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Maori Agriculture

Lifting the Kumara Crop

Lifting the Kumara Crop

The first act was the recital of certain ritual by some person, lauding and placating the gods on account of the crop, after which the ceremonial lifting of the tapu was carried out.

The first puke or mound was the mauri of the kumara store-pit. When the crop was dug, that was the first lifted, a task for the priest. The product [tubers] were taken to the tuahu [place where religious rites were performed] and there buried as an offering to Rongo-marae-roa.

The implement employed in taking up the crop was a kaheru, a short tool hewn from maire [Olea] or ake-rau-tangi [Dodonoea viscosa]. It was carefully thrust into the base of the puke or mound, as far as the centre thereof, and the plant and soil lifted and turned over. Such was the only work performed by that man; those who came after him collected the tubers and placed them in the awa. The tubers to be taken to the store-pit were placed in one awa (space between rows), while the korae, those to be eaten at once, were put in another awa. Another person placed them in baskets page 171which, when full, were carried to the margin of the field. They were put into wicker baskets for carrying to the store-pit, but not in heavy bulk, lest the tubers be bruised. On arriving at the store pit, the sorters took charge of them. The more compact tubers were sought as seed for the next season, elongated ones not being suitable for that purpose. [The more compact tubers have more whatu or eyes, hence they produce more shoots.]

The women were not allowed to take part in crop digging, the time for which was denoted by the maturity of the crop. This was unmistakable; when the leaves of the kumara became brown, the tubers were matured. The digging was not commenced until the sun was well up, and ceased when it reached the zenith, when the products were carried to the store pit. At dawn on that same day the priest had recited his ritual over that store. The baskets having reached the pit, the persons appointed to stack the kumara in the pit appeared. Two persons were so employed, one on either side of the pit, and as they stowed the kumara they examined them carefully, so as to detect any abraded, bruised or broken ones, which would be put aside as food for the workers. The reason of this was, lest such tubers be left in the pit and cause the other tubers to decay.

The floor of the storehouse was level save that it was a little raised at the door end. Gravel was strewn over the floor, right back to the rear wall, to the depth of about one inch, in Maori phraseology a "thumb joint." This was a fine gravel; termed kirikiri rere by the Maori. Some puka [soft decayed wood of rimu, pukatea or totara was also used. It was dried, crumbled up, and spread over the layer of gravel; on this the tubers were stacked] was then spread over the gravel. (Some persons, having no puka available, would procure some timber, split it up, and bury it in a sandy spot, or gravelly place, there to decay.) Having finished that, the stacking of the kumara commenced. It was done in this manner (packed very carefully in rows overlapping each other). The remu [end lacking 'eyes'] should by no means be placed uppermost. Now the persons sorting the kumara proceeded with their work; those for food were separated from those to be used for seed, hence the stacks in the storehouse were arranged separately. The first were those to be used as food, that is to say those to be used as food were stacked first, near the door of the pit, so as to be handy for persons coming to procure them. That being done then a barrier was erected between the food tubers and seed tubers. When the space allotted for the food tubers was filled, then only did the page 172stacking of the seed tubers begin. The barrier screen was made of manuka brush, which was laced on to wooden rods when in a dry condition; it was not used until the leaves had fallen. When all the seed tubers had been stacked, then the screen or barrier of the tākūwai was erected throughout. [The careful arranging of tubers in the store pit is described by the term whakapipi.]

Women were not allowed in the store pit, lest their condition cause the kumara to decay, hence men only might fetch tubers from the store. But when a woman had ceased to bear children, then she might be allowed to enter a store pit, because her paheke had ceased.

When the kumara had been safely stored, then a feast was held. When the remark—'The kumara of So-and-so have been assorted,' was heard, then was it known that a feast was toward, which was a concluding function.

The runners of the kumara plant were not cut or interfered with in any way, except to prevent them striking root. When these shoots fell from an upright position, and commenced to run, soil loosening operations ceased and care was taken that the runners did not suffer from wind, stagnant water, or contact with wet, muddy earth. Nowadays sections of runners are sometimes struck and develop into tuber bearing plants, but this process is confined to introduced varieties. Another method sometimes adopted with these is to cut out the young shoots of a tuber, each having a piece of the tuber attached to it, and plant these. In order to cause the tubers to throw out these sprouts they are laid on the surface of the ground and have earth scattered over them. This is known as "he mea parekereke." The tubers throw out sprouts which are, as noted above, either cut out or pinched off just below a joint recognised by adepts as one that produces roots. The lightly covered tubers will throw out other shoots after the first lot has been taken. The present writer has propagated the sweet potato in this manner.

The above account will be seen to contain certain differences when compared with others given above, but such minor differences certainly obtained in the various districts. In some cases further explanations might have been made; for instance, when women were not allowed to enter the tapu main store, then a quantity of tubers would be taken therefrom and placed in a small store pit near the cooking sheds. These pits not being tapu women might at any time enter them.

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The above is a clear account of local procedure, but, unhappily for the collector of data, methods, names, &c., differed as in different districts.

I have been told that, occasionally, a cultivated area was divided into narrow lands or widths in each of which the earth was collected principally in the middle, so that each strip was rounded, being highest in the middle. This was done in the case of damp land—whenua hauwai, that was not dry enough for sweet potatoes. Occasionally good soil was procured from elsewhere and deposited on these rounded lands. The expression tuaka kumara denotes the formation of these raised beds.

The use of the measuring rod and cords above mentioned may have represented a local usage, but it was certainly not a widespread one. It was too elaborate a mode to be much practised by the Maori in such work, for he possessed a remarkably "true" eye. I suspect some exaggeration in this account. Again, the refraining from planting during the full moon seems somewhat improbable, inasmuch as the Maori held that the moon was the source of fertility. Again, if the actual planters faced eastward throughout their task, and commenced operations at the eastern side of the plot, then they must have worked backward, as the diggers did when working from the rear of the field.

The following ritual chant is one of those employed during planting operations. It was recited by Tuta Nihoniho:—"

"He mara tautane, he mara tapu
Toto ti hiki Raukatauri, Raukatamea
Mahitihiti marekareka
Tenei te hapai ka hapi
Ko te hapai na wai?
Ko te hapai na Rongo
Rongo uakina, rongo te kainga
Te kainga ki rangi nui, ki rangi roa
Ki rangi te rakahia
Mai taku kete nei
Ko mananea taku kete nei
Totoro tahu, totoro te hua i waenganui
Kia kawitiwiti, kia katoatoa
Haere te kakano
Ko te kura mai i whea?
Ko te kura mai i Mata-te-ra
He harurutanga, he ngatorotanga."

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The ceremonial chants sung by planters of the kumara are known as tapatapa kumara, ko kumara, whakatopatopa kumara and tewha. Naenae-moko and Mangungu are two of these kawa kumara employed in the Bay of Plenty district.

The late Mr. John White also gives some of the chants employed by planters and seed distributors. The following are some used by the kaironaki, or seed distributors:—


"E noho, e kui, i roto i to kete
Mau e inaki, mau e whakatoka
Tokatoka to manawa."

This appears to appeal to some old woman (kui), possibly Pani, to cause a prolific growth or bountiful crop.


"Tahoe, tahoe whiti tua, whiti aro, whiti haha
Ka tupu te wai, ka ora te wai


Ko te wai ora o Maui."
"Tupu hauhau mai te wharangi i te ngahere
Tupu hauhau mai te mapau i tahaki
Tenei au, e Pani!
E rapu mai ana ahau i te kore te whiwhia
I te kore te rawea
I te whaiwhai noa i au, e Maui, e!
Ko au ka tangi whane (?)."

It is difficult to see the drift of these effusions. In the last one a reference is made to the vigorous growth of the wharangi and mapau, both forest trees, without any explanation of their connection with the work of planting, or the crop. Then comes a mention of Pani, the mother of kumara. "Here am I, O Pani," and a statement that the reciter is seeking the "unpossessable," whatever that may be. Both meaning and application are obscure. Another of the recitations or chants of the seed distributors is:—

"He pua uta, he pua tai
He pua mai hea?
Ko tepua mai Hawaiki."

(Land seed, sea seed; seed from where; the seed (from) Hawaiki.)

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This effusion seems to reappear in the following charm chanted by the planters as they placed the seed tubers in the ground:—

"He pua uta, he pua tai
Tukua hei pua kakara
Ko te pua mai hea?
Ko te pua mai Hawaiki
Tiritiri taku kete, homai ranea
Makamaka taku kete, homai ranea
Te tiri atu ki te paenga rua
Te tiri atu ki te paenga naunau
Pakapaka nga kahatu
Pakapaka nga retao."

To translate these cryptic utterances with accuracy and confidence is impossible, but the above seems to contain an appeal for a bountiful return in the words homai ranea (give hither abundantly).

The following notes emanate from the same authority:—The first four tubers to be planted in a field are pushed into the loose soil of the puke with the big toe of the left foot, while the planter repeats:—

"Tenei hoki te purapura ka noho
Tenei hoki te purapura ka rumaki
Te purapura tuataka
Te aro pipine ki tai wharau
Tenei te purapura ka noho
Tenei te purapura ka rumaki."

(The refrain herein runs—Here the seed is emplaced; here the seed is planted.)

When the labour of the planters was over, a number of tubers were cooked in a special and tapu oven. It was the duty of the kaironaki or seed distributors to extract one tuber from this oven, to cover it with leaves of the karamu, a Coprosma, and deposit it at some place near by. When the planters had completed their task, they proceeded to the place where this tuber had been placed, and there formed single rank. The right hand man of the rank took up the tuber in his right hand, passed it on to his left hand man in a similar way, until it had passed down the rank to the last man. It was then taken to the wahi tapu of the community, and there left, being suspended on a stake as an offering to Rongo. This single tuber was known as the mātā, and the oven in which it was cooked the hangi taki rarangi.

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This use of the branchlets of the karamu tree in agricultural rites may be compared to a somewhat similar one in India. Crooke states:—"Among the people of Chota Nagpur the Karam tree (Neuclea parviflora), is held sacred by the Oraons, who worship it at their harvest home festival, when the young men and women fetch a branch from the jungle, to the accompaniment of singing and dancing. It is erected in the village and decorated with lights and flowers. A feast is held, and when they have eaten and drunk, they spend the day in dancing and merriment round the branch. Next morning it is flung into the nearest stream, and with it the ill-luck of the village departs."

Frazer gives some evidence of this use of branches, &c., in agricultural rites, for which see The Golden Bough Series, Vol. 2 of The Magic Art, p. 47 on. In one account of Maori agricultural ceremonies the use of poles of mapou (Myrsine) is mentioned. These would be termed toko, or wana, or tira, words that mean, not only a pole, rod, or wand, but also "rays," as of light, or the sun. It appears probable that Maori ritual was originally based largely on astronomy.

The following planting song was contributed by the Hon. A. T. Ngata. It was employed by the natives of the Waiapu district:—

He Karakia tewha kumara (Kumara planting ritual.)
Na Hori Te Manana o Ngati-Porou i homai.


"Ko Ruata-i, ko Ruata-i, te manu e tararau iara - - e
E tu ai e taia kia ngahoro, na wiwi, na wawa, na te
koreke, na te marama i whanake, tioro."


Tioro i te whitu, tioro i te waru, ka haramai te hua o te kai, ka hua a kai, ka hua kuru, ka hua manu, ka hua a retireti. Toroa kai hoki au ka ngenge.

(Ka hamama te tokomaha.) (Here all joined in.)


Ka ngenge hoki au ki taku matua ki Te Aupouri. Tangi whakaingo rua ai, te haramai ai Maui-mua, Maui-roto, Maui-taha, Maui-pae, Maui tikitiki a Taranga. Te tapa mai e koe taku ika nei, ko Haehae uru roa te ihu o Tokanui ka heke, ka whakatopa roro, ka whakatopa i whiti nei au e tupe tane. I a kai te whakarua koia - - e."

(Ka whakahua te katoa.) (Here all responded.)

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Tupe tane i whiti te ramarama, tupe tane ko tama te ahu iho, ko tama te kiko whitirau ki taku paenga e ru ai au e tupe tane."

(Ka whakahua te katoa.)


Koia e ru, koia e raro, koia patupatu, koia Rangahua, te tama i torohakina e koe ki Waero-ti, ki Waerota, te tau mai ai to hua kuru, tiwha. Tiwha horahia, whakataka te hua o te kai, taku rapa tu ki te tonga waihau te mata o te ko, ka tikoki hau nui, hau roa, hui kai hui tangaroa, mahuta i runga, mahuta i raro, he kakara, he kapua te hoki ta te atirua.

(Ka hama ma te katoa.) (Here all shouted the refrain.)


Whakarongo ake ai au ki te ngutu o te wahine ra, te riri ana, te nguha ana ki te paenga o tona māra. He kohimuhimu ki te pou o te whare, he korerorero ki te pou o te whare. He kapua, he kakara te hoki ta te atirua.


Uea, uea te titi o te rua kia tutangatanga te awa ki Mokoia, e Whatu mangungu, Whatu mangungu e. E hia aku mata kai taku tua, kai taku aro pihapiha o te kai kua riro iara i te taua koia - -e.

He Karakia. He tewha kumara i te wa e tuahu ana te mara, a e ono ana nga kaiono. (Ritual employed when forming the small mounds in which the sweet potato was planted, and while the planters were performing their task. Contributed by Te Keepa Wharekura.)

Na Te Keepa Wharekura i homai enei i raro nei.


Kapakapa tu taku wairua ki te ao tapiki tu. He kapua hekeheke iho i runga o Rehia. Tuhi te uira, rapa te uira, ko ana hau e kai te hani. Tenei koa te mokopuananga tikitiki o Wahieroa te tapa mai e koe taku ika nei, ko Haehae ururoa te ihu o Tokanui. Ka heke, ka whakaparoro, ka whakatopa whiti nei au e tupe tane i aua tupe tane.

(Ka hama ma katoa te tokomaha i tena wa.)


Tiwha horahia, whakataka te hua o te kauri, taku rapa tu ki te tonga waikau, ki te mata o te ko. Ka tikoki hau nui, hau roa, e aro mai tainuku, tairangi. Hiko te uira, rapa te uira, e ko ana hoki ta te Atirua.

(Ka hama ma katoa te tokomaha i tena wa.)

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Uea, uea, parea te titi o te rua kia tutangatanga te awa ki Mokoia. Whatu mangungu e hia aku mata kai taku tua, kai taku aro pihapiha o te kai. Kua riro iara i te taua koia - - e.

(Ka hama ma te tokomaha.)

In a paper read by the Rev. Mr. Chalmers before the Royal Colonial Institute on January 11th, 1887, the author describes the method of digging employed by the natives of certain districts of New Guinea. The account is as follows:—"Each native holds one of the sharp pointed sticks in each hand, all standing in a row together strike them into the earth, give a pressure forward, then backward towards them, when the soil is moved, and then forward to turn it over. It is wonderful how much is accomplished in a few hours." In this use of two digging sticks we have a usage unknown to the Maori, but we note the same reliance on concerted and rhythmic action in the two methods. Evidently the process was one of soil loosening as practised by the Maori; the soil was not turned over as we turn it with a spade. Also the soil must be of a loose, easily worked nature, if but one hand is required to manipulate a digging stick.

We have been told by W. B. that the Moriori folk of the Chatham Isles dug the esculent fern root in the same concerted manner as that employed by the Maori of New Zealand in digging his māra kumara.

The following notes are from Mr. White's budget—When the time comes for the weeding of the growing crop, the men appointed to do the work assemble in the field and form a circle by the side of the oven above mentioned, the taki rarangi oven. One takes from the long cold oven, with his right hand, one of the stones used in heating it, passes it into his left hand, then to the man on his left hand. The stone is so passed round the circle until it reaches the last man thereof, who returns it to the oven, which is merely a shallow pit. The party then disperses and goes to work at the weeding. When the work is completed, the workers again assemble at the old oven and again perform the ceremony described above. If the work takes more than one day, and the men wish to return to their homes in the evening, the above performance must be gone through prior to their leaving the field. While working at the crop, planting, weeding, or digging, no communication was ever allowed between the workers and others; they were, for the time, cut off from their wives and families.

It was considered desirable that the owner, or an owner, of a plot of kumara should be the first to see the young shoots appear page 179above ground. It was deemed unlucky for any one else to so observe them; a poor crop would probably result.

When the crop was well sprouted, certain articles of food were taken into the field and used as kai popoa, held up and offered to Matariki (the Pleiades), certain karakia (charms, invocations, &c.), being recited at the same time. Such offering would then be placed in, or suspended from, an adjacent tree, and there left. This peculiar ceremony was performed just before dawn.

A saying applied to the kumara is "Rongo tapu hingahinga." The explanation is that the tuber frequently changes its condition, being tapu at some periods, as when growing, or stored; and noa or free from tapu at other times, as when being conveyed to the store pits, and when cooked.

Should any person be plundered, or slain, for having tres-passed on or near a tapu field, no attempt at gaining revenge would be made by his relatives.

Karaka Tarawhiti contributes the following item, as pertaining to the Waikato district:—"When the planting was finished then the priestly adept recited his karakia (ritual chant), of which these are the words:—

"Păpā, păpā te whatitiri i runga te rangi
Ko taua tini, ko taua mano te wai raparapa rua
Ko te wai o Huri-makaka te ekenga o Tutauaraia
Miria te kakara ( ) Tai-porohe-nui e maie
Maie te tupua, maie te taniwha
I haere mai koe i whea?
I a Whakaoti nuku, i a Whakaoti rangi
Ko to manawa, ko taku manawa
E Tane ka irihia
Whanowhano, haramai te toki
Haumi e!
Hui e!

This was recited over the kumara only, never over the potato. When the kumara crop was lifted a small portion was laid aside as first fruits to be eaten by the principal chiefs. Prior to the latter partaking of this food they would set aside a portion thereof as an offering to the gods, then only would they eat the balance. October and November were the planting months.

The following formula recited by planters is apparently incomplete:—

"Te kete i a wai? Te kete i a Rongo
Te kete i a wai? Te kete ka makoha
Ki te tuanuku, ki te tuarangi
Te nonoi mai nei ki tenei puke."

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It is not to be supposed that all these peculiar practices were universal throughout the country, for many were not so, differences occurred among the various tribes.

In Vol. XXII. of the Journal of the Polynesian Society, are published some old time ritual chants pertaining to kumara planting. As these are unexplainable it is scarcely worth while to introduce them here. These, and some explanation of planting customs and ceremonial observances, were obtained from Mohi Turei of the East Coast, and the latter notes were translated by the late Bishop Williams. We have already given those pertaining to the măra tautāne, and continue with the account of planting the crop:—"After this the men wearing the garments above mentioned would start to plant the field bringing the tiraha or baskets of the seed kumara to be planted in the field, for the kumara of the totowahi were for the special plot (māra tautāne) only.

When all the kumara were planted, the man who was to eat the anuanu (see under māra tautāne) would be roused up, the umu (oven) not being uncovered in the usual way, but the earth at the edge of the umu being pushed aside. When the food was thus extracted the umu would be entirely covered with earth. The men who had planted the field would also gather at the umu, which was called marere.

After this field was planted each man would set to work on his own field, working until all the fields were planted, that time being spoken of as whakarerenga kaheru (laying aside of implements); and then each man would prepare his feast for the ceremonial bringing of the sacred pole for his own field. On the day for bringing the sacred pole all the members of the hapu, or of the tribe, would take part in this business. The pole (which was of the wood called mapo*) was fixed close to the first hillock of the field, and with it the ko called Penu, the following karakia being recited:—

"Ahuahu whenua i tipu ai te kai
I ri taua i te ngaru - - e
Whitianga whenua i tipu ai te kai
I ri taua i te ngaru - - e."

(The repetition of these lines continues, each sentence commencing with a place name, as Tauranga, Maketu, Whakatane, page 181Opotiki, Te Kaha nui a Tiki, Whangaparaoa, Wharekahika, Whakararanui, Waiapu, &c.)

The first part of this karakia would thus recite the names of all the principal places in these islands, after which would follow these words of the karakia:—

"He tau mua, he tau roto, he tau heketanga, &c., &c."

After this each man would hold a great feast at the margin of his own field.

When the kumara had grown and the weeds also had grown with them, the weeds were cleared away, which business was called ngaki tōtō. If, during the weeding, a kumara tuber was broken, the man who had broken the tuber would call out—"Step aside! Step aside! I have had the misfortune to break a kumara tuber, the sacred root of Rongoiamo's foster child." When all the men had gone aside the tohunga would take the broken tuber, and, putting it with some chickweed from the field, and some kumara leaves, would wave it aloft, offering it to the propitious breezes, and recite the following karakia:—

"Whakairi tu atu au i te toto o te kumara nei
Ma wai e ngaki, e ranga to mate?
Ma Tu e ngaki, e ranga to mate.
Ko Rongo ka uakina
He aha te hau nei?
He muri te hau nei.
Pupũ te kohu i raro
Rau tipu te kai. Penu, Penu, te ko Penu."

[Herein is asked who shall avenge the disaster that has overtaken the kumara. It is answered that Tu the war deity shall avenge it. "What is the wind? The wind is a muri" (north wind) "Rises the fog below, &c.]

The karakia being finished, the tuber would be buried again in the hillock of the kumara which was broken. On the following morning the tohunga would examine it and would find that it had already become united to its own stock.

The kumara would grow until the star Poutu-te-rangi appeared (a star whose appearance marks the tenth month of the Maori year), and then be inspected by a tabooed man called a mata paheru, and when he had ascertained that the kumara were fully developed, the storing pits (rua) would be set about and finished. [Note.—The word paheru is obsolete in New Zealand, but is still used in Tahiti, signifying "to dig," and is connected with the page 182Maori word kaheru; mata-paheru therefore is a person whose office it is to dig. Compare matakite = seer.]

When the star Whanui appeared, the lifting of the crop would be begun. The mata-paheru tohunga would go to the first hillock of the field, where the sacred pole had been fixed, having as his implement a piece of kokomuku(kokomuka = Veronica salici-folia) not shaped with a tool, but simply broken off, and leaving also a string, not of flax but of toetoe mātā(Carex teretiuscula). On reaching the hillock he would gather up the trailing shoots and bind them with the string, reciting at the same time the following karakia:—

"Whitiki atu au i taura nei, &c."

The tohunga would then take his implement and begin to dig at the hillock, reciting, while doing this

"Homai he tina, homai he marie
Whakatau weweru ki tenei ko
Hua kuru ki tenei ko
Hua tai ki tenei ko
Hua kahika ki tenei ko
Hua kareao ki tenei ko
Hua mapou ki tenei ko
Hua titoki ki tenei ko
Hua karangu ki tenei ko
Hua karaka ki tenei ko
Tenei te ko ka heke
Tenei te ko ka ngatoro
Tenei te ko ka haruru
Penu, Penu, te ko Penu."

[Herein the priestly expert appears to ask that the produce of the kumara be as plentiful as the fruits of certain trees, &c., of Podocarpus dacrydiodes, Rhipogonum scandens, Myrsine Urvillei, Alectryon excelsum, Coprosma robusta, and Corynocarpus laevigatus.] This done, and all the kumara of the hillock at which he had been digging being lifted, he would then bury all, the kumara still hanging to the shoots, with the string with which they were bound and the implement, reciting, as he buried them, the words of this karakia:—

"Tanu mai, ko tapukenga ki Wai-pupuni, &c."

Then the lifting of the whole crop would be set about; which being done, the kumara would be collected from the heaps, and when all were gathered into baskets, the kumara of the first hillock page 183would then be unearthed again, with the string still binding them, and the implement, and during the unearthing these words of karakia [ritual] would be recited:—

"Whakaarahia i te papa tuangahuru
E kari maranga hake
I to takotoranga
E kari maranga hake
I to whakamoenga
E kari maranga hake."

The statement regarding the wearing of fine garments by those engaged in planting crops is something quite new to us. Such garments would be exceedingly cumbrous and unsuitable for the task, and would have to be drawn up and secured around the waist in order to give the workers freedom of action. No other account mentions this custom. As a rule any person performing any act of a ceremonial nature, anything that brought him into contact with tapu, wore as little clothing as possible, in many cases none at all. As before observed, however, there were many differences in methods and ceremonial observances as among the various tribes.

In the tradition of the voyage of the vessel named Horouta from Eastern Polynesia to these isles, occurs a variant form of one of the above ceremonial chants:—"When Pawa came hither from Tawhiti on his canoe Horouta, the kumara, and dogs, and other things were placed on board. The chiefs were Pawa, Hika-tapua, and Makawa; the principal women were Hine-manuhiri and Hine-kauirangi. On landing at Ahuahu [?Mereury Island] the kumara was planted at that place, and this ritual was recited over it:—

"Ahuahu ana ra te whenua i tipu ai te kai - -e
I ri taua i te ngaru - - e
To tau mua, tau roto
He wai rotoroto, he wai rotoroto
He whakatotohutanga wai renga, wai renga
Kia hua kuru ki tenei māra
Kia hua kakano ki teni māra
E Pani E! Ringitia to rahu ki waenga ki tenei māra."

What interests us in this chant is the appeal to Pani, the mother of the kumara, in the last lines—"O Pani! Pour out your basket within this field." This is a direct appeal for a benefit such as is but very seldom met with in Maori ritual.

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Archdeacon Walsh writes as follows on planting operations:—"The planting usually commenced about October and extended more or less up to Christmas, according to the variation of the season, the state of the weather, the locality, and the condition of the soil. Various natural signs and portents assisted in determining the proper time for the work. Thus, when the kumara hou (Pomaderris elliptica, a small shrub with a sage-like leaf and yellow tufted blossom), which had been in bud all the winter, suddenly shot out into flower, it was known that the season was approaching; and when a "mackerel sky" showed an exact picture of a kumara plot extending across the heavens, the Maoris knew that the atua (gods) were busy at their planting above, and that they themselves ought to be doing the same below. As a matter of fact the celestial phenomenon, portending as it does, according to the English farmers' proverb, a state of weather which is "neither wet nor dry," indicates an atmospheric condition exactly suited for starting the young plants.

Up to the time when the planting commenced everything was noa or "common," but once the seed began to be handled until the crop was harvested, the whole thing became tapu, or consecrated, including the ground, the plants, and even the workers so long as they were engaged in the cultivation. The tapu was invoked by the tohunga (priest) or the kaumatua (head chief), the two offices being often combined in the one person, by the performance of a karakia or religious service consisting of certain symbolic actions, accompanied by the chanting of an address to the atua (ancestral deity), its object being to ward off evil influences in the shape of injurious weather, insect pests, decay, &c., to protect the cultivation from intrusion, and generally to secure the blessing of heaven on the growing crop. Any breach of the tapu was a crime against the atua, and was punishable with death; and until it was removed by a second karakia by the tohunga it was unlawful for any common person to enter the plantation or even approach too closely to it under any circumstances whatever.

While agreeing in essentials, there appears to have been great variety in the details of these karakia, especially in the invocations, every tohunga of standing having his own particular form of words, some of which were handed down from immemorial antiquity. Many of the ceremonies were very expressive, among which was one that used to be performed on the island of Mokoia, in Lake Rotorua. It was described to me by Miss M. Bedgood, of Waimate North, who heard of it from some of the old natives page 185living on the spot. On the day before the planting, when the seed kumara were to be consecrated, the tohunga brought a small quantity in a basket made of dry raupo, shaped like a canoe, and presented it to the matua atua (ancestral god), of whom a little stone image stood in a wooden shrine on the island. Then, after the waiata (song) had been chanted, the vessel was set adrift on the lake, and was supposed to find its way to Hawaiki, whence the image was said to have been brought, and which was still the abode of the god. By being thus made a sharer in the plantation it was believed that the atua would be reminded of the wants of his children and take the crop under his protection. A somewhat similar ceremony is related by Dr. Shortland in his Maori Mythology.

[The item referred to runs as follows:—Meanwhile Kahu was on the beach … busied about sending off a canoe with food for the atua at Hawaiki, and for Hou-mai-tahiti, food both cooked and uncooked. This canoe was made of raupo (a species of bulrush). There was no one in the canoe, only stones to represent men.]

"It was considered absolutely essential that the planting of the entire plot, however large, should be completed in a single day, and in order to accomplish this a plan was often adopted similar to that of the Canadian 'working bee.' In a large hapu, or division of a tribe, living together, every principal man would have one or more plots of his own, and when one of these was to be planted his neighbours would come to assist at the work.

The business commenced with the consecration of the seed, which was done on the day previous to the planting, the seed consisting of the tubers which were too small to be eaten. If these were not sufficient they were supplemented by the heads, the end containing the eyes, of the larger ones broken off for the purpose.

Early in the morning the workers, men and women, assembled. They were all of the rangatira class, no slave of either sex being allowed on the ground. After partaking of a plentiful meal provided by the owner, they were made tapu, and henceforth they could eat no food until the work was completed, when the tapu was taken off. This, of course, had the effect of stimulating their exertions.

When all was ready several of the leading women of the hapu, taking each a basket of the seed, threw [?] it right and left over the ground as they walked up and down chanting a waiata (song), page 186the actual planting being done by the rest of the party. The sets were placed one in each hill, about 2 in. or 3 in. below the surface, with the head slightly raised and pointing towards the north, the approximate meridian being marked by conspicuous hill-tops, or other natural objects. It was believed that the sun, rising in summer in the south-east and passing round by the north to the south-west, had the effect of producing tubers on both sides of the plant.

As the business drew near completion, the kaumatua or head chief, chanted a long piece, partly as a stimulus to the workers and partly as a signal to the slaves to get ready the evening meal, and when the party left the field they were relieved of the tapu by a further ceremony conducted by the tohunga.

The tapu, however, remained on the plantation during the whole period of growth, during which, as before stated, it was unlawful for any one not under tapu to enter it, while even a tapu person was obliged to use the greatest circumspection. It was unlawful to enter the cultivation either from the south, the east, or the west. The south was the worst of all, as a person coming from that quarter might bring in the cold cutting wind that was so injurious to the kumara, while on the east or west the wairua (shadow) cast by the sun might spoil the crop. From the north, however, a person, if properly tapu, might enter, as it was thence that the warm breezes came that gave health and vigour to the plants."

With respect to the commencement of the planting season, it certainly differed according to such circumstances as situation of the field, climate, and the aspect of the season. As a rule, however, natives state that it began with the fourth month of the Maori year, known in this connection as Te Wha o Mahuru (The Fourth of Mahuru), which lunar month includes about a half each of September and October. The fifth month is Te Rima o Kopu (The Fifth of Kopu). The planting season is called the koanga, from the verb ko, to dig or plant with a ko. A Maori belief is that seasons are largely influenced by certain stars, hence certain seasons and periods were named after stars, as Whakaahu, Poutu-te-rangi and Takurua.

The natives say that, if the stars of the Pleiades appear to be wide apart, then a warm and plentiful season follows; if they appear to be close together then a cold and lean season follows.

"From immemorial days the Maori, because of wars, and the knowledge that the possession of a fertile country exposed its owners to invasion, concealed its fertility; and so deeply was this page 187desire for concealment rooted that only a lunatic would ask, unless he wished the question to insult—'How are your crops this year'? During their growth, his kumara, taro and hue were guarded with an intricate ceremony of tapu to frighten the prying eyes of strangers. At that season every traveller avoided roads which led to cultivations, and if he dared to venture and defy the tapu, and was caught, the penalty was death. It was part of his comity of peace, his education, to keep the number of the harvest baskets secret." So wrote W. B. of Te Kuiti in one of his excellent articles on Maori life.

The statement above to the effect that seed tubers were "thrown" by the distributors, is of course, incorrect. They were handled with the utmost care, lest any tender shoot be broken off, or the tuber itself be bruised. Probably this error has arisen through a misrendering of the word whiu, which means to place, put, or throw. In this case it certainly should not be rendered as "throw". A similar error made in the hearing of the writer by a young native learning English, had a comical effect. In interpreting a query made by another native, he said:—"He throw this question, &c."

In speaking of the system of tapu, as affecting the industries of the Maori, the Rev. W. Yate tells us that—"At the time of planting the kumera [kumara], all who are engaged in the work, either in digging or preparing the ground, or sorting the seed, are under precisely the same restrictions. The land itself is also made sacred; and no person but he who has beentapu-ed for the purpose, is allowed to place his foot near the spot, or to pluck up the weeds which grow rankly around the roots of the vegetable."

Earle also mentions this tapu:—"The New Zealanders have established here a wise custom which prevents a great deal of waste and confusion, and generally preserves to the planter a good crop in return for the trouble of sowing; namely, as soon as the ground either in digging or preparing the ground, or sorting the seed, is finished, and the seed sown, it is tabooed, that is, rendered sacred, by men appointed for that service, and it is death to trample over utility of this regulation must be obvious to every one. But, however useful this taboo system is to the natives, it is a great inconvenience to a stranger who is rambling over the country; for if he does not use the greatest caution, and procure a guide, he may get himself into a serious dilemma before his rambles be over."

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Cruise, who landed in the North in 1820, encountered a tapu crop field in his first walk abroad. He writes:—"We passed some small patches of cultivated ground, in which were planted common and sweet potatoes, and which are fenced in with a coarse kind of paling; but our guide forbade us to go too near to them, and pointed out to us that they were tabooed or consecrated."

This tapu pertaining to crops is also very prominent among some tribes of Borneo, where the paths leading to cultivation grounds were closed to traffic while the crops were ripening.

The Maori of former days, says Hori Ropiha, possessed much knowledge in regard to regulating the times for performing certain tasks. If kumara, taro, hue, gourd, or ti (Cordyline) were planted on unsuitable nights of the moon they would grow vigorously but the crop would be small, but if planted on the proper nights then good crops would result. "With regard to uncultivated products, such as fruits, &c., our elders knew the signs that foretold fruitful seasons. Such were foretold by the stars, by the blossoming of trees, by the moon, &c. The tau toa or lean season could also be foretold, and in such a season wind, hail, snow and storms prevailed."

A singular method of forcing seed kumara is described by the Rev. W. R. Wade, as seen by him at Rotorua in the fourth decade of last century. They were put in huts built on the warm earth in the vicinity of hot springs. "Early in the spring they place their kumara in baskets in these natural hot houses, leaving them for a month or six weeks to grow out [to sprout]. The weather by that time being sufficiently warm to allow of their being planted out in prepared beds, the plants are then put into the ground in rows, and sheltered from the winds and morning frosts by broom twigs about three feet long, placed upright so as to form a screen along the rows. In removing the kumara great care is taken not to injure the young shoots. By this method they gain a month or six weeks in the growth of the plant, the losing of which time would so shorten its summer advantages as frequently to prevent its coming to perfection. The kumara grown in the neighbourhood of the hot springs are very fine in quality and flavour. They seem to grow best in a soil almost entirely composed of pumice-stone sand, no kind of manure being used, except early turning in the grass and weeds of the previous years fallow."

The following communication from Hare Hongi is of a novel nature:—"A tohunga [priestly adept] sometimes rendered page 189tapu a path leading to a māra when the crop was in. At some distance from the field, perhaps 100 yards, he secured a cord, stretched taut across the path, as a token. In this cord were tied a number of knots at irregular distances apart, which knots had some meaning that I am not acquainted with. Any person seeing this cord, even a child, would at once retire from the spot."

The late Mr. John White has left us the following note:—"Kumara fields under cultivation were tapu, and canoes were not allowed the passage of streams in its vicinity, until the field was planted and certain ceremonies had been performed over it. Should a canoe attempt so to pass, then a poor crop would result, or the seed tubers would decay in the ground instead of germinating, on account of the atua Rongo having been belittled by man. Rongo is the younger brother of Tu; from the former came the kumara, from the later sprang man. The descendants of Tu, by disregarding the tapu of the field, cause affront to Rongo, hence the destruction of the crop."

The following notes on the cultivation of the kumara were contributed by Hakaraia Pahewa of Te Kaha, Bay of Plenty district, a region ever famed for its production of this prized food product:—

"The preparation of the land for the kumara crop was a work very carefully performed in a manner truly conventional. A certain elderly chief of Raukokore, Herewini Moana nui a Kiwa by name, informed me that these were highly important tasks among all the clans of this district in former times. It mattered not how numerous were the plantations of a district, all would be completed in a short space of time by the ohu or working bee, a voluntary band of diggers and planters.

The most famous adepts of these parts at directing the labours of planting, and in chanting the working songs (tewha kumara), of the immediate past, were Tamehana Tarahanumi and his wife. It was owing to his fine work in directing the task of planting, as also the excellence of his work songs, that these clans experienced no pangs of hunger.

Herewini told me that he saw Tarahanumi directing a party of over forty workers at Wairuru, Raukokore; all were engaged in using the ko, being clad merely in kilts. As director Tarahanumi carried a tewhatewha [a native weapon] in his hand, but did no digging himself. The diggers kept perfect page 190time in the various movements in using the ko, in placing their feet on the tread of the tool, in thrusting it into the earth on the right side of the puke, then on the left side, so that the two thrusts would meet below, in placing the left foot and then the right foot on the teka [step] of the ko.

There was no line or cord used formerly, such as is seen at the present time. A cord was used for only one purpose in a plantation, to mark the bounds of the area to be dug (planted) and of the area to be left untouched for the time. The custom was for the owner of the field to mark (hahae) out the line of the first row. Worker No. 1 kept to that line in his puke digging operations; No. 2 followed the footsteps of No. 1; No. 3 followed those of No. 2, and so on to the last kai ko, or digger.

So long as the first row of puke or hillocks is not out of a true line, none of the subsequent rows will be so. There was no mark of any kind to denote the spacing of the different rows, that was done by the pacing of the diggers.

Should a member of the hunga ko [digging party] prove inexpert at the work, he was dubbed a 'waewae wera' and dismissed. He would be sent back to join the seed planters in rear. The director of the operations arranged all such troubles.

There were three different parties engaged in planting the field:—

1.The kaiko [diggers].
2.The kaiwhakatiri [seed distributors].
3.The kairumaki [planters].

There were two methods of planting the kopura (seed tubers). Those planted before noon were so placed in the earth that the sun was on the right; after noon they were so placed that the sun was on the left.

The following is the song sung during the digging of the field.

* Query, mapou (Myrsine Urvillei).