The Maori - Volume II
XVI Maori Agriculture—Its Methods, Implements and Ceremonial
XVI Maori Agriculture—Its Methods, Implements and Ceremonial
Polynesians have long practised agriculture—Food plants carried by voyagers—Four food plants brought to New Zealand—Southern limit of these four plants—Colder climate demanded increased care and labour—Rice names preserved in Polynesian speech—Dense population denotes good soil and fair climate—Some tribes non-agricultural by compulsion—The Maori a neat gardener—The sweet potato, gourd, taro and yam seen here by early voyagers—Agriculture in disturbed districts—Fences for birds only—Breakwinds in cultivations—Ashes used as manure—Soils—Agricultural implements—The crescent moon symbol in New Zealand—Mode of digging—Cultivation of the sweet potato—Patrons of agriculture—Rongo and Pani—Mythical origin of sweet potato—Flowering variety—The mara tautane—Preparation of soil—Taiamai plains cleared of stones—Boundary stones endowed with magic powers—Kao—Breaking in new land—Planting a tapu task—Seasons foretold by stars—Tubers planted at certain phases of moon—Sprouted end of tuber faces rising sun—Planters fasted—The mauri branchlet—Lands or divisions of a field—First tuber planted was tapu—Method of digging—Use of lining cord—Women and planting—Work songs—Feather-decorated spades—Spectacular mode of digging—The use of gravel—Digging a ceremonial performance—Invocations—Workers in echelon formation—Military precision of mode of working—The boustrophedon method—Planting the kumara—Tapu removed from planters—Stone mauri—Crop placed in care of gods——Curious survival of human sacrifice—Human skulls placed among crops—Care of crops—Pests—The harvest—The star Vega calls the crop lifters—First fruits—The harvest feast—Storage of crops—The yam—The taro—How it was grown—The gourd—Curious mode of planting—Uses of the gourd—Cordyline as a food plant—The ti para—Produces a farina or fecula—The karaka—Introduction of European food plants.
We have now to deal with one of the most important arts presided over by great Rongo, the art of cultivating food products. It was a highly important one in Maori eyes, and one in which it was absolutely necessary to retain the favour and assistance of the gods.page 354
The Polynesians are essentially an agricultural folk, and never failed to practise the art of cultivation save when residing on islets or in districts where it was impossible to follow it. A student of Polynesian usages and traditions becomes convinced that these folk practised agriculture ere they left their hidden homeland, wherever that may have been. They cultivated their far-carried food plants wherever it was possible to do so, and, moreover, carried them with them in their voyagings to and fro across the Pacific. Most of those food plants have been introduced into the Pacific isles from Indonesia. We do not know that the ancestors of the Polynesians brought them eastward from that region. They were probably so carried long before the Polynesians entered the Pacific. We do know, however, that when engaged in settling the isles of Polynesia these intrepid voyagers carried with them their economic plants. We also hear, in native traditions, of explorers carrying food plants in their vessels.
This work of transferring plants among the isles of the Pacific would in most cases be a simple one. To so carry them across a wide stretch of ocean might be much more difficult. In the case of the coco-nut no difficulty would be experienced, but the introduction of the aute tree, the paper mulberry, into New Zealand must have demanded much care and forethought. We know that the incoming Polynesians brought hither to New Zealand the sweet potato, the taro, the yam and gourd. There is also on record a tradition that the coco-nut was brought hither, but failed to grow. It seems not improbable that Cordyline terminalis was also introduced by the Maori searovers of old. It is found on Sunday Island, about 600 miles from New Zealand. The breadfruit, though long unknown to the Maori, is yet remembered in one way, for it is referred to in several old songs, and its name (kuru) appears in an old place name at Wellington. The dog and rat were also introduced by the Maori in past times, but the pig and fowl apparently never reached these shores. It is a curious fact that the pig is not mentioned in Maori tradition.
We have a traditionary account of the introduction of the sweet potato into the Chatham Islands, and a clear statement that it could not be grown there. The inhabitants of the page 355 southern part of the South Island were also unable to grow any of the sub-tropical products brought hither from the isles of Polynesia.
There was a slight difference in the southern limit at which Polynesian food plants could be successfully grown. Cordyline terminalis was apparently grown only in the far north. The yam has been mentioned as seen as far south as Tolaga Bay. The taro and gourd line seems to have been about Cook Strait, but evidently they were out of their latitude in those parts, and were but little relied on. The sweet potato had the most southern range, being grown to some extent as far south as Banks'Peninsula or a little to the south thereof, at Te Wai a Te Ruati.
When the incoming Polynesians settled in New Zealand they would soon find that their cultivated food products required more attention and labour here than in the warmer lands they had come from; also that the further south they settled the more difficult it was to produce a crop. Altitude had the same effect, thus the Tuhoe folk, in their high-lying district in 38° south latitude, were unable to grow crops of sweet potato, while the natives at Nelson, in 41° south, cultivated large areas of that tuber. Thus it was that, save in certain favoured localities, the rhizome of the bracken, Pteris aquilina, became the principal vegetable food of the Maori.
Apparently there is one vegetable food supply that the ancestors of the Polynesians left behind them when they sailed from the hidden homeland to seek their fortune in the vast Pacific. Both the Maori of New Zealand and the natives of the Cook Islands have preserved rice names in the words ari and vari. The traditional evidence cannot be included here, but it appears not at all improbable that the forebears of the Maori knew and cultivated rice in Indonesia or S. E. Asia.
The distribution of many food plants throughout the Pacific region by human agency, including the introduction of a number of economic plants into New Zealand, forms the best of evidence against the views of some persons that the island system was populated “by accident,” drift voyages of hapless sea waifs. The men who brought the aute plant, and seeds and tubers, across five hundred leagues of ocean page 356 wastes, were no castaways or feckless sea strollers; they were the men who, as explorers and colonisers, broke through the hanging sky, pushed out into the unknown and opened up the vast solitudes of the Mar del Zur.
When the Maori settled here he found that he would have to live under different conditions to those he had been accustomed to. He had to seek a new material for clothing, and to devote more time to providing food supplies. The days of easy cultivation were past. In many parts of the North Island, and also in the South Island, the sweet potato had to be coaxed in order to procure a crop. Breakwinds were used in such places to protect the plants, and the ground was covered with a thick layer, sometimes six inches thick, of fine gravel. The work of carrying that gravel on the back from a gravel pit was a laborious one. We see fields whereon many hundreds of tons of such gravel have been spread. The writer has seen pits in which a good-sized house might be built that were formed by gravel seeking cultivators.
Such places as the Auckland isthmus, certain parts of the far north, Taranaki, and the Bay of Plenty, produced good crops of sweet potato, and so supported a numerous population. Altogether they formed but a small part of the area of the island. Medium class lands supported a smaller population, for more reliance had to be placed on uncultivated products, and fish and birds. Inferior soils and high-lying districts would permit of only small crops being produced; herein the kumara was little more than an occasional luxury. The Wellington district may be included in this class, for it is on the fortieth parallel, which is far south for the kumara. There were again districts wherein no crops could be grown. This usually meant a small population, but in some few cases a plentiful fish supply might permit a considerable number of people to dwell together.
It was doubtless owing to the fact that the rhizome of the bracken formed a very important food supply that led to its origin being assigned to the being Haumia of Maori myth, or to its being personified in Haumia.
The Maori was unquestionably a worker in olden times, much more so than he is now. A man known to be an indus- page 357 trious cultivator was a respected member of the community, albeit he was styled an ihu oneone, or “soiled nose.”
Cook speaks of the neatness of the cultivation grounds that he saw at Uawa, and Banks tells us that the different gardens had fences of reeds round them. These would be to bar the raiding swamp-hen, the only creature that the Maori had to fence against in pre-European days. We are also told that at that place (Uawa, or Tolaga Bay) the yam was seen, also a limited number of aute or paper mulberry trees. Banks also tells that sweet potatos and yams were seen in the Thames district. Cook also mentions seeing both the sweet potato and the yam, but the latter seems to have disappeared long ago; our early settlers have not referred to it in their writings. It was probably neglected on the introduction of the potato (Solanum) and maize, on account of its being difficult to cultivate. A great many cultivations were noted in the Bay of Plenty district by these early visitors. At the Bay of Islands, on December 1, 1769, they saw “several little plantations planted with potatos and yams,” and on December 4, “40 or 50 acres of land cultivated and planted with roots.” On December 5, Cook saw “about ½ a dozen Cloth plants,” an allusion to the paper mulberry. No cultivations were seen at Queen Charlotte Sound, which led Cook to write: “Cocos, yams and sweet potatos is not cultivated everywhere.”
In what might be termed disturbed districts the plantations of a community were often made in places where they would not readily be seen. They would be in small, scattered areas, so as to escape detection by raiding parties. Early visitors to these shores agree in stating that the Maori folk planted and kept their fields in a remarkably neat manner. It was in later days, when the old social system of the Maori was falling to pieces under the pressure of new usages and new ideas introduced by Europeans, that agriculture became slovenly.
We have noted that, though there were no animals in these isles to ravage crops, yet the natives were in some places compelled to erect bird-proof fences round their crops in order to exclude the annoying swamp hens. In some places old men past hard work would be employed to keep these creatures out page 358 of the plantations. In doing so they used a peculiar form of words, which they kept calling out, of which the following is a specimen: “Hie! Hie! Go to the swamp. Return to the swamp. Go to Hine-wairua-kokako. Hie! Hie!” The word hie means “Be off!” The lady with the long name mentioned is viewed as the origin or personified form of the predatory pukeko, or swamp hen.
The terms ahau, pahauhau, takitaki, tihokahoka, etc., denote the light fences and brush breakwinds formerly employed by the Maori in his plantations. When the pig was introduced in the latter part of the 18th century the Maori soon found that another task lay before him, the ring-fencing of his plantations with a substantial pig-proof barrier, a labour that demanded much extra time and exertion. He then employed two different forms of such fence, the raihe, in which stakes were punched into the ground in a vertical position and lashed to a horizontal rail, and the pakorokoro, in which rails were laid horizontally, one above the other, between double upright stakes placed a few feet apart, and lashed together. Stiles, termed koronae and ara whakatungangi, were erected where necessary.
The Maori cultivator had a good working knowledge of soils, and a list of native soil names before me numbers 27, which should cover the range of soils fairly well. Of these the one paraumu, a dark, fertile soil, and one parahuhu, or alluvium, were specially favoured for growing the sweet potato. The benefit of wood ashes as a manure the Maori knew full well, but he never watered any plants, be the earth ever so dry.
Under the heading of agricultural implements we have a list of 20 names. A number of these represent synonyms. The tools generally employed in the work of planting and cultivating crops were four, the ko, kaheru, timo and wauwau. The last-mentioned seems to be also known as pinaki and ketu. The timo is also called timotimo and tima.
The hoto was a form of wooden shovel with a spade-like blade having a cant or raised rim on either side. It was not apparently used in the cultivations, but in such work as constructing a pa, for removing earth.page 359
The kaheru is a form of spade having a narrower blade than our spades, and the blade differed much in length. There is great diversity of form in kaheru. They were used in crop cultivation and for other purposes. All these tools were fashioned from hard woods. The most interesting form of this wooden spade was one that had a triangular blade, as explained by Waikato and east coast natives. Some of them resembled our own spades in form, save the handle, which was merely a straight shaft, the Maori not using any such hand-clutch as that seen on our spades. They were in most cases fashioned in one piece, shaft and blade. In some districts the name kaheru was applied to the small paddle-shaped tool called a wauwau by Tuhoe. The long-shafted tools were often used as a scuffle hoe or Dutch hoe, in order to cut weeds. The Maori never dug as we do; he never turned the soil over, but merely loosened it. A wooden club, called a patupatu, was employed in breaking up clods. Sometimes a detachable footrest was used with a form of kaheru, having a long and comparatively narrow blade, but never with the tool shaped like our spade. These implements were not used in hard or compact soils.
The ketu, pinaki or wauwau is a small implement so fashioned as to resemble a paddle in form. Its principal use was to loosen the soil among growing crops. It was also used in weeding operations and in digging up crops. The operator assumed a squatting position when using the pinaki, which was about 30 inches in length as a rule; some were shorter.
In breaking up new land or when digging fern root several men might work together, standing in a row and so breaking out a long section of earth. In preparing the soil for planting a different method was adopted. The soil was not turned over; it was not even all dug. The sweet potato was planted in little mounds, and these were spaced in a very regular manner. Only at these spots where the seed tubers were to be planted was the soil dug. To prepare such a spot the digger thrust his ko into the ground three times, and, by pressing the shaft down loosened the soil by means of the upward movement of the point. Thus the spade was used as a lever is, and not as we manipulate a spade. The three thrusts of the spade were made at different parts of the circumference of the small area where the mound was to be formed, as [gap — reason: illegible] The performance loosened the soil, broke it up and raised it; the next operation was the pulverising of the clods, which was done with a wooden club, after which the soil was further worked and loosened, roots, etc., were cast aside, and the finely worked soil formed into small mounds ready to receive the seed tubers.
When the ceremonial digging and planting of the sweet potato crop was being carried out, the long shafts of the spades were decorated with feathers. This was a very tapu task and it was conducted with a solemnity and ceremony that showed how seriously the Maori viewed the art of agriculture. It must have been a strange and barbaric sight to see a long line of almost naked men using the swaying row of long, feather-decorated spade-levers to the time of a chaunted song. These adornments consisted of two long trailing tails of feathers suspended from the upper part of the shaft, and also bunches of feathers secured to a piece of supplejack bent into the form of a bow and lashed in that form to the shaft just below the upper end.page 367 page 368
The names koko, tikoko and takoko have all been applied to a form of wooden shovel or scoop. This implement was mostly used in such working as forming ramparts in pa construction, for shovelling earth and gravel into baskets. The timo was used as a grubber, as we use a pick or mattock, the operator assuming a kneeling or squatting position. The Waikato folk call it a paketu.
A peculiar implement called a paretai was used on the east coast in forming the small mounds for planting the sweet potato in, also for covering ovens, and other purposes. It was almost semi-circular in form, and in the straight upper side was a countersunk handgrip. The curved edge was worked down thin; the material was heartwood of matai. It may be described as a scraper.
The light, spade-like tool with blade and shaft in two pieces, and used as is a Dutch hoe, was called a pere or tipi, though it might also have the generic term of kaheru applied to page 369 it. Such implements were not used as digging tools. The form of wooden spade called a puka at Waikato seems to be the same as that termed rapa maire among some tribes. This was a much stronger tool, and one used for many purposes.
The tirourou was explained as a form of wooden rake, possibly a modern implement, but an East Cape native gave the name as a synonym for purau, some form of tool used in the construction of earthworks.
These agricultural and other earth-working tools of the Maori were rude forms as compared with metal tools, yet by fashioning them from hardwoods he was enabled to do a deal of work with them. The scarped and terraced hills, the miles of land showing signs of former cultivation, the carefully excavated drains of swampy areas, all show that the Maori was capable of performing tasks of magnitude with his crude earth-working tools.
The kumara or sweet potato was by far the most important of the cultivated food products of the Maori. It must here be page 370 explained that this tuber is not the introduced variety seen in our shops, but a much smaller one that is decidedly superior to the imported variety. This tuber is now but little cultivated by the Maori, the potato (Solanum) being much easier to grow.
All agricultural peoples have in past days devoted much ceremonial to their principal food product, were it wheat, rice, maize, or any other plant. Hence we note that the Maori folk had instituted a considerable amount of ceremonial observance in connection with the sweet potato. He had also, in common with other peoples, instituted a tutelary diety of his prized product, and also a feminine “mother” of that tuber, a form of Ceres. Its origin is assigned to those beings.
The tutelary genius presiding over the art of agriculture was Rongo, who, as we have seen, was the male personified form of the moon. As the men of yore put it, “Rongo-maraeroa was the origin of food products, of the fruits of the earth.” As in old-world mythologies of Babylonia and elsewhere the moon god presided over agriculture, the moon was credited with the power of causing fertility, with regard to both women and crops. The dual power of Rongo-ma-Tane was also looked upon as being connected with fertility. A stone representing this dual personification (moon and sun) was set up in the sacred place of a Tahitian village, and decorated with flowers on certain occasions. In New Zealand Rongo was the principal “god” of cultivation; to him invocations connected with crops were addressed; to him offerings were made.
The other mythical being to be explained was Pani, or Pani-tinaku, the “mother” of the kumara, or sweet potato, for she is said to have given birth to it. The word tinaku carries the meaning “to germinate,” also it denotes a garden or cultivated ground, and seed tubers. A curious myth concerning Pani is to the effect that she was taken to wife by Rongomaui, who is spoken of as the younger brother of Whanui, the star Vega. That star was connected with agriculture, for its cosmic rising about March was the sign that sent the Maori to prepare his store pits and lift his crops. This Rongo-maui obtained from Whanui the seed of the sweet potato, not in a proper manner, because he stole it; hence the pests that attack page 371 the crops are said to have been sent as punishment for that pernicious act. Rongo then caused his wife Pani to give birth to the kumara, which she did in water; always she entered the water when she was about to produce the tubers. Those waters are termed the Waters of Mona-ariki.
Clearly there is some corruption or confusion in this story. Why should Pani always enter water in order to produce what is essentially a dry land product? There may be some truth in the suggestion of Mr. Tregear that pani and pandi were variant forms of pari, a well-known rice name of S.E. Asia. Whether or not the Hindu pani=water is connected with the above is another question. In lands where irrigation was practised water deities were liable to develop into agricultural deities. Pani is a puzzle; she is spoken of in myth as the aunt and foster mother of the Maui brothers, as the mother of Tahu (personified form of food products), and as being connected with Tiki. Pani was invoked by cultivators in connection with the sweet potato crop. In India the esculent lotus was termed kumad, and this word was employed as a sacerdotal term for the female organ of generation. If Pani represented the water-growing kumad she would naturally be the wife of Tiki.
The sweet potato was brought to New Zealand by early Polynesian voyagers. There are many different legends pertaining to its introduction. One has it that one expedition sailed from the Bay of Plenty to Polynesia many generations ago in order to obtain seed tubers. As is the case with Solanum tuberosum, the kumara (I pomœa batatas) shows many different varieties, the result of many centuries of cultivation. The writer has a list of nearly 100 names of varieties collected in different parts of the north; doubtless there are many duplicate names among them. Most of these varieties are now “lost to the world,” as the Maori puts it. These old varieties were much smaller than the modern introduced variety; they were finger-shaped.
As usually known to us the kumara is not a flowering plant. The Rev. T. G. Hammond tells us that he once saw a flowering specimen at Whangaroa, the blossom resembling that of the wild convolvulus. An east coast authority states that page 372 the puatahoe variety has been known to flower. The introduced varieties are larger and apparently more hardy than the old Maori varieties. The introduced waina is said to be the easiest grown; it can be propagated from its runners, hence its name, which is our word “vine.”
The first act of the season in connection with the cultivation of the sweet potato was the planting of a few tubers, the product of which was employed as an offering to the gods. This was a ceremonial performance of great moment to the Maori, for the success of the crops was believed to depend upon it. These tubers were to serve as first fruits offerings, and they were grown in a small isolated patch known as the māra tautane. The word māra denotes a garden, cultivation ground, a plantation. A day was set apart for this tapu function, each hamlet or group providing a tuber for planting, and that process was accompanied by the recitation of religious formulæ all with a view to obtaining the goodwill of the gods. Twenty years ago the Tuhoe tribe was still keeping up this old custom in connection with the potato(Solanum), but they now style it the huamata rite, a word meaning “first fruits.” A ceremonial feast is the concluding part of the above function. The Tuhoe folk meet again on December 1st., when the pure ceremony is performed over the young crop, which is said to have the effect of abolishing the tapu that has hitherto pertained to it.
The late Canon Stack has told us that, in the South Island, the mara tautane was called taumatua, and that invocations to Pani and other beings were repeated, as in the North Island. The South Island priestly experts gathered a handful of any herbage growing at the mara, and used is as an offering to the gods, it being deposited at the taumatua. The offering was termed pitau, a word denoting young growth of plants, and so equivalent to the terms mata and huamata applied in the North Island to first fruits offerings. These “gardens of the gods” for the growth of special tapu tubers were very small, resembling a small bed or plot.
In many cases much work had to be done ere the digging of the soil to receive the seed tubers could be performed. In open, clear land nought but weeds had to be disposed of, but page 373 in many places scrub or bush land had to be cleared, or possibly a dense growth of bracken. All rubbish, timber, etc., was collected and burned in heaps, the ashes forming an excellent fertiliser. In this task all joined, men and women of all ranks. If the plot was situated at some distance from the hamlet, huts might be built thereat, and all the people would move away to the scene of operations.
A dry situation is necessary for the sweet potato, and a light, friable soil, or alluvium produces the best crops. It was sometimes grown in almost pure sand or fine gravel. The volcanic soil of the Auckland peninsula is quite suitable for the purpose, and large areas were formerly under cultivation in that district. Such places as the Auckland isthmus, Taiamai, Oruru, and others, have at one time supported a large population, and this was only made possible by the fertile soil of those places. The close cultivation of land in considerable areas to support such populations would call for much labour with the primitive tools and methods known to the Maori. In places where sand or gravel had to be excavated and carried on the back and spread thickly over the field the labours of the people were seriously augmented.
The Taiamai district of the northern peninsula is one that shows evidence of the industry of the Maori of yore. On the hills are seen the earthworks of the old hill forts in which the neolithic agriculturists lived. The names of twelve of these old fortified villages were obtained, and there are others the names of which are unknown to the writer. One of the most interesting is the picturesque volcanic cone of Pouerua, with the upper parts hewn into many terraces, and its deep crater filled with forest growth. When first visited by early missionaries only the eastern face of the pa was occupied, but on that part some 1,400 people were living. The epidemics introduced by early vessels had probably accounted for the rest.
The far-spread miles of level and undulating land of the Taiamai district still show what large areas were formerly cultivated. The evidence consists of innumerable piles and walls of volcanic stones. The surface was originally covered with these, and many generations of workers have collected them and piled them in heaps in order to clear the land for crop- page 374 ping. There are also seen many double rows of stones set in straight lines in the soil. The narrow spaces between these rows were the paths that divided different divisions (rauwaka) of a field, each of which would be the garden plot of a family. These evidences of the cultivations of former centuries are met with in many districts.
In Earle's account of his sojourn in New Zealand in 1827 he mentions the far-spread crops of potatos, kumara and maize in the Taiamai district. The hill fort visited he found unoccupied, all the people being at work in their fields on the plain below. He also remarked that, looking down on the farlying green crops was such a sight that he had not seen in the various countries he had visited. The exact rows in which the products had been planted was a striking feature.
The cold and stiff soils of parts of the Waikato district called for much labour in sand treatment, and in many places pumice sand (tatahoata) was so used. Women took an important part in the heavy labour of carrying this sand on their backs to the cultivations. In course of time this treatment would break up heavy soils and render them much more suitable for the cultivation of the sweet potato.
Colenso has left us a good description of the neatness of the native plantations of former days. He speaks of it as being admirable, of the extreme regularity of their planting of the sweet potato and taro, the former in little mounds about two feet apart, arranged in true quincunx order, with no deviation from a straight line when viewed in any direction. The constant care in cultivation, keeping the soil loose and free, the utter lack of weeds, the erection of breakwinds where necessary, all these were prominent features of Maori agriculture in the days of the commune. Now that we have broken that system and haled the Maori into individualism his method of agriculture has become careless.
Young tubers of the sweet potato were often scraped and sun-dried in former times, then steamed to form a prized food supply called kao. This was sometimes mixed with water so as to form a kind of gruel that was much appreciated. When warmed by means of hot stones it was considered an excellent diet for invalids.page 375
In breaking in new land the work was necessarily much more arduous than when an old cultivation plot was reworked. Patches or areas of cultivatable land were allowed to lie fallow for some years after being cropped for one or two seasons. In making a clearing in bush for cropping the hapai tu method was sometimes followed, in which all timber that would not burn was removed bodily. In other cases the larger logs were left to decay. The autara or kairangi method consisted of lopping the branches off the trees, the trunks of which were left standing, the branches being burned. This was the old practice. Such clearings are termed waerenga. The work of preparing new ground commenced long before planting time. The smaller stumps were removed, the long, heavy hardwood ko being employed as levers in this task.
The planting of the kumara or sweet potato was held to be an important and tapu task, from the sorting of the seed tubers (kopura, purapura, tinaku) even unto the completion of the task. The foretelling of seasonal conditions was the work of experts, who carefully noted the appearance of certain stars, such as the Pleiades, Rigel, Orion's Belt and Whakaahu. According to the aspect of these stars an early or late season was foretold, and planting operations arranged accordingly. Maori folk-lore tells us that Mahuru (personified form of Spring) sends the cuckoo hither every spring to call the Maori folk to the task of planting the crops.
Natives held that the tubers should be planted only at certain phases of the moon in order to obtain a good crop. One of the most favourable times is said to be the Orongonui, the 28th night, or day, of the moon's age, so named after Great Rongo, the patron deity of the kumara. Other favourable nights (days) were the 17th, 18th, 19th, 20th, and 27th, according to one native authority. But apparently these “lucky nights” differed as among different tribes. Some communities planted the tuber only during spring tides, others when the moon was due north at sunset. In some places planting commenced during the Ari phase of the moon (eleventh night).
At the commencement of the planting season the seed tubers were placed in the loose earth of the puke, or little page 376 mounds with the sprouted end to the east. As the planting season advanced the tubers were faced a little further north, so as to “follow the sun.”
Inasmuch as the planting of the sweet potato was viewed as a tapu or sacred task, then it follows that, as in all such functions, the performers were compelled to carry it out fasting, to perform the work on an empty stomach. The work was commenced early in the morning, and, if it could not be finished in a fairly short day, then the workers postponed the finishing of the job to another day. They could then retire from the field, have the tapu removed from them, and so be free to partake of a meal. Until the work was over for the day no person was allowed to cook food. Any trespasser entering, or even approaching the field where the crop was being planted would be set upon, and he might consider himself lucky if he escaped with a whole skin.
A peculiar custom obtained in some places of using a green branch of mapau (Myrsine Urvillei) as a kind of material mauri in the plantation. This was obtained by the officiating expert, who stuck it in the ground at the eastern side of the plantation; it seems to have represented Rongo. In some places the priestly expert touched every puke or small mound with his hand ere the seed tubers were planted in them. The baskets of seed carried to the field were ranged along the whakaupoko or head of the field, its eastern side. The opposite side of the field is the remu or taremu. A field of considerable area would be divided into strips or lands, each of which would be apportioned to a family. These lands were known as moa, tahuna, tawaha, taupa, karawa, rauwaka, wakawaka and waiwaha. They were separated by narrow paths in some cases, and these were termed awa, mataihi and pukiore; often they were hollow ways somewhat below the level of the land on either side. In many places the bounds of the divisions were marked by stones.
The Rev. Mr. Taylor tells us that the stones set in a field as boundary marks for the various divisions apportioned to families were sometimes rendered dangerous by means of magic spells. Any person who moved such enchanted stones would suffer grievously.page 377
A newly-cultivated plot of ground was alluded to as a tamata; a plot lying fallow is patohe; land exhausted by cultivation is described as huiki and titohea. The words ko, ahurei and whakatopatopa all denote planting the sweet potato, while tou, ono and whakato have a wider application. The planting of young shoots taken from the sweet potato tubers is described by the term whakateretere. This is a modern practice.
The planting of the first tuber in a field was a ceremonial act, and it remained a tapu plant, for the product of it was employed as an offering to the gods. It was called the marere, a name that was also applied to one of the ovens in which food for the ceremonial feast pertaining to planting was cooked.
It is clear that, in different districts, different methods of working and planting the kumara or sweet potato obtained. An attempt to reconcile the different accounts of methods employed would but lead to distraction. In places where cultivation of the tuber was carried on in a big way there was much more formality and ceremonial connected with it than in districts where but a limited quantity could be grown as a luxury. In the former case numbers of men worked together, and there was much specialising with regard to tasks. In the latter a few persons would perform all the different tasks pertaining to planting.
In the case of the Tuhoe tribe, occupying, as it did, a high-lying district, but little cultivation was possible. In the outlying parts a certain amount was carried on. Among these folk each digger carried his basket of seed tubers and each man planted these in the little mounds he had formed. The work was carried out in what may be termed a military manner. The men were ranged in a row, a little distance apart from each other, but in echelon, and carried out the work in that peculiar formation. They worked backward as we do when digging. Each man would loosen the soil with his ko, form a little mound of pulverised soil, plant the tuber with its sprouted end a little raised and pointing to the east, and so be ready for the next move. When all had so finished, the whole, at the word of command, took one step to the rear, with spade page 378 and basket, and so were ready to commence another row. Each man lined in his puke, or little mound, so as to preserve the marvellous regularity that marked such plantations, and the military precision was preserved throughout in both movements and results.
In his account of the cultivation of the sweet potato the late Archdeacon Walsh wrote of the planting: “The party that undertook this operation commenced in one corner and worked back diagonally across the patch, each man having a row to himself, and as every hill was made to touch the two hills in the next row the whole plantation presented a fairly accurate quincunx pattern.”
Now some writers and authorities have told us that the workers moved forward as they worked, not backward. Apparently both methods were employed, as in different districts. Again, when planting was conducted on a large scale the digging and actual planting were two distinct operations; thus while diggers worked backward the actual planters may have worked forward. It is doubtful if any system of working diagonally across a field was followed. As will be explained anon, the line of workers was diagonal, but the diggers worked straight across the field.
Another difficulty that meets the enquirer is the question as to whether or not a cord was employed in planting the sweet potato. There is much evidence to show that such a help was used, commencing with Capt. Cook, who actually saw the line and cord in the plantation. On the other hand early writers and many old natives have stoutly maintained that no such aid was employed. Evidently the implement was used in some districts, but not in others. These local differences occurred in connection with other matters also. On the east coast no woman was allowed to assist in the planting, but on the west coast women were, at least in some cases, allowed to take part in it. The Rev. T. G. Hammond, of Patea, tells us that some women were esteemed as planters because they possessed ringa mana; all tubers planted by them flourished.
The process of forming the small mounds in which the tubers are planted is expressed by the terms ahu, tupuke, tukari and tuahu. Only one tuber was planted in each mound. page 379 A curious usage in planting was as follows:—The planter, facing the sun, held up the seed tuber at arm's length about the height of his head prior to planting it. A conciliatory offering, usually a bird, made to the gods prior to the commencement of the planting was alluded to as a marere. A west coast authority tells us that men performed the digging and that the actual planting was done by women. On the east coast these women would not have been allowed in the field. The above-mentioned authority also remarks that a row of rods was set up to assist planters in aligning the mounds. The observance of tapu during the planting operations, and also until the crop was lifted and stored, served not only to placate the gods but also to protect the life principle (mauri) of the kumara.
One of the interesting features connected with digging operations was the chaunting of the tewha, or working song, by means of which the actions of many men were timed. The sight of the long line of 1oft. spades; decorated with feather streamers, swaying in unison with the time song must have been a striking one. The term pirori was used to denote the movement of the long shaft when swung round for the right foot thrust. The wide spacing of mounds as for the rautainui variety of sweet potato was called tiwara. The ceremonial chaunts of the workers come under the generic term of tewha, but are known specifically as ko kumara, tapatapa kumara, etc.
Occasionally, we are told, a stiff or somewhat unkindly soil was improved by ashes used as manure. If there was not a quantity of brush or timber to dispose of, then quantities of brush, such as manuka, would be obtained and spread evenly over the field. When dry this would be burned and the ashes mixed with the soil forming the small mounds. With such a stiff soil gravel would be mixed, but friable, open soils did not need such a dressing, though in such cases gravel was often used to spread on the surface under the runners.
The long form of ko used in breaking up was known as the ko whakaara; a shorter form was employed for cultivation purposes. Where planting was carried on in a large way the work was generally performed by means of a “planting bee,” page 380 a usage known as tuao. Such a party of workers is termed an ohu. Under such conditions there would be four or five parties carrying out different processes. First came the kaiko or diggers who broke up the soil with their long staves. Then came the tangata tuahu, who pulverised the soil and worked ashes into it if any such were at hand, also gravel if necessary; also they formed the mounds. Then came the kaironaki or kaiwhakatiri, distributors of seed, who placed a seed tuber on each mound, after whom came the kairumaki, or planters.
The wielders of the longshafted digging tools assembled at dawn and proceeded to the field. As the sun appeared all turned so as to face it, and the expert commenced to intone a formula or invocation to great Rongo. The seed tubers would have been carried to the field from the rua whakaahu, the store pit in which they had been kept, so that, when the ceremonial performance was over, all were ready to commence work. The form of ko, or spade, with an elaborate carved device of rectangular outline on its upper end was, we are informed, used in a ceremonial manner by the priestly expert, as in planting the first tuber that was to develop into the tapu plant of the crop.
In one of the formulæ chaunted during planting operations is an interesting appeal to Pani, the “mother” of the kumara, to provide a good crop: “E Pani e! Ringitia to rahu ki waenga ki tenei mara” (O Pani! Pour out thy basket on this field). As soon as the digging commenced the tapu of the gods lay on the field, and it so remained until the crop had been lifted and removed to the storehouses.
The diggers kept time with military precision when loosening the soil. A left foot thrust of the ko was first made, the shaft of the tool was inclined to the right, and the left foot was placed on the foot rest. The shaft was then swung over to a left-handed grip and thrust, in which the right foot was placed on the foot rest. A third thrust of the tool at right angles to the other two assisted in the loosening of the soil, which was then ready to be further worked with a pinaki and then formed into a small mound in which the tuber was planted.page 381
The method of working followed by natives about the East Cape district, as explained by Manihera Waititi, differed from those of some districts, but may be here given as an interesting procedure. As the men were working the directing expert chaunted the tewha, or work song. At the end of each division of the song the workers joined in chaunting a short refrain, at the same time they raised the points of their long ko on high and brandished them. Another form of song was chaunted as the seed tubers were being planted, and in this the name of Pani again appears. Yet another form was rendered when the seed was covered, and, if considered necessary, a rain producing charm was chaunted.
In the above district each worker seems to have formed the mounds of his row immediately opposite those of the next line by which he was aligning his own, instead of making them opposite the space between two mounds of the other line, as was done in many districts. I may, however, have misunderstood the explanation. The head of the field or waha (mouth) as it is locally termed, is its northern side, while the lower or rear end is the taremu. In most cases the head of the field is said to have been its eastern side. When about to commence work the workers take their stand at the eastern end of the taremu, or southern side of the field, that is in the S.E. corner of the field. The workers faced south while digging, so that they worked backwards, as we do when using a spade. This enabled each man to keep his line of mounds correctly aligned.
As an illustration of this method of working we will follow the boustrophedon perambulations of three workers, Messrs. A, B, and C, as depicted on the diagram. The work is commenced by A, whose rarangi puke, or row of mounds, extends across the field to D. This line or row is styled the tahu, because it serves as a guide for B and C in lining and spacing. The act of forming this first row is called whakatahu; he who forms it is the kaiwhakatahu. By working backwards A can readily align his mounds; his spacing of mounds was done by eye and what may be termed the regulation pace.
Our workers, meanwhile, are performing their task of digging, loosening the soil and raising it, but not turning it over. When A finishes his row he awaits the completion of those of B and C. Then C commences his countermarch; he begins to form row No. 4 of mounds. B also wheels and commences row No. 5, and A takes the outer line. They work back now, working toward the taremu of the field. Then they wheel again, commencing another countermarch, and continue to work in this manner until the whole field is dug, or rather until the soil has been loosened at all places where the tubers are to be planted. This mode of working in echelon is called whakarapa. Save under certain conditions the ground between the rows of mounds, the spaces called pongaihu and maruaroa, was not dug.
The diagram shows that when C is working on his first puke, A is at his fifth, and B at his third. The brief references to this peculiar method of working met with in various works, are by no means clear, but the accompanying diagram will, it is to be hoped, explain the procedure. Differences in methods of planting certainly existed as in different districts, but to give all variations of the process would but weary and confuse the reader. No line or other guide was employed by these folk as explained by Manihera and Hakaraia, but in some districts a line or row of rods is said to have been so used.
After the diggers come the persons who work the soil with small tools, the pinaki or wauwau, break clods with a wooden club, and use their hands a good deal in pulverising and in page 384 heaping up the soil. This pulverising process is termed tapapa. The kaiwhakatiri, or seed distributors, then pass down the pongaihu bearing baskets of seed tubers. They deposit one tuber on each small mound. The planters then advance and finish off the mound to their satisfaction, and plant the seed.
In other places, we are told, the “head” of the field was its eastern side, and the kaiko or diggers worked from west to east and then back again, and so on. The branchlet of mapau stuck in the ground in some cases was called Rongo; it served as a mauri, or talisman. In some cases a branchlet of karamu (Coprosma) was so used as a mauri, and branchlets of this small tree were used in many other rites. This reminds us of a custom of the Oraons of India, who employ a branch of the karam tree in their harvest ceremonial. An old native is responsible for the statement that when the Maori was planting kumara, the first four tubers were pushed into the loose soil with the big toe of the left foot, as a charm was being recited.
The following ceremony performed by planters at the completion of their task seems to have been connected with the lifting of tapu. In connection with this ceremony a few tubers were cooked in a tapu oven, and a curious part of the performance was as follows:—The planters ranged themselves in a rank and the first of these obtained one of the cooked tubers from the oven, passed it into his left hand, then handed it to the man next him. That man took it with his right hand, passed it into his left, and handed it on, and so it passed right down the line of men. It was then taken to the tapu place of the village and there deposited. This note appears in Mr White's MS.
These stone figures were believed to have a most beneficial effect on the growing crops, and this because of the powers and influence of the gods which they represented. A portion of the produce of the first tuber planted was utilised as an offering to the talismanic stone. Rongo is at least sometimes represented by a double form of stone image, and this probably stands for the dual Rongo-ma-Tane already explained.
Natives tell us in some cases fields were rendered fertile, and bounteous crops were obtained, by placing in the field a small portion of soil brought in olden times across the ocean from the former island home of the Maori.
The following extraordinary practice appears to be a survival of human sacrifice from olden times when persons were slain in order that good crops might be obtained. Our Maori folk have not, so far as we know, deliberately indulged in human sacrifice for this purpose of late generations, but they seem to have done so at one time, as witness the tradition of Taukata. In native tradition this ancestor was connected with the introduction of the highly valued kumara tuber into New Zealand. The people of Whakatane were advised to slay him as a human sacrifice to prevent the mauri or life principle of the tuber returning to the isles of Polynesia, whence the seed tubers had been obtained. Hence, when the first crop had been gathered and stored, the hapless Taukata was slain, and his blood was sprinkled on the door of the storehouse in order to hold the vitality and fertility of the tubers. Also his skull was preserved for many years, and, each year, it was taken page 387 to the fields and there placed among the growing crops to act as a “fertiliser”!
When Tionga of Rotorua was killed by Tuhoe the latter utilised his skull in a similar manner in connection with a tutu, or tree on which bush parrots were snared. It was placed in the tree, and was so useful and efficient a talisman that the folk of Te Teko applied for the loan of it to place in their kumara fields. According to evidence, skulls or other bones of the dead of either friends or enemies were equally efficacious. We are told that, in some districts, when it was seen that the crops were not flourishing, the owners would procure the bones of their own forebears and place them in the field, an act accompanied by much ceremony and recital of charms. When skulls were so used they were placed on stakes among the crops.
A more direct method than the above was followed in certain parts of India, where a person was slain, his body cut into small pieces and buried piecemeal among the crops. At an early period in Egypt corpses were dismembered and buried in cultivated land. In after days the bones were taken up, cleaned, and finally disposed of in the sand of the desert.
When the young shoots of the tubers appeared above ground it was a custom, in some parts, for an expert to proceed to the field at dawn and make an offering of some article of food to the Pleiades, at the same time reciting a charm or invocation.
In olden days crops were kept carefully weeded, and much care was taken in keeping the soil loose around the kumara plants while in the earlier stages of growth. In pre-European days no forms of weeds existed that gave very much trouble, such as our docks and sorrel. Nicholas wrote of native cultivations in 1815: “The nice precision that was observed in setting the plants, and the careful exactness in clearing out the weeds, the neatness of the fences, with the convenience of the stiles and pathways, might all of them have done credit to the most tasteful cultivator in England.”
In ritual chaunts pertaining to the kumara we encounter the peculiar name of Hine-rau-wharangi. This female being of remote times was a daughter of Tane, and she personifies page 388 growth in the vegetable kingdom. The quaint myth that makes this personage, as also the Dawn Maid, and Cloud Maid, the daughters of Tane, who represents the sun, shows that the Maori studied cause and effect when evolving his system of mythology.
As to pests, we have seen that our Maori crop grower had, in some places to erect slight reed or brush fences to exclude prowling swamp hens. The native rat was scarcely a pest, but the two rats introduced by Europeans gave a good deal of trouble in late times. The large caterpillar, called hotete, was a decided pest. These creatures appeared in great numbers on the sweet potato plants, and were collected and burned. A caterpillar pest, known as tupeke and torongu, is mentioned by east coast natives. Natives sometimes made smouldering fires in their cultivations on which were burned leaves of the kawakawa (Macropiper excelsum), the smoke from which is said to have destroyed the caterpillars. In the north the gum of the kauri tree was sometimes burned for the same purpose. Colenso tells us that sea gulls were occasionally tamed and turned into the plantations to deal with the pests. Again, people so pestered by these plagues sometimes applied to a tohunga, who would undertake to abolish them by means of charms and certain ceremonies of magic import. Thus the Awa folk of the Bay of Plenty district are said to have destroyed them by means of a performance styled the ahi torongu (torongu fire). An expert would kindle fire by friction and cast a few of the creatures into the fire, reciting at the same time a charm that had the effect of slaying the whole of the pests in the field. The spot where the tapu fire had been kindled remained tapu, and should any person trespass thereon his own crops would perish, be destroyed by the gods.
There now remains the task of harvesting our crop of kumara, or sweet potatos. The lifting of a root crop is denoted by the word hauhake. The sign for the commencement of this task was the cosmic rising of the star Whanui (Vega), and storehouses were put in order as the time drew near for this star to reappear. A keen lookout was kept, and, when it was first seen, the cry of “Ko Whanui, e! Ko Whanui!” (Here is Vega!) was heard resounding far and wide. This was page 389 in the tenth month of the Maori year, the ngahuru, and that term has come to denote autumn and harvest time.
Certain ceremonial performances were gone through ere the digging of the crop was commenced. In these further offerings were made to the gods, and some tubers were cooked and eaten as part of the ceremonial. The tuapora or tamaahu, or first fruits of the crop, entered into several rites, and a portion thereof was offered to Rongo. Offerings were also made to Pani.
Small, light tools such as the pinaki and a light form of kaheru, were used in taking up the crop, but there was nothing spectacular in the task, as in the case of planting. When dug the tubers were carefully examined and sorted, a process termed kopana. Great care was necessary, for the least abrasion would cause the tuber to decay in the storehouse, and this would mean the decay of the rest if not carefully watched. All inferior tubers were set aside for immediate use. The others were put into large baskets, called tiraha, and so carried on the back to the storehouse. These baskets of produce were counted by means of the binary system, that is, in pairs. It was considered unlucky to only partially fill a basket, or to carry them in any other way than on the back. In many places women were not allowed to take any part in this task. After the crop had been lifted, as also the tapu, persons would sometimes go over the field and search for piwai or houhunga, tubers that had been overlooked by the crop lifters. Hence the twelfth month was called the gleaning month, the matahi kari piwai.
Really some of the beliefs of man are absurd to a degree. We are gravely informed that if a nest of the bird called pohowera is found in a field where the kumara is being cultivated, then the eggs in that nest are carefully counted, because, when the crop is lifted, there will be 20 baskets of produce for each egg that the nest contained.
The harvest feast, or hakari, was an important event in Maori eyes, and continued for some days. At such times the people indulged in all kinds of games and contests, such as have been described in a former chapter.page 390
The tubers of the sweet potato required very careful storage. The two principal places of storage were semi-subterranean pits and well-like pits. The former are called rua tahuhu, rua tirawa, rua tatara, etc. An excavation some three to five feet in depth, of a rectangular form, was covered with a [gap — reason: illegible] shaped roof and lined with fern or slabs hewn from the trunks of tree ferns. The tubers were carefully stacked on some fern or brush dunnage. These old storage pits are seen from 6 or 8 to 30ft. In length; a few are even larger. The other form of pit is wholly subterranean and smaller than the first mentioned. They are of well-like form, rectangular, or circular in some cases, in form like unto a low form of jar. One descends through a small opening by means of a notched slab into a pit of perhaps 5ft. in depth and 5ft. in width. This is the rua kopiha or rua korotangi. We also see old storage places excavated in hillsides and resembling caves; these are rua poka. Many have been excavated in soft sandstone and have dome-shaped roofs.
There was a certain amount of tapu pertaining to the root storepits, and some form of charm was recited when the crop was stored away.
The yam (uwhi and uwhikaho) was cultivated in the northern parts of the North Island, but it must have required much care, hence it became extinct here after the natives acquired the potato (Solanum) introduced by early voyagers. Cook and his companions mention having seen the yam as far south as Tolaga Bay. The cultivation of this product seems to have been carried on at the Bay of Islands after it had been abandoned further south, and this was probably because it was readily bought by early whalers calling at that port.
The taro (Colocasia antiquorum) is a third introduced food plant, brought from Polynesia in past centuries, one that is somewhat hardier, apparently, than the yam, inasmuch as it was cultivated further south. This plant is found growing wild in India and Indonesia, whence it has presumably been carried across the Pacific. As in the case of the kumara the variety now grown here seems to have been introduced by Europeans.page 391 page 392
It does not appear that the Maori ever irrigated his taro patches, as was done in some isles of the Pacific. The Maori has preserved names of several varieties formerly cultivated here, and both root and leaf stalks (petioles) of these were eaten. It did not form so important a food supply as the sweet potato, and, being a perennial plant, there is nothing to record as to the harvest of the crop. It was occasionally employed in ceremonial performances but not to the extent that the kumara was. The taro is a fine, handsome plant when well grown. Sand and gravel were much used in its cultivation.
When engaged in planting the taro the Maori held that it was advisable to do so during certain phases only of the moon, the 17th, 18th, and 28th (Orongonui) nights being particularly favourable ones. They were planted in holes called whawharua, some of which were deep and some shallow, the former being termed ipurangi and the latter parua koau. Gravel was placed in the pit, and in this gravel four roots were planted. The holes were made in rows about two feet apart. The taro was seen growing as far south as Queen Charlotte Sound in 1839, though possibly it may have been the introduced variety at the latter place.
We have no knowledge as to any tapu functions pertaining to the planting of products other than the sweet potato. It is around the origin of this tuber that so many myths have gathered.
Taro plants were often protected from wind by brush screens, as was done with the kumara.
The hue, or gourd (Lagenaria vulgaris), the common name for which plant is hue, in some districts is called wenewene and kowenewene. The hard rind of the matured fruit was much used for water vessels, bowls, etc., called taha, ipu, and many other names. The mythical origin of the plant is referred to one Pu-te-hue, who flourished in the dim eras of the past when gods and other weird beings walked the earth. The above name is also used in a charm repeated when gourd seeds are planted, as though it represented the personified form of the plant.page 393
Gourd seeds were planted during full moon, the 16th and 17th nights of the moon was the proper time. The planter went through a somewhat peculiar performance. Taking a seed in each hand, held between thumb and forefinger, he extended his arms and raised them until his hands met over his head. The arms, however, were bent as they were being raised, so that the fruit would assume that form in growth, and so be useful as water vessels. The sweeping motion of the arms was to cause the gourds to grow large. A kind of sympathetic white magic is here illustrated. The planter then inserted the seeds in the soil and covered them. The charm repeated by the planter calls upon the fruit of the plant to grow to a large size. The seeds were sometimes caused to germinate prior to planting by means of a process termed whakarau. They were embedded in damp, decayed wood and buried near a fireplace where the soil was warm. The Maori also fertilised female flowers of the plant as our early settlers did in the case of the pumpkin ere bees became numerous. He called the process whakaaiai.
Young fruit in the kotawa stage of growth was eaten, being cooked in the steam oven, but the principal use of the gourd was to serve as domestic vessels. A Bay of Plenty tradition is to the effect that the gourd was the first food product to be introduced into these isles. The plants were often grown in small hollows in the soil, “dishes” as Cook termed them. When used as water vessels a small hole was made in the hard, dry gourd, some gravel was inserted and shaken about to remove the fibrous interior substance. The large ones used for preserving birds and rats in had the tops cut off. Carved wooden necks or mouthpieces (tuki) were fastened on to the rim of the aperture. Some were mounted on carved wooden legs and adorned with feathers.
The fruit of the gourd assumed different forms, each of which had its name. Some resembled the old-fashioned water caraffe in form. Certain forms were produced by means of ligatures. Some of the bowls formed of half a gourd were adorned with decorative designs in black, very neatly executed. When natives obtained glass bottles from Capt. Cook and his companions they called them “calabashes” (taha).page 394
It may be going too far to say that species of the genus Cordyline, the so-called cabbage tree, were cultivated by the Maori, but certainly two species were planted by them in the North Island. One of these was C. terminalis (ti pore), which was grown in the far north. It was almost extinct some years ago, when one or two specimens were found growing at places formerly occupied by natives. It was probably introduced by the natives in past centuries from Polynesia or Sunday Island. The other species formerly grown by the natives is the ti para, also known as ti tawhiti and ti kowhiti. It is an unnamed species, or variety. This plant does not develop into a tree as does C. australis; its stem is but about 4ft. to 6ft. in height in the matured plant. The writer has never seen this plant growing wild, and natives state that they have not known it in that condition. This looks as though it were another introduced form.
Of the ti para both trunk and taproot provided food for the Maori, and both consist of a mass of fibrous matter that contains a considerable amount of edible fecula or farina, as sago is produced by the sago palm. The plant was allowed to mature. When it does so a number of shoots spring from the base of the trunk; these can be detached and planted. The trunk was bent over and down and the upper end of it pegged down on the ground, and covered with earth. Ere long it struck root. When it did so the trunk was cut through at each end, the head and stump left to grow, while the trunk was cut up and cooked. The edible matter is termed para, hence the name of the plant, ti being a generic term that includes all species of Cordyline.
When about to be cooked the harder outside part of the trunk was chipped off; the soft interior portion was then cut into short lengths and cooked in a steam oven, in which it was allowed to remain for many hours. This prolonged cooking leaves a very soft mass of commingled fibre and fecula, the former being rejected by consumers. Sometimes the natives separated the edible matter from the fibres and ate it as a meal, or, by adding water, made a kind of gruel of it.
Taranaki natives maintain that this plant was introduced into New Zealand by the immigrants who came hither on the page 395 vessel Aotea some 500 years ago. In that district it was planted, states the Rev. T. G. Hammond, over large stones that were buried in the soil, so that the taproot would not grow too long and so be troublesome to dig up, for this root was also cooked. The para has a sweetish taste, but leaves a peculiar bitter after taste in the mouth; such at least was my own experience. Curiously enough, we have no record of any flowering specimen of this plant having been seen. Colenso tells us that the trunk dies off after the base has thrown up a number of shoots.
The roots of the mauku (Cordyline pumilio) were also utilised in the same way, and this species was planted by natives of the Waikato district, and probably elsewhere.
Several writers speak of the stem of the ti para having been tightly ligatured when it was bent and pegged down. It seems to be clear that only young forms of other species were used. The tree form of C. australis was useless, we are told, as a food provider, so far as trunk and root were concerned, only young plants were of service. Natives state that the head of the plant was cut off in early spring and the stem left standing for some months ere it was taken. The long taproot is called kopura in the Whanganui district. This C. australis (ti kouka) is considered to be inferior to the ti para as a food provider. In the South Island, where the latter form was unknown, the name was applied to C. australis. Old natives have assured me that, when this product is being cooked, it is highly necessary that men and women should be circumspect in their behaviour, otherwise the roots will not cook properly.
The tap root of C. indivisa was sometimes utilised, and the bases of young leaves of Cordyline formed a meagre food supply. South Island natives used C. australis, but did not cultivate it; they selected young plants with stems about 4ft. in height, and applied the term kauru to them. This food product was obtained in the summer season, cooked, and often preserved for future use. The root also was utilised, but in many cases it was left in the ground so that it would produce another stem. When disengaged from the containing fibres the fecula was called waitau kauru. In spring the root of C. page 396 australis was sometimes obtained for immediate use, when it was cooked by being covered with hot ashes and embers.
We are told that, when the Cordyline roots and stems were being collected and cooked, the first obtained was set aside as an offering to the gods, and others were cooked to be utilised in a ceremonial feast. The term rua ti denotes a storehouse in which this comestible was preserved for future use, but it came to be used as an expression denoting plenty, industry, and thoughtfulness in cultivating food supplies. Hence such sayings as the following: “Ka tu te rua ti o te tangata ka kiia he tangata.” When a man possesses a rua ti he is deemed a person of some standing.
The karaka tree (Corynocarpus lœvigatus) was often planted by natives around their villages. Tradition states that it was introduced into New Zealand many generations ago. If so, then it was probably brought from Sunday Island, the Rangitahua of the Maori, at which isle some of the old-time vessels called when on their way to these isles. It is not, strictly speaking, a forest tree in New Zealand. No less than four different vessels are credited in tradition with its introduction.
Apparently the aute, or paper tree, needed some care in order to preserve it in this cool climate, for it soon disappeared after the arrival of Europeans.
The introduction of the cultivated food products of Europe had a great effect on Maori life and industry. The sub-tropical food plants introduced by Polynesians into these isles called for much work and much care on the part of the tillers of the soil; in some districts they could not be grown. The hardy introduced potato could be grown almost anywhere, and with ease; hence the decay of the culture of the old native products. Thus the yam and gourd have disappeared, while most of the kumara and taro seen in cultivation now are not the old Maori varieties.