Initially, Māori used pounamu to make tools. The toki (adze) was used to make canoes, cut down trees and in building. It is said that the discoverer of Aotearoa, Kupe, and his voyaging companion, Ngahue, took several pounamu boulders back to Hawaiki. According to one tradition, the adzes used to shape many of the voyaging canoes that brought the various tribes to New Zealand were made from the stone that Ngahue brought back.
Whao (chisels) and whao whakakōka (gouges) came in all shapes and sizes and were used for carving. Ripi pounamu (knives) and scrapers are among the oldest pounamu artefacts known. Other less common items were fish hook barbs, awls, hammer stones, drill points and bird spear points.
A number of items of jewellery were made from pounamu. They were earrings such as the kuru (long and straight), kapeu (long and curved at the end), and the koropepe (shaped like a curled eel). There were also necklaces – the pekapeka, in the form of a native bat, and the hook-shaped hei matau. Pōria kākā (rings to tether pet birds) were also worn as pendants.
The hei tiki, a neck ornament, is the most well-known piece of Māori jewellery. It has been suggested that the tiki is in the form of the first man, named Tiki. However, some doubt this, as hei tiki are either female, or sexless.
The hei tiki looks like a distorted human figure sitting cross-legged, its large head tilted to one side. Hei tiki were usually worn by women, except in very rare cases. There are instances where previously infertile women have given birth after being gifted a hei tiki.