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The Story of my Koru, My Taonga


posted by Susan Dominikovich on , ,

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Sometimes there is spiritual as well as symbolic significance in the things that we wear or that we put on our bodies.  A well-designed tattoo may be packed with meaning or a cross around the neck may be a reminder of faith.  A bone-carving pendant may actually embody some of the spirit of the giver in the wearer.  I do not have any markings on my body and I do not wear a cross.  I wear a koru, a greenstone pendant.  It is more than just a pretty piece of jade hanging around my neck.  I wear it with affection and pride, and sometimes also out of need.  In moments of uncertainty, I actually grasp it in my fingers.  Its symbolic significance is deep and affirming.  It truly is my greatest taonga, my treasure.

I was spurred into literary action today by the Maori teacher at my school.  She taught the children a new karakia, a prayer, and touched on the idea of our taonga--our treasure or precious thing--and showed the children her bone carving pikorua (twist) that she wears around her neck.  She mentioned pounamu (greenstone or jade) as a treasure too and all the children looked over at me, knowing that most days I wear mine.  Sure enough, I was able to pull it out from under my top and show them my pounamu koru.  

A koru is a fernleaf that is unfurling.  It is the new growth of the young fern frond and thus symbolises new life, growth, strength and also peace.


Silver Fern koru
I do not have a tattoo on my body to signify something of my character, my life or loves.  I do not wear a cross as a statement of faith.  I wear my koru.  

Paul gave me my koru over seventeen years ago when we knew we were moving from Christchurch to Taranaki.  We had both finished our teacher training and it was logistically difficult to find jobs together in the same place, at the same time.  Options started to open up for us but when Paul came back from his interview at New Plymouth Boys' High School, he said he knew, he just knew this was the place for him.  I did not know.  I had never been to New Plymouth.  I didn't have a job or the prospect of one.  I struggled for approximately ten minutes but then remembered my husband is a man of faith and when he knows, he just knows.  And he is not wrong.  So he took the job and we made plans to move to an unknown place.  Again.  As if the move from Canada to New Zealand wasn't bad enough.  But I decided to trust and have faith.  That Christmas, Paul gave me my koru, rich with meaning.  It was a new beginning for us, a fresh start.  God would give me peace and strength and He would certainly grow us.  For good.

Sure enough, before we had even moved up, God gave me a job teaching English in Inglewood, just outside of New Plymouth and we decided from a distance that the small town of roughly 2000 people would be our home. I wore my koru every day, as a symbol of who I was as a child of God, resting in the peace of His provision and revelling in this new life He had planned for us.  Eventually we established roots on the side of the mountain and grew our family from two to six over a number of years.

I don't know how it happened but at some point I stopped wearing my koru.  It gathered dust on my jewellery holder along with a variety of beaded strings and pendants.  I look back now and it seems so obvious to me that I had become complacent with who I was and who I knew God had wanted me to be.  I had begun to compromise.  I didn't need faith in new beginnings anymore.  It had all become old hat and I was in charge, doing quite a fine job of it too.

Until the ground beneath me began to fall away and I no longer knew who I was or what I was doing or where I was going.

At that moment of crisis, of wondering what on earth was going on and how I was going to manage to get my head out of the water again, I reached for my koru and put it around my neck again.  The feeling of the cold jade against my skin was an unimaginable comfort and I found myself grasping it and holding it between my fingers in particularly trying times.  It reminded me that God was asking me again to trust Him.  To believe.  To know He was doing something and He was growing me through it.  To have faith in another new thing that was beginning to unfurl.  The significance dawned on me when a friend of four years saw my necklace in January this year and said to me, "that's pretty...is it new?"  It wasn't new at all.  It had been forgotten.  And I realised, in forgetting my koru for those years, I had also forgotten myself.  Putting it on again, I fastened on to the knowledge that yet again, God was asking me to trust Him; He was giving me a new beginning.

I could wear a cross around my neck to symbolise my faith.  I could tattoo my body with a cross or a dove or a Christian fish.  I believe in Jesus and I live in obedience to God.  But my koru means the same thing.  My koru reminds me in a real and personal way of significant times in my life where I faced uncertainty but God said, "I am doing a new thing; trust me."

When I started this blog I decided my cover photo would be a picture of my koru.  But as I was scrolling through all my photos I found a picture of our Abby, peaking out between a fortress of driftwood that my children had built on the beach at Mokau during a July holiday nearly two years ago.  Clutched between her fingers as only her eyes posed for the photo was her little piece of beach taonga, a shell, in the shape of a koru.  

It was spiritual and significant.  It was perfect.

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