Friday, May 29, 2009

Traditions of the Black Forest


Behold, one of the most beautiful postcards I've received so far - this scan doesn't really show the beautiful, deep colors on the card. I love these beautiful farmhouses of the Black Forest, or Schwarzwald, which were traditionally built with very steep roofs to prevent snow from accumulating on the house and making the interior cold. These houses also have an insulating corridor, which wraps around the entire house, between the exterior wall and the living area - this also helps keep the living area warm. The Black Forest had very difficult, snowy winters, which is why it was populated much later in human history. It is still much less densely populated than northern Germany. The particular house shown in this photo is called the Lorenzenhof, built in 1608, and part of the Black Forest Open Air Museum, which features many traditional German farmhomes, mills, storehouses, gardens, and chapels. You can take a very lovely virtual tour by clicking on this link

The Black Forest is a major tourist attraction in Germany. Beautiful natural landscapes abound; including some of the most beautiful lakes in the world (Lake Titisee on the right), rolling hills, and gently curving rivers. It's a great place for hiking and boating and exploring nature. The people of the region serve very hearty, delicious meals and some of Germany's best beer is produced in this region as well. Some very famous foods originated here, including kirsch, a cherry liqueur, as well as Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte, a.k.a. Black Forest Cake, which nowadays you can get in many restaurants all over the world. It's a delicious chocolate cake with layers of whipped cream and cherries, and I definitely recommend you try the incredible recipe I've included at the closing of this post. :)

An entry about the Black Forest wouldn't be complete without a mention of the cuckoo clocks that have helped make this region famous. Although the idea didn't originate in this area (most historians believe it arrived from Bohemia), the clockmakers of the Black Forest are responsible for turning cuckoo clocks into a valued art form, and have been doing so since the 1700s. I had no idea how much these clocks were associated with this region until I started doing some internet research on the Black Forest - imagine my surprise when I searched for "Black Forest" and every search result brought me something about cuckoo clocks! The Black Forest also has several clock- and jewelry-making museums which are highly recommended.

Here is the promised Black Forest Cake recipe. Enjoy!

Black Forest Cake
2 1/8 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups white sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 (20 ounce) cans pitted sour cherries
1 cup white sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups heavy whipping cream
1/3 cup confectioners' sugar

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and flour two 9 inch, round, cake pans; cover bottoms with waxed paper.

2. In a large bowl, combine flour, 2 cups sugar, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add eggs, milk, oil, and 1 tablespoon vanilla; beat until well blended. Pour batter into prepared pans.

3. Bake for 35 minutes, or until wooden toothpick inserted in centers comes out clean. Cool layers in pans on wire racks 10 minutes. Loosen edges, and remove to racks to cool completely.

4. Drain cherries, reserving 1/2 cup juice. Combine reserved juice, cherries, 1 cup sugar and cornstarch in a 2 quart saucepan. Cook over low heat until thickened, stirring constantly. Stir in 1 teaspoon vanilla. Cool before using.

5. Combine whipping cream and confectioner's sugar in a chilled medium bowl. Beat with an electric mixer at high speed until stiff peaks form.

6. With long serrated knife, split each cake layer horizontally in half. Tear one split layer into crumbs; set aside. Reserve 1 1/2 cups Frosting for decorating cake; set aside. Gently brush loose crumbs off top and side of each cake layer with pasty brush or hands. To assemble, place one cake layer on cake plate. Spread with 1 cup frosting; top with 3/4 cup cherry topping. Top with second cake layer; repeat layers of frosting and cherry topping. Top with third cake layer. Frost side of cake. Pat reserved crumbs onto frosting on side of cake. Spoon reserved frosting into pastry bag fitted with star decorator tip. Pipe around top and bottom edges of cake. Spoon remaining cherry topping onto top of cake.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Egypt, Past and Present


This card shows one of the jewels in my growing collection, the burial chamber of King Tutankhamun in Egypt, which I received in a swap with lovely Salma. I was browsing through my cards, deciding which one to blog about today, and as is often the case, I realized that I know very little about Egypt. I know a little of the ancient history, but what is Egypt like today? I want to know.

But first, let me tell you about King Tut. He is famous today, but not because he was a special king, only because his tomb is the most complete Egyptian burial tomb ever discovered. Usually, the burial tombs of Egyptian kings were plundered and stripped of their valuables over the thousands of years they've existed, but this tomb remained undiscovered until 1922, when Howard Carter and his archaeological team unearthed the tomb. And what of King Tut? Not much is known - he was nine years old when he became king, and died ten years later. His rule began in approximately 1332 BC, and no one is very sure who his parents were - possibly Akhenaten, the only monotheistic king Ancient Egypt ever had. King Tut didn't have enough time to have a profound effect while he was alive, but today he's been able to teach us a lot about ancient Egypt.

Nowadays, Egypt is the most populous nation of the Middle East, home to 83 million people. Although Egypt is a fairly large country, most of the land is desert, and nearly all people live along the Nile River - 99% of the population lives on only 5.5% of the country's land area. So Egypt is crowded. There is also a lot of uniformity, from what I can gather. Ninety-nine percent of the population is ethnic Egyptian, and 90% of the population is Sunni Muslim. The remaining minority is almost entirely Coptic Christian, the name given to Egyptian Orthodoxy. The government is nominally a semi-presidential republic with an elected president, but the current president, Hosni Mubarak, has served five terms and is often accused of election rigging. Egypt has also been criticized for frequent human rights violations, including the use of torture and the mistreatment of women. 

But I don't want to bash Egypt. It is one of the most stable, successful countries in the region, with a strong economy and (mostly) peaceful diplomatic relations. Present-day Egyptian culture has some great high notes, including world-famous festivals and a thriving pop music industry, as well as some very highly-regarded soccer teams. 

This video gives a photographic tour of Egypt that shows some of the modern culture as well as the ancient history available to see in Egypt.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Finnish Cuisine: Better than You Think


I received this lovely Finnish recipe card in April from user IC. According to Wikipedia, there have been some public figures (Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, former French president Jacques Chirac) who publicly denounced the quality of Finnish food. Before I tell you all about why they're wrong, let me translate this lovely recipe for you.

"Sand Under, Snow On Top"  - An Apple Dessert

5 dl (deciliter = a little under half a cup) rye bread, crumpled
50 g butter
100 g sugar
1 tbs cocoa
1 tbs cinnamon
2 dl apple sauce/jam
2 dl whipped cream
2 dl raspberry jam
chocolate chips
Crumple the rye bread and dry it in the oven. Melt butter in a pan and add the crumpled rye bread. Let it cool, then add sugar, cocoa, and cinnamon. Add the mixture to the bottom of the serving dish, then layer half the apple sauce, whipped cream, and raspberry jam. Then add a second layer of apple sauce, whipped cream, and raspberry jam. Sprinkle the top with chocolate chips. 

Yum! Doesn't this sound like a delicious treat? And doesn't it make you want to learn more about Finnish food? I know I do...

Of course, in this very global economy, there's a lot more uniformity in the foods people eat. The items I mention are traditionally, historically common Finnish foods, but may not be frequently eaten anymore. Some ingredients that seem present in lots of Finnish dishes include cabbage, smoked fish, cheese, viili (a yogurt-like fermented milk product), smoked ham or beef, potatoes, rye bread, fresh berries (including the high-falutin', relatively rare berry called cloudberry), lingonberry jam, pulla (a sweet dessert bread), salmiakki and other types of licorice. I know plenty of Finns will see this post, so if you have things you'd like to add (recipes to share? common foods?), please leave them in the comments! 

And I'd like to leave you with this Washington Post article which tells one man's adventure exploring Finnish food in Helsinki. By and large, his experience was quite positive. 

"Chirac and Berlusconi are wrong! Finnish cuisine is much more international than I expected. I have eaten very good food in wonderful restaurants, visited market places and enjoyed in good cafeterias. Cheese is very good in Finland. I also love Finnish cloudberry and smoked fish." (Ute Junker, Australian Financial Review Magazine, Sydney, Australia)

"Food in Finnish restaurants is extremely good. Especially I love Finnish salmon, mushroom soup and desserts. I have also got very good Finnish wines. The worldwide reputation of Finnish cuisine isn't very good – but it should be!" (Liliane Delwasse, Le Figaro, Paris, France)

"I have eaten only good food in Finland. Food in Finland is very fresh. Bread, berries, mushrooms and desserts are very delicious. Finnish berries (especially cloudberry), salmon, cheeses and reindeer should be available in London, too." (April Hutchinson, Abta Magazine, London, England).

Monday, May 18, 2009

Dutch Windmills


"The windmills belong to the Dutch landscape, to such an extent that we cannot imagine this landscape without them, at least not without feeling that something valuable is missing." -Frederick Stokhuyzen 

Windmills, along with tulips, wooden shoes,
and cheese, are among the cliches we think of when imagining the Netherlands in our minds. And while I recognize that there is much more to Holland then these four things, I also think there's a good reason why this small country has so many windmills. That's what I set out to find out in this post. What purpose do windmills serve in Holland? What effect do they have on the people and the landscape? 

Windmills seem to serve three major purposes in Holland: mill corn, drain water from the land, and serve industrial needs. All three are very important, but I'm most fascinated by the water drainage. The Netherlands wages a constant battle against water, with 27% of the land and 60% of the population lying below sea level. Throughout the history of this area, the population has competed with the water. The land in Holland is extremely fertile, when it can be claimed from the water, and therefore people have been trying to use it for millenia. In the first millenium AD, villages and farms were built on manmade hills called terps, which over time were connected by dikes. As early as the 1100s, government committees existed for the sole purpose of fending off floodwaters. The ground level, even today, continues to lower as more water is drained off and the underlying peat compresses as it dries. The peat was also mined to be used as fuel until the 19th century, contributing further to the problem. By the 13th century, windmills were being used to drain water from the land. At first they were used only to drain water from areas below sea level, but they were later used to drain lakes as well, creating Holland's famous polders, basically a crater of land, lined by dikes, and surrounded by water.

Windmills went out of fashion as better technologies came along at the
turn of the 20th century. Over the next hundred years the number of windmills declined from 10,000 working windmills to 1,000. Now recognized as an important cultural symbol (and lucrative tourist attraction), Holland is diligently working to restore its windmills, and their number is slowly on the rise. Many amazing feats of engineering have since been employed to keep Holland safe from floods, but it remains among the nations most susceptible to the effects of global warming. Until then, Holland's reclaimed lands bring us some of the world's most beautiful flowers, as well as tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers, and its agricultural exports rank third in the world in value.

The video below, shot by a windmill keeper, shows a lovely working windmill in the south of Holland, with views of the outside and the inner working parts as well. 

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Geisha and Maiko of Japan


Geisha are NOT prostitutes - even my cultural anthropology graduate boyfriend didn't know that. It's a very common misconception, but the geisha community is separate from the illegal (yet thriving) prostitution trade in Japan. Ever since I read Memoirs of a Geisha in high school I've been very fascinated by this very unique cultural phenomenon. 

The Japanese syllables gei and sha translate into "art person" or more loosely translated, "artist." This term accurately describes the geisha, who undergoes an extensive training regimen to master the skills that she is expected to know. The foremost role of the geisha is that of hostess, or to entertain a group in a subtle, classy way. She is expected to have a sense of humor, initiate and carry on conversations among partygoers, and generally lighten the mood of a gathering. She must be an expert at carrying out the complex Japanese tea ceremony, playing the Japanese guitar-like instrument called the shamisen, singing, and dancing. 

The young women in the postcard above are maiko, or apprentice geisha. The maiko is usually what Westerners imagine when they hear the term "geisha," because they wear the full white face makeup, the complex hairstyle, and the brightly-colored kimono. The philosophy behind the geisha style of dress is designed to make the woman look demure, graceful, and yet subtly hint at sexuality, all at the same time. The shoes worn by geisha, called
 zori, are very difficult to walk in (especially under the heavy kimono, which can weigh as much as 35 lbs [16 kg]), but are designed to make the geisha look like she is gliding across the ground when she walks. The hair style of the maiko, which is grueling to create, is said to be vaguely suggestive of hidden female body parts. Additionally, the white face paint, while hiding the face of the geisha and giving her an air of elusivity, is not painted on fully at the back of the neck. This small patch of exposed skin is a considered an erogenous zone in Japan, and it too hints at the young woman hiding beneath the heavy makeup and fabric.

Geisha are slowly dying out in Japan. Demand for their services is down due to a struggling economy and a more casual attitude towards business meetings, where their services were most in demand. In the 1920s, there were over 80,000 registered geisha; nowadays there are only 1000-2000 geisha left. Most geisha live in either Tokyo or Kyoto, and many of these women are much more independent than ever before. In the past, geisha were dependent upon an okiya, a geisha house owned by a woman who would pay for the geisha training. After training was complete, successful geisha would be patronized by a danna, usually a wealthy man who would assume the enormous costs associated with geisha's training and wardrobe, with whom the geisha would sometimes maintain a monogamous sexual relationship. This is the only case in which the geisha would perform sexual acts. Nowadays, however, geisha can live on their own, pay for their own training, and answer to no one but themselves. These are young, single, and often college-educated women who decide they would like to perpetuate the unique cultural tradition of the geisha.

I encourage you to watch the video I have posted below. It's a long, but really amazing look at how the geisha applies her makeup. You can also find videos of traditional geisha dancing and shamisen-playing on Youtube. Enjoy!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Vamos a Andalucía!


About five years ago I read the book Iberia by James Michener, which is an in-depth account of the author's travels in Spain and Portugal, which are extensive. Ever since I've been completely fascinated by Spanish culture, which is so distinctive and very interesting to learn about. Some of my most beautiful postcards have come from Spain, and several from the southern region of Spain called Andalusia. So I thought - double the pleasure. See some gorgeous cards, and learn about one of the most extraordinary regions in Spain. 

Andalusia has been greatly shaped by its history; it was the staging ground for the Roman's defeat, under Hannibal, of the Carthiginians. Most notable, though, is the occupation of Southern Spain by the Muslims (or Moors) for hundreds of years. As a result of this occupation, visitors can see Muslim influences all over the region, particularly in art and architecture. Andalusia, or Al-Andalus, was by far the most intellectually superior empire on the European continent in its time. Although predominently Muslim, the state was tolerant of Jews and Christians, and this period became known as a Golden Age of Jewish culture. The Moors in Andalusia made great advances in the fields of philosophy, astronomy, math, medicine, music, and technology. Al-Andalus was a treasure trove of literature as well - the city of Cordoba, the intellectual seat of the empire, had 70 libraries, the largest of which contained as many as 600,000 books. By comparison, the largest library in Christian Europe contained no more than 400 manuscripts. By the 1400s, the University of Paris still had only 2000 books. 

The Moorish empire constantly battled with its neighboring Christian empire. The last Muslim bastion of Spain fell in 1492.

Nowadays, Andalusia has developed its own very unique culture. Cuisine in Andalusia is influenced by its proximity to the Mediterranean Sea. Ingredients traditionally associated with the Mediterranean region - olives, honey, almonds, garlic - are in heavy rotation here. Sherry is an incredibly important Spanish invention. Gazpacho, a chilled tomato-based soup, also originates from this region. "The Andalusian kitchen owes a lot not only to the Arabs and geography, but also to the weather and the lack of firewood. Homes did not have indoor ovens because it was too hot and most cooking was stove-top. Kitchens usually had a poyo, a stone counter surfaced with tiles, running along one wall with inset hornillas or burners and an ash box underneath, there being no chimney to take smoke away. Very little firewood existed so fuel sources often consisted of olive pits, dried grape twigs, or picón, a pencil-sized charcoal made by smoldering bush branches which burns relatively free of smoke. Andalusian preparations simmered on these dying fires for long periods of time." (source:

Another important cultural tradition of Andalusia is flamenco, which refers both to a style of dance and a style of music. I encourage you to watch the video below to see what a beautiful dance flamenco is.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Rio de Janeiro and the Cariocas


I don't know about you, but when I think of Rio, I imagine a tropical paradise - a city of passionate people, with samba music playing in the background, and beautiful tan-skinned women and men walking around in bikinis or breezy linen outfits. I figured it was about time I did a post about this legendary city in Brazil. 

The people of Rio refer to themselves as Cariocas, which is derived from the aboriginal term "Kara'i oca" which means "White Man's House," probably referring to the original Portuguese settlers of the area. Nowadays Rio is known as one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the world, with the population divided as 53.4% White, 33.5% Pardo (Brown), 12.6% Black, and .5% Asian or Amerindian. 

Like most very large, culturally rich cities, Rio is very hard to characterize within a single blog post. Rio is famous for its incredible beaches (Copacabana and Ipanema in particular), the spectacular celebration of Carnaval, samba and bossa nova music, and that well-known religious artifact, Christ the Redeemer high up on the hill. Sports are very popular in Rio, which is home to five traditional futebol (soccer) teams, one of which (Flamengo) reputedly has the largest group of supporters of any team in the world. Additionally, the Brazilian martial art capoeira (which to my eye looks more like a combination of kickboxing, aerobics, and gymnastics) is very popular in Rio. There are also many opportunities for surfing, volleyball, rock climbing, sailing, and frescobol (a type of beach tennis). 

Rio sounds like a magnificent tropical paradise, but in fact, it does have a dark underbelly. Crime rates are disproportionately high, particularly homicides in poor areas dominated by drug lords. "As of 2007, the homicide rate of the greater metropolitan area stood at nearly 30 victims per week, with the majority of victims falling to mugging, stray bullets or narcoterrorism." (source: Wikipedia) Additionally, there is a great income gap between the very wealthy residents of Brazil and the large populations living in slums and shantytowns. A large portion of the city's poverty and crime exist in the North Side of the city.

Despite the crime and poverty, Rio has a lot to offer visitors - beautiful beaches, great music and nightlife, and incredible natural beauty. Enjoy the bossa nova music!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

What do YOU know about Kyrgyzstan?


I received this lovely card from my friend Diana in Holland - it shows a nomadic family standing next to its traditional dwelling - the yurt - in the ruggedly beautiful land of Kyrgyzstan. I felt that I MUST write a blog post, so I immediately set to work doing some research...and I was completely shocked by my complete lack of knowledge about this lovely country.  The capital city? No idea. ANY city in Kyrgyzstan? Can't name a single one. Traditions? Food? Landscape features? I know nothing! What do you know about Kyrgyzstan? 

Wikipedia provides some basic information about this former Soviet Republic, which is located here on the map. And it's good to know that the capital is named Bishkek, that people in Kyrgyzstan speak both Russian and Kyrgyz, and that about 5.4 million people live there. But I want some more interesting information, which I found at the Lonely Planet website

Lonely Planet's Top Five Picks for Kyrgyzstan:

1. Horse treks: See the Kyrgyz countryside at its best by riding high into the mountains and galloping across summer pastures.
2. Lake Issyk-Köl: Hemmed in by mountains this bizarrely un-freezeable lake is the country's premier attraction.
3. Altyn Arashan: Breath-taking scenery, steaming hot pools and the first glimpse of the secret Ala-Köl lake makes for great trekking.
4. Osh: For centuries Silk Road traders have haggled their way from one stall to the next in a bazaar that locals claim is older than Rome - join them.
5. Arslanbob: Go nuts in the world's largest walnut forest on a network of blossoming woodland treks. 

Monday, May 11, 2009

Varadero Beach, Cuba


I was SO excited to receive this first of three cards from Mauroh in Cuba! In the United States, it is illegal to travel as a tourist to Cuba. This is a result of left over resentment from the Cold War, but I suspect with a new Cuban president and our new, sensible president, that Americans will soon be allowed to travel to Cuba. Until then, we have to go to Canada first and fly down there from Canada. :)

This card shows Varadero Beach, which is a popular vacation spot in Cuba, receiving over 500,000 visitors each year. Varadero is located on a narrow peninsula extending northeast towards Florida. "In addition to its most valued resource, the beach, Varadero has natural attractions such as caves and a chain of easily accessed virgin cays. There are also cultural, historical and environmental attractions in the vicinity, such as the cities of Matanzas and Cárdenas, the Zapata Peninsula and the resort of San Miguel de los Baños. Varadero, which is a free port, also possesses facilities for scuba diving, deep-sea fishing, yachting and other water sports." (source: Wikipedia)

I am very interested in the culture of Cuba, which is unique among Caribbean nations. Many of its cultural traditions, including music, cuisine, and sports, are influenced by Spanish, African, and American traditions. The distinctive music of Cuba combines African percussion with Spanish guitar. The most popular sport, by far, is baseball, which is an American import. Fidel Castro often stressed the importance of sports, which explains Cuba's internationally successful baseball players and Olympic athletes. Unlike other Latin American nations, soccer (football) is not a popular sport. Traditional Cuban food makes frequent use of black beans, rice, cassava, eggs, tomatoes, pork, chicken, and beef (some of which is not always widely available). Cuban coffee is known for its high quality. The most commonly practiced religion in Cuba is Roman Catholicism, with a significant minority practicing Santeria, a Caribbean mixture of Catholicism and African Yoruba religions. Santeria is where voodoo comes from. :)

I hope someday soon it will be possible to visit Cuba. I think it seems like such a lovely place, and in this age, it seems so silly to be forbidden to go. 

Friday, May 8, 2009

Angkor Thom, Cambodia


This card from Cambodia was a very exciting surprise in my mailbox. It comes from user AnChieh, who lives in Taiwan but went on holiday in Cambodia. 

This photo shows the temple Baksei Chamkrong, which is a small Hindu temple located in the sprawling ancient ruins of the city of Angkor Thom. Baksei Chamkrong is the name of this temple, which translates to "The Bird Who Shelters Under Its Wings." It comes from the legend of a king who tried to escape Angkor during a siege and was protected by an enormous bird that protected him with its wings. This temple was erected in the 10th century, and it is devoted to the Hindu avatar Lord Shiva, god of destruction. The temple held (still holds?) a golden image of him.

Angkor Thom was an important city in the Khmer empire (the largest empire in Southest Asia that was based in present-day Cambodia) - the largest and longest-lasting capital city of the empire. The city is rife with the beautiful architecture and sculpture that you can also see in the more famous Khmer city of Angkor Wat. 

I know very little about Khmer culture, or Cambodia in general, but Khmer seems to refer both to an ethnic group and also the official language of Cambodia. In order to enlighten myself (and you!) I found a cool video of traditional Khmer dancing. Check it out. :)

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Cuisine of the Southern US


These are two postcards I've received in the past two months that show restaurants that serve Southern food. Mary Mac's Tea Room is located in Atlanta, Georgia, and Snappy Lunch is in a small town in western North Carolina called Mt. Airy. It was the inspiration for the Andy Griffith Show, a classic American TV show. 

I spent a lot of years living in the South, and I'm really amazed by and enjoy some of the finer points of Southern culture. So I thought, why not take this opportunity to share with my friends around the world one of the cool regional differences within the US! It's impossible to really convey the differences between people in different regions of the US, many differences are subtle, but the cuisine is definitely a good start. 

For more detail, check out Cuisine of the Southern United States. So: Southern cuisine is influenced by African, Native American, British, Irish, French, and Spanish cuisines, depending on its specific location. There are many different types of Southern Cuisine, some of the most well-known being Cajun, Creole, Lowcountry, Soul Food, and Floribbean. 

Creole and Cajun: Centered in Louisiana and East Texas, this cuisine is heavily influenced by French cuisine, as settlers from this region originated from France, via the Acadia region of Canada. Creole and Cajun frequently makes use of crayfish (or crawfish/crawdads regionally), crab, oysters, fish, shrimp, rice, and okra. Common dishes are gumbo, jambalaya, and étouffe.

Lowcountry: This is the region where I lived, the coast of South Carolina and Georgia. Many of the main ingredients are similar to Creole/Cajun because of the availability of seafood, but they tend to be less spicy. Some typical dishes are She-Crab Soup, Frogmore Stew (corn, potatoes, sausage, and shrimp), Shrimp and Grits, or Hoppin' John (black-eyed peas and rice). 

Other typical Southern staples: sweet iced tea, fried chicken, sweet potatoes, pecans, corn bread, mint juleps, boiled peanuts, fried green tomatoes

Here's a video that shows you how to make Frogmore Stew, also known as Lowcountry Boil. 

Friday, May 1, 2009

Maori Greenstone Jewelry


The necklace on the left is a Maori greenstone pendant, a type of jade called nephrite. The Maori call this type of jade "Pounamu" in their native language, which translates to "greenstone." It's an extremely hard stone, harder than steel, and that, combined with its beauty, made it highly prized among the Maori tribes for tools, weapons, and jewelry. Nephrite jade can be found in the remote river valleys of the Southern Alps and the west coast area of the South Island in New Zealand. The supplies have become severely diminished, and as a result, the government of New Zealand banned the exportation of greenstone from New Zealand in 1947.

Greenstone pendants are worn as spiritual guardians. This particular pendant represents a chief in Maori mythology who ruled the land of Hawaiki. The symbol is supposed to represent a fish tail, the human body, and the beak of a bird. 

The Maori culture (Maori, by the way, are the indigenous people of New Zealand) has enjoyed a special resurgence in New Zealand in recent years. The number of people who speak the Maori language is increasing, and more focus has been placed on the traditions of the Maori people. I encourage you to watch the very short video below about the importance of greenstone to the Maori culture.

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