The Koru: New Beginnings

Every culture has its important symbols, and I am intrigued when I find ties between different cultures. Greece and Turkey have the Greek Key, named after the Meander River near Ephesus, which winds all over the place and seems to go on forever. The Greek Key carries the meaning: going on forever or “infinity.”  Therefore is a popular design on antique vases and in both antique and contemporary jewelry.

You will find the same design in Chichin Itza, the Mayan ruins in  Mexico where the we presume the design carries similar meaning. I thought of this iconic design that developed separately for the Mayans and Greeks when I encountered the spiral shaped “koru” design of the Maori people, native to New Zealand. I wondered, “Could this mean infinity too?”

I posed this question to a Kiwi who explained that it means “new beginning.” Later, I fully understood why the koru connotes new beginning, more than “infinite” or “without end” when I observed the koru in nature. You see this shape in the very early stage of a fern leaf. Ferns in their seemingly infinite variety are quintessential New Zealand.

Here are two images of the koru, as I observed an early fern leaf’s development along the Milford Track, one of New Zealand’s wonderful hiking tracks.

Brown Koru along Milford Track, December 2014
Brown Koru along Milford Track, December 2014

I would also like to share this image of a sculpture on top of Queenstown Hill, which adapts the koru design to the beginning as well as the end.

Koru Sculpture on Queenstown Hill, overlooking Lake Wakapitu
Koru Sculpture on Queenstown Hill, overlooking Lake Wakapitu

The Koru has poignant meaning for Christchurch, New Zealand today as the people there struggle to recover from two devastating earthquakes that occured in 2011 and 2012. There is extensive demolition, repair work and rebuilding going on there — work expected to take another ten to fifteen years. Engineers and construction workers are as ubiquitous as the orange cones and metal fences. My daughter Erin Kelly is one of those engineers, working on the Rebuild. Perhaps never before has the koru meant so much.

Author: cathykellyphotography

Independent photographer based in Pittsburgh PA and Naples FL. Nature, landscape and portrait photography. Portfolio includes international work in USA, Europe, Asia, Australia and New Zealand. Email cathykellyphotography@gmail.com to review work in your area of interest. Nature portfolio includes flowers and wildlife. Prints and digital files for sale. See website: www.cathykellyphotography.com.