Traditionally the manaia is depicted with a head of a bird, the body of a man, and the tail of a fish. It is widely accepted as a tribal guardian, with some carved as grotesque figures, and others carved as almost human with a fierce facial expression. The new age understanding of the manaia is that it represents the balance between the sky, the earth and the sea. Credited with supernatural powers, this enduring Maori design is said to have the ability to protect the wearer from evil. They are usually depicted in profile, and some feel this is because part of the manaia is in the spiritual world, part in this.
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