Paua ( pronounced Pa Wa ) is a species of abalone (Haliotis Iris).
It is only found in the sea around New Zealand. This marine mollusk eats seaweed and lives clinging to rocks at depths of 1-10 meters, normally along the shoreline. Paua Shell is the most colorful of all the abalone shells. Most other abalone are pale in comparison.
The Most Colorful Shell
There is no other shell in the world that has the colour like Paua Shell colour that varies from greens & pinks to purples & blues and even some shells with gold or crimson tonings.
The iridescent Colour of the paua shell changes when viewed at different angles. This iridescence, similar to that of Mother of Pearl shell, but far more brilliant, is what makes paua shell so amazing as a gem material for use in jewelry.
It is truly one of nature's marvels. Each shell is different in it's colour tonings, and in the patterns within the shell. The black patterns in the shell come from layers of protein that are laid down between the layers of calcium that make up the shell. The brilliant colours are from light being refracted within the crystal layers. The same effect that the iridescent colour found in Opals.
Picture borrowed from In the HeadlightsPaua meat is a traditional delicacy for the Maori, essential for a good wedding feast or celebration. Although it is harder to find than it used to be, most New Zealanders would rate paua up there with oysters as their preferred shellfish.
As a child, I would see the Maori collecting paua from the rocks at low tide, they were plentiful back then.
These days most paua meat is exported to Asia, where abalone has always been regarded as one of the supreme delicacies.
I remember my father bringing paua home for his dinner, he just loved paua fritters. Mum would not have anything to do with the paua until it was ground up, in a bowl, and on the kitchen counter ready to be made into fritters. My Dad, knew the only way he was going to get his favorite fritters, was to grind the paua himself. Armed with a food grinder and large bowl, Dad took himself out to the garage to get the job done.
A taonga is a treasure. Maori taonga are those things which have always been.
Paua shell was traditionally used by Maori to illuminate the eyes of their carving and artwork. The reddish colored shell were most prized for depicting the flashing red eyes of the warrior. The use of paua shell in all manner of jewelry and sculpture has become a distinctive feature of New Zealand artwork.