A hei matau is a bone or greenstone carving in the shape of a highly stylised fish hook. It represents strength, good luck and safe travel across water.
The fish-hook shape of the hei matau finds its origins in Māori legend, which holds that the North Island of New Zealand was once a huge fish that was caught by the great mariner Maui using only a woven line and a hook made from the jawbone of his grandmother. Legend holds that the shape of the Hawkes' Bay is that of the hei matau, which caught in the fish's side on the beach. The Māori name for the North island, Te Ika a Maui ("The fish of Maui") reflects this legend.
For the Māori, the hei matau is taonga (a cultural treasure). It represents not only their land, but also prosperity, fertility and safe passage over water. They also denote the importance of fishing to Māori, and their relationship to Tangaroa god of the sea.