Maori Bone Necklaces for Boaters

Boaters take note: These Maori necklaces come with carved symbols purported to help guarantee safe passage over water for kayakers. That’s according to Sean West, a 21-year-old kayaker and whitewater raft guide from Asheville, N.C., who founded Wanderer Imports LLC ( to bring the charms to the U.S.

Working with a group of independent Balinese artisans, West began importing the necklaces — which come in several designs — this year. They sell for about $20 apiece, which includes shipping.

Maori Hei-Matau Necklace w.jpg

Wanderer Imports Hei Matau design necklace

West has worked his way up from selling necklaces out of his trunk to now providing the jewelry to outdoors outfitters and online.

The necklaces are crafted from cow bone, which is then polished by the Balinese artisans. Over time, when worn extensively, the pendant will turn a golden color as it absorbs “some of the wearer’s essence,” according to West.

See the entire Maori Bone Necklace lineup here:

Maori woman.jpg

Maori woman circa 1890

Posted by Dan - 10/15/2008 06:21 AM

Nothing like ripping off some Maori/Haida/Aboriginal (delete as applicable) Culture for a quick buck eh?

How about getting Maori carvings done by Maoris? Rather than Balinese people, you might as well get them knocked up in sweatshops as compared to a real Maori carving the quality is awful.

If you want a proper carvings I recommend buying direct from a carver or from a store that actually supports artists. As that is what Pounamu and Bone carvings are, wearable Art,

This store for example supports talented artists who put Toanga into their work.
The Bone Art Place

The carvings that are sold by Wanderer Imports have nothing to do with Maori culture and are just bits of bone.

Posted by Ben - 10/15/2008 09:15 PM

this guy obviously has a bone to pick with those stinkin Balinese people, and since when are we talking about knocking up people in sweatshops? What is next?

Posted by Al - 10/26/2008 03:54 PM

Maori pounamu is sacred to our people, and the carvings certainly dont offer safe passage if they have been ripped off and not blessed, in fact, more the opposite… i would be very careful Mr Wanderer imports, you are messing with Tapu.

Posted by Mag - 11/21/2008 04:26 PM

I support Dan and Al on this! the meaning and importance of a piece of art can’t be recreated with knock offs. It is cunning and inappropriate and I’m surprised to this is even selling in this age of fair trade and where authenticity matters. Especially when they emphasize the MEANING of the jewelery.

Posted by Camille W. - 11/26/2008 12:07 PM

I am highly offended not really by the ad simply being placed on Facebook, but by the appeal to help this guy (an obviously physically and mentally fit athlete) “avoid getting a real job.”
I have been diagnosed as bipolar for ten years, and have managed to work full-time for only 3 of those years, very early in my twenties. At the age of 32, my parents are still paying for my rent, groceries, clothing, medication, and everything under the sun because many employers have chosen not to hire me due to at least one huge gap in employment on my resume.

I WANT DESPERATELY to work in order to pay my own rent and bills, buy my own clothing, etc. I have a Bachelor’s Degree (and I busted my ass to get through college) from a well-respected college, yet I have experienced the inner shame resulting from general discrimination directed toward the mentally ill. When, at this age, I thought I would have a Ph.D in Eng. Lit., I am now applying to work at Old Navy, Target, World Market, etc. – and I do consider those REAL jobs.

I should stop here, because I get so fed up with this lazy-ass trust fund attitude so common in Asheville.

Posted by Charlotte McCloud - 12/07/2008 11:17 PM

Christ, give this guy a break. He’s making a living, which is more than most of can say. WTF?

Posted by jz - 02/03/2009 06:52 PM

Whoa nelly! The kid is trying to support himself and his chosen way of life…ease up people. I challenge all you self-righteous SOBs to support local industry, stop wasting fossils fuels, and smile a bit. You all need to stop the hate. We’ve got more than enough haters out here already. Chill out and let the kid do his thing.
Much Love, JZ

Posted by Don - 02/10/2009 11:07 PM

There are lots of things out there you can do on the net to make a quick buck.

Unfortunately ripping off other cultures and crafts with little or no understanding of what it really means is probably not one of the best.

I am a kayaker and I wear a real Matau which brings me luck and is my connection to my loved ones when I am away.

I am also one of those New Zealand carvers this clown and his cheep Balinese knock offs are ripping off.
I have been a bone carver for over 30 years and learned my craft the traditional way along with a deep respect an understanding of what makes a real Taonga, the skills handed down over generations and the meanings and philosophy behind all of the design elements used. Every carving has a story and profound meaning behind every line and curve of its form, something this guy nor the people he cons into buying his stiff will never understand.
I and my fellow artists make a living for our families from our craft but unfortunately that is now becoming very hard to do when the market is flooded with these cheep poor quality fakes from China, the Philippines and other countries where workers can be used and abused for profit.

It wouldn’t be so bad if this guy was an artist and actually did the work himself but he doesn’t even do that. We support local industry and artists, we educate on the culture, we respect and cherish our natural world, we encourage and support artists of all cultures, races, religions and backgrounds in whatever they do to feed their souls.

Lighten up someone said. Thats easy to say when you don’t care about the effects your actions have on others. I would love to see how you would lighten up if someone took your culture, your art, your identity and the money from your pocket you need to feed your family. You would make a lot of noise if someone ripped you off but its OK if it’s someone else getting hurt, good skills

Posted by Ben - 02/12/2009 09:09 PM

My son wears one of these necklaces. I think it is neat. Chances are I would never have purchased a real one for him.
Settle down people.

Posted by nan - 02/13/2009 11:36 AM

Nothing good can come from wearing overpriced knockoffs. Lame lame lame. And handcarved??? With a dremel? Dude shouldnt even be allowed to use the word maori in his ad.

Posted by Randy - 02/14/2009 11:52 AM

I have a Maori necklace that my wife got me when we visited NZ in 1999. I still wear it around my neck and it has a lot of meaning for me, and I got my dad one as well and he never takes it off. The fact that it comes from NZ and is a part of the Maori tradition is what makes it special. I would suggest to the enterprising young fellow who is selling these necklaces from Bali to consider working with actual Maori people. Legitimize your enterprise and all will be good. I do give him credit for being transparent in his business practices, he could’ve just hidden that information with a load of BS, but he didn’t. I think his intentions are good, but he’s forgotten the importance of legitimacy and credibility.

PS- Lose the “help me avoid a real job” crap, you should be saying “help me establish a real business so that I can continue to pursue my passion for kayaking”

Posted by George - 02/15/2009 03:02 PM

I say, good for this kid. Capitalism at it’s best! Don’t like it? Too bad. There’s nothing you can do. How is he ripping off other carvers? If they were smart, they’d be advertising on Facebook too. Survival of the fittest. There is a market of people who care about the “profound meaning” of a necklace, and there is a market of people who could care less.

Now, if the world economy falls apart, and this kid’s business goes down the tubes, and he has no other solid skills to make a living from, that’s also survival of the fittest.

Posted by Chris - 03/02/2009 11:29 PM

Dude have you even checked wikipedia?
“Balinese Hinduism is a heterogeneous amalgam in which gods and demigods are worshiped together with Buddhist heroes, the spirits of ancestors, indigenous agricultural deities and also with places”
“.conceiving of everything, including natural elements and all living things as connected by common descent through whakapapa or genealogy.”
“In Māori mythology, Tangaroa (also Takaroa) is one of the great gods, the god of the sea. He is a son of Rangi and Papa, Sky and Earth.” .
When your salt water boating trip turns to custard and you need every bit of extra help you can get, who do you think will offer the edge? Some worshipped land animal that thinks salt water tastes funny? Or every ancestor you have ever had plus a bone fidi sea god from the Polynesian equivalent of the vikings?
When you’re on the waves, quality counts, and if you’re going to get a necklace, get one made by wide ranging nautical nomads with a proven history on the worlds biggest oceans.

Posted by Sean West - 04/01/2009 06:30 PM

Hey guys, This is Sean from Wanderer Imports. When I started this business I had to learn that if you are going to do anything, someone is going to criticize you. I realize that this isn’t going to mollify most of the people who have decided I am some sort of evil culture stealing monster, but I’m pretty much just a 22 year old boater from Asheville. I do get some criticism ocassionally, but I have alot more happy people tell me how much they enjoy the jewelry (4-5 e-mails a day) so I sleep pretty well at night. I’ve been wearing one of the hei matau carved in bali since I was 17, long before I ever started importing them, and most of my close friends I boat with wear them too. I don’t believe it detracts from the significance , but anyone who does and can afford the 60 dollar price can feel free to buy from the bone art place or another company. The e-mail to hunter was a response to an extremely rude personal attack and certainly doesn’t some up my feelings towards other people with legitimate criticisms.

Just as a side note (and to respond to the totally baseless sweatshop comment) I pay the independant carvers I work with well and provide people with a great product at a great price. Getting fair trade certified is one of my business goals (though it’s pretty hard for a small business), and I deal with carvers in bali because I am supporting small carvers and can still sell the necklaces at a price most younger boaters can afford ($15.50). I don’t think these should just be for rich people.

I really don’t see any way what I am doing is harming the Maori, and I really respect thier culture. If anything, I believe I am spreading the culture and helping people become more aware of them. Who knows, this might even prompt people to travel to New Zealand, see the Maori people and spend some money there.

Anyway, I hope this clears my position on stuff up a little. Everyone is entitled to their opinions and interpretations, even if that means they think I’m an evil capitalistic maori hater ;-).

Posted by Jon - 05/04/2009 01:18 PM

I’m a boater and guide in the s.east. This guy is obviously a prick. The fact he admitted he wrote the email about masturbation, etc… sums up his intelligence and business ethics. Who knows who’s making the necklaces. I’ve told my friends not to buy these necklaces online or at Diamond Brand and to pay the extra cash to get something authentic. If you look hard enough you can find a free trade certified Maori necklace straight from NZ.

Posted by Lyse - 05/31/2009 09:15 AM

Woah, these are expensive! I was at a street fair (in Boulder, CO) where a local artist was selling similar bone and wood carvings with cord for $5!

Posted by Jorran - 06/14/2009 05:53 PM

LOL @ Chris, since when is “Wikipedia” a solid source for proving or disproving anything. I could go change that page to say whatever I want right now.

Posted by veslakayakgirl - 09/10/2009 08:12 AM

I, too, got attracted to Wanderer’s faux Maori bone carvings by the price, I’ve bought two now. But I won’t be supporting Sean any further. True, I love my Koru bone carving and am even being inspired now to create my own, but, BUT I won’t be selling mine as they are not true Maori works of art. I will give them to friends with caveats that they are not to be depended on for safe travel over water, only TRUE Maori carvings can do this.
I hope Sean will consider taking a trip to NZ someday and spend some time with a few Maoris to get the feeling of their culture and their commitment to their art. Perhaps they will also infuse him with humble dignity, respect for their art and courtesy for all living creatures.
I think Sean is learning some tough life lessons, as we all have, and will perhaps seek out elders or others in the Maori culture to pattern his life after. I know he’ll find kind and generous hearted people who will teach him how to live and let live. It’s a good lesson for us all.
Best wishes in your next venture, Sean.

Posted by FishNChips - 01/06/2010 07:25 PM

The people posting comments in this section aside from Sean West are nothing more than blasphemous idiots. You should all be ashamed at the fact that you’re criticizing a guy who is making a living selling a good trade. He’s not “ripping off” anyone or any culture. If anything he’s helping spread the interest of the culture this jewelry represents. I have previously bought one of Sean’s necklaces for my gf and she loves it which is why I am also buying one now. “Go buy a real piece of authentic…” like really? Are you people that critical…1. its a piece of jewelry 2.He’s a worker not a slave driver 3. Sorry to break it to you all, but authentic (whatever you guys think that is supposed to mean) or not, no necklace is going to protect you in water…if you want that..go get some swim lessons. Grow Up Everybody! I am embarrassed to have even seen this kind of talk on a link about an ad for the jewelry. Go spend your money on expensive stuff if you think you’re so special and connected to culture, but as for me I say I’ll stick to helping the small business man out along with relying on a boat for save passage. Thanks

Posted by Jones - 02/18/2010 01:06 AM

I feel that some people might have gotten a little too upset about this entire manner. Although I do have to say Sean’s response to Hunter was completely immature and utterly unprofessional. I hold nothing against him but only hope he can learn to conduct himself better in the future.

Posted by jessica - 07/10/2010 12:50 AM

last time when i was in Bali i saw it but hasn’t bought one, as i didn’t know the inside story of it. after read its introduction above, i am a little regret now. but the introduction there is really not enought. also, i would like to share a site with some stories of jewelry below: i hop you would like it.

Posted by Jewelry Dropshippers - 09/28/2010 11:06 AM

No doubt these are very stylish and beautiful necklaces. These necklaces should be most desirable for any women these necklaces will set a trend in fashion industry. Well for more these types of necklaces so just try

Posted by ketut carver - 10/24/2010 03:36 AM

wow great ilove it …. we make alot like this and also many more bone carving design please just visit my website for many more collection bone carving pendant just visiting : , we make buddha head pendant , hindu ganesha , cross , quan yin and many more relegius pendant

Posted by janie - 11/10/2010 08:18 PM

hi i what to know

Posted by KiwiInUS - 12/01/2010 09:48 PM

So it is interesting that Sean lives in Asheville NC where there is a very strong Native American community/history, has he thought about selling their symbols made in lets say China?….i suspect that the Native Americans would have something to say about their culture being ripped off wouldn’t you say. So whynot leave the Maori culture to the people of New Zealand, and take a trip to my homeland get a REAL piece of Maori art, and for those that think they expensive, they are reasonably priced when you think about the amount time it takes to hand carve these items
Kia Ora

Posted by Sean West - 02/09/2011 11:27 AM

Hey, I just checked back on this blog post, and figured I’d respond again, especially the last ones.

To Kiwiinus: My Aunt and about 5 of my cousins are cherokee, and we get along fine :). When I first started and for years afterwards, I’ve been trying to buy from new zealand. I’ve had not one but 2 experiences where I ordered a sample from 2 different companies in New Zealand only to find out that I was being lied to about the origins of their jewelry and their stuff was 100% made in China. I since found out that alot of the stuff even in gift shops in new zealand was made in china. It’s appalling, and has nothing to do with what I do. I found this awesome group of carvers in bali that could produce really quality stuff for a price I could afford to pay and still sell the necklaces for $15 and figured I’d go with them. I can’t afford to pay someone $30 wholesale for a necklace I later find out is made in china, and I don’t think my customers want that either.

For the safety Issue: I never guaranteed any kind of safe passage over water (and you won’t find anything like that on the site), and I don’t think any necklace should be relied on over proper gear, boating skill. It’s a good luck charm and a funky necklace with meaning, not a lifejacket.

As for the hunter comment, I will admit that was a little over the top. That e-mail was several years ago, but I kinda think that guy actually had a death threat in there (notice he didn’t post any of his e-mail? )and I’m a 23 year old from western north carolina and we tend to take threats a bit personally around here (especially now that personal info is so easy to come by on the internet). That guy was literally trying to use some ridiculous e-mail to put me in fear for my life. I kinda don’t think my business should really be quite that offensive to anyone, but if you do something with exposure online it tends to bring out the crazies.

The other thing I might point out is that don (8th comment down) (and possibly “Dan” from the first comment kicking off this debate andlinking to his site)are the owner of the Bone Art Place, which sells high priced versions of these from New Zealand. He’s taken my being in business really personally, which confuses me but I guess he’s got a financial motivation.

The Maori I’ve met outside of the internet are really chilled out people and haven’t taken offense at this, including some carvers. The main people who seem to get upset very often aren’t maori and are either those who sell online and see me as evil competition to be stomped out or that Al guy, who e-mailed me too. For every e-mail I’ve got like this, I’ve got a whole bunch of happy people wearing necklaces and e-mails from people who are actually happy with what I do. I shipped one yesterday to someone stationed in afghanistan and someone else on a navy ship, I have people buy them for thier kids before they go on trips and people who get them after they run their first river. That’s what actually matters to me, so I’ll go ahead and take some criticism. If you’ve got some useful advice or comments and can refrain from the death threats, hit me up on the site and I’d be glad to listen.

Stay safe on the water,

Posted by jo - 03/01/2011 07:47 PM

i support you Al because I am aware of what there doing i should say that he is messing with tapu.
I reckon they shoulnt sell things that aint theres

Posted by Paora Elliott - 03/27/2011 04:23 AM

If you wear one of these Balinese “Maori” carvings you will have nothing but bad luck.The should be blessed by one of our elders,and if they are not carved by Maori they are evil.It is tapu.A curse on you Sean West and all who wear them.I hope you drown.Makutu.

Posted by Jo - 03/27/2011 04:49 AM

Sean West you are obviously fucking your mother

Posted by Renee - 05/02/2011 11:50 AM

sorry ppl…but its just a necklace. and if u think about it there are VERY few things in this world anymore that are “authentic.” Sean is doing nothing wrong. hes just making a living which is more than i could say for im sure a lot of u. and as far as the whole “tribe” thing…if no one but them should carve the necklaces bc they were the first to do it then maybe they shouldnt ride horses bc white ppl were the first to do that. stupid right? idk what the big deal is. i think ppl are just trying to find something or someone to bitch at. Grow up…get a life. and think what you have done before to make a few bucks. im sure everyone can think of something theyre not proud of. just sayin.

Posted by dave - 06/03/2011 08:59 PM

are all you people this worked up over a peice of jewelry ( of all things) leave the kid alone and find something new to gripe about, were all grown adults lets act like it now, and just rember that we have men and women fighting over seas for your freedon, is this the kind of country you want them to return to, one so desperate to bash a hard working kid who had the ability to start his own business, everyone of you all should be ashammed of your selves,

sincearly, dave sra usaf

Posted by laserbreak - 07/11/2011 07:12 AM

@paora… actually… i’ve had the complete opposite of bad luck since the day I started wearing one of Sean’s necklaces. I graduated college, went on to pursue my masters, have traveled the world, made good money, and met my soon-to-be wife. So bad luck? I think not.

Look, I bought my first necklace in 2008, and am still wearing it to this day. Quality is great for the price. Sure, it’s not “authentic”, but 95% of the people won’t know the difference. I have a very close friend and father figure who was born and raised in New Zealand, and he 1) loved the necklace, and 2) couldn’t tell that it WASN’T authentic. While I don’t agree with his previous treatment of customers/complaints, I think his product is a good one. Kid is not making bank off of this, I promise you. He is doing what he likes, and everyone who buys from him knows its not authentic if you read the FAQ. Regardless, it’s a good product, and it’s seemingly brought me more good than harm. Keep up the work, Sean.

Posted by Tim - 05/28/2012 06:23 AM

What a bunch of hating twits. Go buy an American flag and be sure to tear the “Made in China” tag off of it! Relax

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