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Jade Carving

This week's Arts & Culture card is another simple one, featuring an aspect of Polynesian culture of great strength and beauty: Jade Carving.

Jade (or to be more geologically correct, nephrite) can be found at several places on the South Island of New Zealand. Its color varies from white to black, and all shades of green in between. It is a very hard stone, and is laborious to work, especially so with the primitive grinding tools available to the Maori, the native Polynesian people of New Zealand. It was called pounamu in Maori, and now called greenstone in common New Zealand English.

The stone is both hard and tough and made excellent edge tools. Adzes and chisels made from the material were so useful, they were prestige items. Only the paramount chiefs and great warriors would command the mana necessary to wield a mere (a short war club) made of pounamu.

It is also a beautiful, translucent stone, classed as a semi-precious gem. It is quite variable; the stone's character varies within and between sources. The varieties- with differences in quality and color- all have Maori names. The luster of pendants made with pounamu improves with age, reputedly as a result of being worn next to the skin.

Jade objects are not commonly found in ancient Maori archeological sites. No doubt as prestige items, they were carefully preserved rather than put at risk of loss. As a tough stone, breakages would be rare, so the common method of artifacts getting into sites- of being discarded- would also be rare. So the rarity of ornaments, mere, adzes and chisels in the archeological record does not necessarily mean they were rare in use - simply that they were conserved.

The pendant pictured on the card is a heitiki, the most common pattern for Maori ornaments. It is the name of a male demigod, which appears often in Polynesian mythology. The symbology of Maori heitiki has been much debated. They are thought of by some as fertility symbols. One theory interprets details on heitiki as representing common birth deformities (club foot etc.) and suggests they are a talisman to protect against such things.

In game terms, the Jade Carving card provides the player one victory point, nothing more. Your people simply have made objects of lasting beauty and usefullness, that will be admired far into the future.

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