Te Marae pounamu 


Students with the pounamu (greenstone) on Rongomaraeroa, Te Papa's Marae

Students with the pounamu (greenstone) on Rongomaraeroa, Te Papa's Marae.

Curriculum links

Learning areas

  • Social Studies
  • Science
  • Health and Physical Education
  • Technology

Which strands will it fit with?

  • Social Studies - Identity, Culture, and Organisation, The Economic World 
  • Science - Planet Earth and Beyond
  • Health and Physical Education - Healthy Communities and Environment
  • Technology - Nature of Technology, Technological Knowledge 

Key Competencies

Thinking, Relating to others, Participating and contributing

Levels of achievement

Levels 2-8 

Year group

Years 3-13

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Which topics of study can it support?

  • Pūrākau - Storytelling
  • Geology
  • New Zealand Technological Advances


How long might this take?

Allow 5 minutes to give the pounamu (greenstone) a really good rub!

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Where do I find it?

  • Level 4, Te Marae.
  • Lost? Ask a Te Papa Host.


Why should I take my class to visit this?

  • A fun, hands-on activity for children and grown-ups alike.
  • A chance to connect with one of our unique treasures, formed in the untamed elements of New Zealand’s natural environment.
  • Get up close to a giant piece of pounamu and help to remove the oxide formed on its surface.
  • Re-enact the action of the river on the pounamu boulder. 

What is there to do there?

  • Dip your hands in the water, scoop up some silica sands, and continue the work of more than nine million other people - rubbing the oxide away to expose the green underneath (but don’t expect to see results in a hurry - look at the results nine million people before you have achieved!)

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What should I know about this?

  • This pounamu was presented by the iwi (tribal group) Kāi Tahu in 1986 when the Museum was still located in Buckle Street. The pounamu symbolises the solid, permanent foundations of Te Papa’s Marae, Rongomaraeroa.
  • Pounamu is always associated with water, as this is where it is found in its natural environment. It is displayed on this Marae in a way that water can flow over it.
  • The wairua or spirit of the pounamu protects traditional Māori values in all ceremonies that take place on the Marae.
  • Pounamu is a metamorphic rock. Metamorphic rocks form from heat and pressure changing the original rock into a completely new rock. 

Possible topics for discussion

  • Talk about how this piece of pounamu is the Mauri (life essence) Stone for Rongomaraeroa, Te Papa’s Marae on Level 4.
  • Talk about how there are many different names for pounamu, for example, greenstone, New Zealand jade, nephrite. There are also different varieties of greenstone - inanga (whitebait) is a pearly-whitish, grey-green coloured pounamu; kahurangi is highly translucent, a lightish green pounamu with lighter streaks; kakotea is a streaky dark-green pounamu with black spots; kawakawa is strong dark-green pounamu with varying shades and is named after the pepper tree. There is also tangiwai, which is a very translucent, olive-green to bluish green type of serpentine, which looks like pounamu but is actually a different type of rock known as bowenite - although Māori classed it as greenstone, they were aware of its difference and limitations. Totoweka is an especially rare type of pounamu, which is usually streaked with white or spotted red. Your class can also talk about how pounamu has been particularly important in Māori and other cultures around the world.
  • Talk about the formation of pounamu as a metamorphic rock. The boulder in Te Papa’s Marae is nephrite (nephrite is the mineralogical word for greenstone). A complementary activity may be exploring the different types of rock in the NatureSpaceDiscovery Centre, Level 2.
  • Where does it come from? Although New Zealand greenstone is found on the West Coast of the South Island, in particular the Arahura River, it didn’t form there. A rock containing lots of iron and magnesium, such as serpentine, is buried 20 kilometres below the Earth’s surface next to rock made from beach sand with lots of silica and alumina in it - for millions of years. Greenstone is then bought to the surface with earthquakes and found formed where the two original rock types touched.
  • How did it get into the Arahura River according to Māori mythology? Legend has it that in the West Coast of the South Island there was a taniwha, or monster, named Poutini, who was in love with a beautiful woman named Waitaiki. He abducted her and was chased by Waitaiki’s husband. As her husband was closing in, Poutini took Waitaiki to the mouth of the Arahura River and turned her into greenstone, an aspect of his being. Today, Poutini is considered the spiritual guardian of pounamu, as well as the land and the people of the West Coast.
  • What did Māori use pounamu for? Māori used pounamu for many practical and ceremonial uses. These uses included the making of tools such as adzes in varying sizes, weapons such as the mere or short striking weapons, or jewellery such as the hei tiki, an ornament worn around the neck, which takes a human form.
  • What are the techniques for carving pounamu? Traditionally, pounamu was carved by hand and could be rubbed with sandstone. For making tools, the greenstone was hardened in fire.
  • Are there any guidelines about collecting pounamu from its natural source? The iwi of Ngāi Tahu has a Pounamu Management Plan, which allows for individuals to fossick for greenstone along the beaches of the West Coast and is limited to what an individual can carry within a 24-hour period. Find more information on Ngāi Tahu's website.
  • What are the rules for gifting pounamu? Generally, if pounamu is bought it should not be bought for oneself, but given as a gift to someone else.

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Further information

Related material

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