Pounamu, is the Maori term for nephrite jade, commonly known as Greenstone. Pounamu is also one of the words in the Maori language for the colour green. The known location of all jade deposits in New Zealand is the South Island, referred to by the Maori as Te Wai Pounamu--the water in which pounamu dwelt.
True nephrite jade is a rare mineral all over the world. The largest fields in the South Island of New Zealand are found at Arahura & Taramakau in Westland, other deposits are found near Lakes Wakatipu & Wanaka in the Otago & Southland provices. Jade is formed under intense heat, super-heated water, & pressure by the movements of crucible rocks. No rock seam of nephrite has ever been found. Over time boulders revealed by earth movement & alluvial erosion are flushed out into the rivers.
Nephrite Jade is a composition of calcium magnesium silicate with various amounts of iron. It is the iron content that is responsible for the vary range of colours. The predominent colour of New Zealand jade is green and shades of green: in fact you can find colours ranging from almost white to nearly black. The colour of one block of stone can vary so much throughout that it is impossible to make standard colour identification. And the translucency of another block of stone may totally modify it's apparent colour.
Maori distinguished varieties of pounamu according to stone quality, shades
of colour and translucency. The terminology used to describe the varieties
differed from tribe to tribe, area to area. A few of the most well-known
credits pounamu with life itself. They trace its origin in personified
form to the time when the Maori world was created. According to oral tradition
rocks, stones and sand are said to be descended from the union of Tane,
god of the forests, the Fertiliser, and Hine-tupari-maunga, the mountain
maid, the personified form of mountains and ranges. Pounamu is sometimes
given a differnt ancestor in the legends, being descended from Tangaroa,
god of the sea and Anu-matao who represents cold. One of Pounamu's brothers
was named Poutini, the whole godly family being known as the iwi pounamu,
the greenstone people. Traditional enemies were the grindstone people,
represented by Hine-tua-hoanga, a personification of sandstone on which
jade was ground by the Maori and her ally Whaipu or obsidian, the volcanic
material fastened to the points of sticks used to drill holes in jade.
In a dispute that arose between these peoples, Poutini fled form the mythical
land of Hawaiki with a human named Ngahue:
The Maori regarded Pounamu as a treasure of immense spiritual & material value. Its ethereal qualities making it the most prized possession representative of mana (spiritual power) & rank. The courage, endurance & skill involved in locating & working the stone added to its prestige. For its beauty & strength, the Maori used jade in place of metal for jewellery, tools, ceremonial objects and weapons.