Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Bookish Tuesday: Pounamu - the sacred greenstone of New Zealand

By Cindy Williams|@nutritionchic 

 If you have never visited New Zealand the title of ‘The Pounamu Prophecy’ may have you scratching your head. What on earth is pounamu?

 Pounamu is the Maori word for greenstone, a unique type of jade found only in the remote and rugged rivers of the west coast of the South Island of New Zealand. If you walk the spectacular Routeburn track you can see one of the routes Maori took through the treacherous southern mountains to collect pounamu. Imagine carting sacks of stones over steep mountain passes and across swift flowing rivers. No wonder Maori had one of the best physiques in the world!

A Sacred Stone

Pounamu is a sacred stone, often carved into jewellery and treasured by Maori as a sign of status or power. It is a stone one could readily endow with spiritual qualities.

In ‘The Pounamu Prophecy’ Mere gives her pounamu pendant, carved in the shape of a fishing hook, to Helene. Helene knows it is special to Mere and protests.

 ‘But I don’t deserve it.’ 

‘You don’t need to deserve a gift; you just receive it. And then say thank you.’ Mere’s amused scolding lightened the moment. 

‘Thank you, Mere. This is so special. I will wear it always.’ She hung it around her neck. The stone felt cool against her chest. She rubbed its smooth surface. 

‘My grandfather named this stone Rongo, which means peace,' said Mere. 'I used to think the stone gave me peace but I finally realised that it wasn’t the stone, but the maker of the stone.’ 

‘You mean your grandfather?’ 

‘I mean the maker of all stones, trees, people, the universe. God is the one who gives us peace.’

A Stone of Peace

Pounamu is still used today as a treasured gift to promote peace. When my husband’s mother died there was a bitter dispute over where she should be buried. As the eldest son, my husband had to decide what to do. The two tribes argued for a whole day until late at night he called his uncles.

As dramatic as any movie, they drove through the dead of night, stole her body and took her home to her own tribe. After the three day tangi the tribe sent a delegation to the offended tribe, giving them a gift of a large piece of pounamu to restore the tribe's mana (status) and to make peace.

Similarly, my cousin used pounamu as a symbol of peace to honour his brother who was tortured and murdered by the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia. In the movie, 'Brother Number One' he drops a treasured piece of pounamu into the sea where the Khmer Rouge had captured him just off the coast of Cambodia.

 A Stone of Strength and Beauty

Pounamu is strong. It can break granite and cut through steel - ideal for use as a tool or weapon. As a child I remember my father wishing he had extended his vegetable garden just a few more feet. Why? Because the new owner found a pounamu mere, a deadly club carved in the shape of a tear drop, a rare and valuable treasure.

Pounamu is smooth and cool and soothing and has a depth of pattern, as though peering into the deepest green waters. It is a reminder of how much our God loves to create beauty in this world. As you read this beautiful Maori blessing allow the peace of our Lord to soothe your mind and calm your heart.

May the calm be widespread
May the surface of the ocean glisten like green stone
And may the shimmer of summer dance across your path forever.

 About Cindy Williams 

With degrees in Nutrition, Public Health and Communication Cindy has worked for many years as a dietitian for sports teams, food industry, media, and as a nutrition writer and speaker.

Her first novel, The Pounamu Prophecy, was short listed for the 2016 Caleb Prize. She writes a blog - www.nutritionchic.com - stories of health, history, food and faraway places.

She lives in Sydney with her husband and son, writing stories of flawed women who battle injustice... and sometimes find romance.


  1. This was so interesting! We have a gorgeous picture of New Zealand hanging in our home from my daughter's travels there. I enjoyed learning more about it.

    1. Hi Sandra, NZ is certainly blessed with its scenery. I hope your daughter enjoyed her time there.

  2. Fascinating! I knew nothing about New Zealand greenstone, even though our son spent a summer there as an exchange student (our summer--your winter, of course.) Congratulations on your first novel!