Primarily toki (adze) are traditional tools. The handling of such tools varied depending upon what was happening within the community. The main purpose of toki is whakairo (wood sculpture) under which the key functions are the carving of traditional meeting houses, the construction of waka taua (war canoes) and waka haorua (sea-voyaging canoes).
The design of toki is such that it became an awesome weapon in time of attack and defending the community’s safety. The use of toki during battle and defence was abundant, however, because of the significant spiritual value toki personify they were never thrown in battle, and only applied by the hand of the holder.
Toki are also used for reciting whakapapa (genealogy), each adze is—and was—passed down from one generation to the next, increasing the value of the toki each time it was handed over. Often feathers, hair and other personal adornments were collected and used to embellish the features of toki and further enhancing their mana (spiritual power).
The practice of handing down these treasures still continues today. Maori believe these taonga (treasures) reflect the embodiment of past genealogies and the spirituality of Maori. They have become more than just an adze or weapon or a mere ornament that hangs on a wall. They are real living signposts and windows to our past that encapsulates the spirit of our great ancestors.
—Gordon Toi Hatfield, December 2006