Ngāi Tahu gift rare pounamu to Olympians

New Zealand’s Olympic and Paralympic athletes will receive pendants made from the extremely rare...
New Zealand’s Olympic and Paralympic athletes will receive pendants made from the extremely rare Tahutahi “snowflake” pounamu. Photo: New Zealand Olympic Committee
New Zealand's Olympic and Paralympic athletes will receive pendants made from the rare Tahutahi pounamu from South Westland.

Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu today hosted the New Zealand Olympic Committee and Paralympics New Zealand at its Christchurch office.

Ngāti Māhaki carvers from Te Rūnanga o Makaawhio spent a year creating hundreds of the taonga, each of which is made from Tahutahi.

Tahutahi pounamu is one of the rarest types of pounamu. Found only on the Cascade Plateau, south of Haast, the rich and intense stone has a striking white snowflake effect, leading to the nickname 'snowflake' pounamu.

It was subject to several big court cases for large scale theft of the valuable stone in the 2000s.

Ngāi Tahu has never given permission to outside parties for the collection and sale of the distinctive pounamu from this region, which has not had a minerals permit.

Fayne Robinson of Ngati Mahaki and Rānui Ngārimu of Ngai Tahu designed the pendants, while carvers Caleb Robinson and Tutoko Wallace hand carved them, with help from Ben Lakin from Art Fetiche.

They were bound by Christina Tamayo and Chantal Tumahai from Ngāi Tahu Pounamu Ltd, a company owned jointly by Makaawhio and Te Runanga o Ngati Waewae.

The pendants will travel to Paris with the Olympic and Paralympic teams, where they will be presented to each athlete and team support member as they are welcomed to the Olympic village.

Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu kaiwhakahaere (chairman) Justin Tipa says pounamu is an important taonga to Māori.

"For the last 20 years, Ngāi Tahu has made the individual pounamu pieces for every Olympic athlete. These pieces are a special gift, and we wish the athletes all the best in Paris."

NZOC Chef de Mission Nigel Avery says the pendants will connect the athletes to home while they compete overseas.

"We are extremely grateful to Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu for this special taonga," he said.

"Presenting team members with a pounamu necklace is a meaningful and significant tradition for the New Zealand Team. It helps to unite and inspire our athletes and lets them carry a little piece of home with them as they compete for Aotearoa New Zealand."

The Paris 2024 Olympic Games will be held from July 26 to August 11. New Zealand is expected to be represented by about 190 athletes across 22 sports.

The Paralympic Games will take place from August 28 to September 8, with up to 30 athletes to represent New Zealand.