to note that the use of paua shells in Maori art and jewelry should be done with respect and cultural sensitivity. The shells should be sourced responsibly and obtained legally to ensure the preservation of the environment and protection of the paua population.

Kahurangi Blue Stone

Kahurangi Blue Stone, also known as pounamu or New Zealand jade, is a highly prized and revered stone in Maori culture. It holds great significance and is often used to create intricate carvings that carry deep symbolism. The stone is valued for its beautiful color, strength, and spiritual attributes.

Traditionally, Kahurangi Blue Stone was used to create taonga (treasures) such as weapons, tools, and ornaments. It was believed to possess spiritual powers and was used for protection, healing, and connecting with the spiritual realm. The stone was often passed down through generations, symbolizing ancestral ties and the importance of heritage.

The deep blue-green color of the stone is associated with the natural landscapes of New Zealand, specifically the rivers and mountains where it is found. The color represents purity, tranquility, and vitality. In Maori culture, it is believed that wearing or carrying Kahurangi Blue Stone can bring good fortune, strength, and a sense of connection to the land and ancestors.

Kahurangi Blue Stone is also associated with mana (prestige) and represents the esteemed status of its wearer. It is often used in contemporary Maori art and jewelry as a symbol of cultural identity and heritage. Many pieces featuring Kahurangi Blue Stone are created by skilled artisans who follow traditional carving techniques and incorporate meaningful Maori symbols.

The significance of Kahurangi Blue Stone extends beyond its physical properties and beauty. It is a symbol of the interconnectedness between people, nature, and spirituality. As a cherished stone in Maori culture, it holds deep cultural meaning and continues to be treasured and celebrated.

Koru and Paua Shell

The koru and paua shell are two significant symbols in Maori culture, each representing unique meanings and concepts.

The koru is a spiral-shaped symbol that is often associated with new beginnings, growth, and harmony. It represents the unfurling fern frond, symbolizing the cycle of life, the strength of family, and the connection to nature. The koru is commonly seen in Maori art, carvings, and jewelry, and its distinctive shape is instantly recognizable.

The paua shell, on the other hand, is a type of abalone shell native to New Zealand. It is highly valued for its iridescent colors and is often used in Maori art and jewelry. The paua shell holds spiritual significance for the Maori people, representing the sea and the many treasures it holds. It is believed to bring good fortune, prosperity, and emotional healing.

When the koru and paua shell are combined, they create a powerful symbol that represents harmony, balance, and connection with the natural world. This combination often appears in Maori artwork, where the swirling patterns of the koru are intertwined with the vibrant colors of the paua shell.

Together, the koru and paua shell remind us of the importance of embracing new beginnings, staying connected to our surroundings, and finding balance in our lives. They serve as a reminder to honor our roots, nurture our growth, and appreciate the beauty and abundance of the natural world.


In conclusion, Maori symbols hold deep cultural and spiritual significance for the indigenous people of New Zealand. Each symbol, such as the Koru, Manaia, Tiki, Hei-tiki, Pikorua, Moko, Matau, Paua Shell, and Kahurangi Blue Stone, carries its own unique meaning and represents different aspects of Maori heritage.

By understanding and appreciating these symbols, we can gain a better understanding of Maori culture and history. Whether it’s incorporating Maori symbols into artwork, jewelry, or tattoos, or simply learning about them for personal enrichment, exploring Maori symbols can be a fascinating and meaningful journey.

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