The Maori Tiki: origin and meaning of a sacred statue

Most often, when we hear the word "Tiki", we immediately think of large carved wooden statues with piercing eyes and a menacing look.

However, certain statues can show expressions of joy or appeasement. Still others will look sad or at least troubled.

As you probably know, tiki culture comes straight from Polynesia. It is in this region of the world that these strange wooden or stone sculptures paying homage to ancient gods have been found.

In fact, as you will now discover, the meaning of tiki is deeply inscribed in Polynesian mythology. Its history and origins are intrinsically linked to those of the peoples of the Pacific.

If this culture interests you, you should probably take a look at our different Polynesian lucky charms. You will find many decrypted symbols there.

Contents :

Origin of tiki and Maori beliefs

The expansion of the concept of Tiki in Polynesian thought

Maori tiki: art and sculpture

The hei tiki, a pendant made of a small statuette

The meaning of this Maori lucky charm today

Three small stone Maori tiki statues in the jungle of an island

Origin of tiki and Maori beliefs

For many specialists in Polynesian culture, a parallel can be established between the Tiki and Adam, the first man created by God according to the Christian religion.

In fact, the term “Tiki” also describes the first human being to walk the Earth.

According to popular legends, Tane (the supreme god of Pacific religions) created Tiki from mud. Feeling very lonely, he then gave him a wife.

Other versions of the story tell us instead that it was Tiki himself who created his wife by mixing his own blood with clay.

It would be when he saw his reflection in a small puddle one day that, overjoyed to see someone who looked like him, he came up with the wildly ambitious idea of ​​creating a companion.

This vision, inevitably, was ephemeral: when he dove into the puddle to kiss his double, he shattered the image which disappeared forever.

By jumping, Tiki would have injured himself and a few drops of his blood would have leaked. He covered the pool with clay and, from this strange mixture, his wife was born.

In short, there are several stories about the origin of the Tiki, but all of them show him as the figure of the first man.

A Maori fisherman's pendant, a Polynesian ring and a lucky tiki charm

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The expansion of the concept of Tiki in Polynesian thought

As Polynesian culture and beliefs developed, an impressive number of legends and stories about Tiki emerged.

In fact, the meaning of this term has broadened to encompass all men who, not through heroic acts, have been able to rise to the rank of gods. (It should be noted in this respect that the majority of Polynesian deities were in reality composed of illustrious ancestors with a half-real, half-legendary life. This is often described by the concept of “ancestor worship”.)

This allows us to guess a fact essential to understanding the tiki as such: each of them is unique.

In many tribes, high-ranking members were considered so powerful that they could only be linked to the sacred.

These individuals, sometimes heroic but sometimes simply well born, were therefore raised to the rank of tikis. Statues bearing their likeness were engraved and ceremonies in their honor were given.

Added to this phenomenon is the great profusion of different cultures that have emerged in the Pacific. From the Hawaiians to the Maoris, and including all the peoples of French Polynesia, in total there are several dozen distinct peoples and cultures who have, in one way or another, given pride of place to the concept of Tiki.

Despite a great profusion of figures in the world of Maori tiki, there are often four who stand out from the others :

  • Kane, the god of light and life : He is the creator of the universe and the master of the natural world in which we live. He is often depicted with a human body, a fish mouth and leaf-shaped hair.
  • Ku, the god of war : This is the only Maori tiki to which human sacrifices were made. With his broad shoulders, his wide-open mouth, suggesting that he can devour his enemies at any time, and his large, menacing-looking head, Ku is the deity with the most dominant appearance and character.
  • Kanaloa, the god of the sea : His representations are easy to recognize. With his squid-shaped dreadlocks, he clearly does not go unnoticed.
  • Lono, the god of rain, fertility and peace : This Maori tiki is the one whose appearance inspires the most confidence. He is often presented to us with a broad smile and a big belly, a symbol of abundance.

The next time you see a depiction of a lucky tiki, you can analyze it and try to discover if it corresponds to one of these four deities. You will know what powers and benefits it is associated with!

For example, according to you, who can this tiki ring belong to?

Lucky wooden tiki statue engraved using a traditional technique

Maori tiki: art and sculpture

Maori tiki carving is therefore one of the oldest known art forms in the Pacific Islands.

Each culture has its own techniques and variations (sometimes linked to the constraints of their own environment). Even when it comes to the same god, the attributes of the statues can vary from one community to another.

There are, however, a few things that remain constant in most cases.

The purpose in creating these lucky statues was above all religious. However, tiki being an art form in itself, it could happen that the statues simply served as decorations for the villages.

The meaning of Māori tiki, as we have seen previously, is that of homage to elders and gods. However, it sometimes happened that certain powerful men decided to have themselves sculpted while they were alive.

If their descendant considered this abusive, the statue was not destroyed but simply not considered sacred as it contained any power.

The powers of a lucky tiki were very varied and most often depended on the figure represented and the rituals linked to it.

Scaring away evil spirits, healing the sick, or even bringing luck and prosperity to the village: their functions were very different but always corresponded to a very specific need of the inhabitants.

Maori fighter making a warrior face and wearing a hei tiki.

The hei tiki, a pendant made of a small statuette

The hei tiki is a small traditional Polynesian pendant in the shape of a human... or rather a tiki!

Worn by the Maori of New Zealand for centuries as a good luck charm, this type of pendant is associated with great powers.

Already, many natives see it as a symbol of fertility and fecundity. It is true that many of these jewels present figures with particularly imposing reproductive organs.

When worn by warriors, the hei tiki also has a sense of protection. Much like ancient civilizations who painted magical symbols other than glyphs on fighters' shields, Maori may wear hei tiki to ensure victory in battle.

In some tribes, this very special pendant is buried with its wearer when he dies. Most of the time, however, a hei tiki will be passed down to the next generation.

In this sense (and a bit like the tiki itself), the hei tiki pendant is a real family treasure that should not be lost.

More than simple magical powers, it is the spirit of the clan, family or tribe which is thus transmitted from generation to generation.

Mug in the shape of a tiki, exotic fruits and pineapple in a bar.

The meaning of this Maori lucky charm today

With colonization, Maori and Polynesian tribes quickly abandoned their ancient beliefs to embrace the Christianity brought by European missionaries.

The creation of lucky tiki statues, however, continued but without the religious meaning that there may have been before. Unfortunately, the meaning and history of certain figures have been lost.

It was after the Second World War that tiki was imported to the United States. While many soldiers were deployed to the Pacific region, some restaurateurs had the idea of ​​creating Polynesian-style establishments.

Given the success they had, this seemed to be a good idea.

Tiki as we know it today was therefore not born in Hawaii but in America!

Fleeing depression and the trauma of war, an entire generation flocked to tiki-style bars, dressed in Hawaiian shirts and dancing the night away, a glass of martini in hand. This phenomenon is called tiki culture.

In the 1980s, a real trend for Polynesian tiki once again ignited the United States. Bars decorated with torches and tiki statues sprang up all over the country.

Renowned for their alcoholic drinks and their always great atmosphere, these places are still very popular today and frequented by young and old alike.

Lucky charm featured in this article:

Maori tiki ring

Maori tiki ring

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author picture(Cyril Gendarme)

Discover the author: Cyril Gendarme

Cyril Gendarme is a writer whose website "The Lucky Door" ("La Porte Du Bonheur" in French, his native language) has become a reference in the field of esotericism. Born in Belgium, Cyril has been attracted to the mysteries of the world since he was a child. When his interest in occultism was awakened, a particular subject caught his attention: lucky charms.

After years of study and in-depth research on esoteric traditions from around the world, Cyril decided to share his knowledge with the public through the internet. In 2019, he launched "The Lucky Door," a website dedicated to exploring lucky charms, magical symbols, and esoteric arts.

The Lucky Door is much more than just a showcase for those curious about magic, divination, or tradition. It is the result of Cyril's passion for researching and understanding the mysteries of the universe. Every piece of information available on the site testifies to his dedication to sharing his knowledge of the most hidden symbols and their unique powers.

In addition to his online work, Cyril regularly organizes workshops and conferences in different countries. His presence on social media is also highly appreciated, where he offers personalized advice and happily answers questions from his community.