If you’re familiar with Polynesian folklore or have ever watched the 2016 Disney movie Moana, it shouldn’t surprise you that the demigod, Maui, wields a larger-than-life fish hook, created to bring him good luck and prosperity on all his travels. While no such giant hook exists (that we know of!), Maui hook necklaces have become a popular accessory in recent years, bestowing wearers with the same good luck Maui was thought to have enjoyed in ancient times.
About Maui Hook Necklaces
While they may be called different things, the fish hook has similar meanings for both Polynesian and Hawaiian cultures. The Maori people of New Zealand generally refer to the fish hook as “hei matau." Ancestors tell a tale of the great mariner, Maui, who, by using only his woven line and a hand-carved hook, pulled up the island of New Zealand from the ocean. The hei matau is a national treasure to the Maori people, representing not only their land but also prosperity and safe passage over water.
Traditionally carved from whale bones, contemporary fish hooks are now almost exclusively carved from cattle bones—which are more prominent and ethically sourced. There are exceptions; however, when one discovers whale bones on the beach, they can be used for hand-carved hooks, but this an infrequent occurrence.
History of the Makau Hook in Hawaii
Similarly, the Hawaiian fish hook has been around for thousands of years and holds a special place in sacred Hawaiian mythology. In Hawaii, the traditional fish hook is called a Makau, but the one Maui uses throughout Hawaiian myths is called a Manaiakani. Just like in the Maori legend from New Zealand, Maui uses his hook to pull up the islands that we now know as the Hawaiian Islands during a fishing trip with his brothers.
Hawaiian fishermen began using these traditional hooks to fish and later fashioned them into necklaces to wear for good luck and safe travel across the oceans. These days, Maui hook necklaces have become even more popular as unique gifts for people around the world.
What Materials Are Used to Make Maui Hook Necklaces?
Traditionally, these fish hooks were hand-carved by fishermen from whale bones, as a nod to the fact that the sea was a place of beauty and supplied all needs, allowing traditional Hawaiian people self-sufficiency. However, as whales became a protected species, fishermen began to carve hooks from cattle bones, shells, wood, or precious stones.
Today, there are many materials that artisans make Maui hook necklaces from, and depending on your style, there are options for everyone! We’ve compiled a list of some of our favorite materials and a little about each, so you can decide which is Maui hook necklace is right for you or someone you love.
Our Favorite Materials for Maui Hook Necklaces
- Steller’s sea cow bone
- Faux ivory
- Maple burl
- Axis deer antlers
- Koa wood
- Water buffalo horn
Steller’s Sea Cow Bone
Steller’s sea cows were a species that lived off a remote island between Alaska and Russia in the Bering Sea. In the late 1700s, this species — closely related to dugongs and manatees — was hunted into extinction. However, their bones can still be found and used to carve intricate works of art, knives, and Maui hook necklaces.
A beautiful and sustainable imitation of real ivory, this hand-carved faux ivory hook resembles the look of traditional Maui fish hooks made from whale bones.
Burlwood is typically twisted, making it extremely dense and resistant to splitting. Therefore, it's an ideal and unique wood to use for hand-carved hooks like this one. This distinct wood is made even more exciting with the introduction of beautiful resin, making it and similar hooks unique gifts for your friends or family.
Axis Deer Antlers
The axis deer, also called chital in their native India, can be found on Maui, Lana'i, and Moloka’i, thanks to a gift from Hong Kong to King Kamehameha V in 1860. With few natural predators on the islands, the axis deer population has soared and made them an invasive species in Hawaii. However, the axis deer antler provides a beautiful material that, when hand-carved by local craftsmen, makes a striking Maui hook necklace.
Koa wood is said to be an ancient symbol of wisdom and is the second most common tree on the Hawaiian Islands. In Hawaiian, “koa" literally means brave, bold, fearless, and warrior. Most common on Maui, Hawai’i, and Oahu, Koa wood is responsible for beautiful, one-of-a-kind pieces of art like this unique fish hook. Plus, unique gifts made from Koa wood allow visitors to take a beautiful and historic part of Hawaii home with them!
Water Buffalo Horn
Did you know that water buffalo is the most common domesticated animal in the world? Used in agriculture for tilling rice fields, milked for richer and more protein-dense milk, and used as a source for meat, more people depend on the water buffalo than any other domesticated animal in the world. It’s fitting that an animal that spends most of its time in water lends its horns to make some of the most beautiful unique Maui fish hook necklaces we’ve laid our eyes on!
Offering Unique Gifts from Lahaina Since 1971
Here at Whaler’s Locker, we’ve proudly served Maui and the Lahaina community since 1971. From shark tooth necklaces, Maui fish hooks, hand-crafted knives, scrimshaw artwork, and tons of other unique gifts, we believe we have a little aloha spirit for everyone that walks through our doors. We're excited to take our collection online, shipping to all 50 states! Contact us today to bring a piece of Maui home with you!