The Manaia is a mythological creature in Māori culture, and is a common motif in Māori carving and jewellery.
The Manaia is usually depicted as having the head of a bird and the body of a man, though it is sometimes depicted as a bird, a serpent, or a human figure in profile. Other interpretations include a seahorse and a lizard. The word manaia is cognate with the founding Samoan term fa’amanaia, and relevant to the Niuean fakamanaia, both meaning to make a decoration or embellishment.
The Manaia is traditionally believed to be the messenger between the earthly world of mortals and the domain of the spirits, and its symbol is used as a guardian against evil. In this form, it is usually represented in a figure-of-eight shape, the upper half culminating in a bird-like beak. This form was also widely used in designs of door and window lintels and other architectural features, as well as in ceremonial hafts of weapons. A study of Māori carving suggests that every naturalistic figure there is an equivalent Manaia form which can be seen as a distorted profile-face version of the equivalent full-face figure. It may be that the Manaia represents some spiritual or inner facet of the full face figure.
Related Manaia-like symbols are also found in other Polynesian cultures, such as in Hawai’i and Easter Island.