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Maori Agriculture

Storage of the Kumara Crop

Storage of the Kumara Crop

On this subject the late Archdeacon Walsh wrote:—"The storing of the crop required the greatest care and judgment, as, in spite of every precaution, it was barely possible to preserve the stock until the next planting time. Besides being a delicate article to handle, the kumara is susceptible to every change of weather. A single bruised or chafed tuber will soon rot and communicate the decay to those in contact with it, while a very short exposure to damp, or even to cold air, will quickly spoil the whole lot."

As to the methods of storage, and the storage pits most of the information has already been published in Bulletin No. 5 of this series, entitled Maori Storehouses and Kindred Structures, to which I refer the reader. See also Figs. 54 and 55. Some further notes will be found in the native account following this.

page 225

Fig. 54.

Fig. 55. Two Semi-Subterranean Storehouses for Kumara. Waiapu district. Dominion Museum Collection.

page 226

Fig. 55AA Rua Kumara. Store-pit for Sweet Potatoes, East Coast.

In a paper on The Food Value of Kumaras, by Dr. J. Malcolm, read before the Otago Institute, August 1st, 1911, occur the following statements:—"Of the kumara, two-thirds consisted of water; carbo-hydrates were present in the kumara to the extent of 19 per cent. of the whole. The sweet taste of the kumara was due to the presence of a substance which promoted a plentiful supply of saliva, which converted the starch into sugar. There was only 0.27 per cent. of fat in the kumara. It was a vegetable that did not keep well. Mould grew quickly, owing to the presence of sugar; the ordinary potato was not so affected, owing to the absence of glucose."

A storage pit in which were stored seed tubers was known as a rua whakaahu at Wairarapa, while that in which tubers were stored for food supplies was called a rua taranga. The well-like pits often seen about old village sites were used for food storage purposes and are known as rua kopiha and rua korotangi.

In Figs. 54 and 55 (p. 225) is seen the semi-subterranean type of storage places wherein the sweet potato crop is stored. page 227These places are made by making a rectangular excavation, often in sloping ground or the brink of a terrace, over which a roof of timber is laid, after which the roof is covered with earth. In Fig. 55 (p. 225) we see at the entrance to the storepit a number of baskets of sweet potatoes that have just been carried in from the field. These tubers are about to be placed in store, carefully stacked one by one. To the right of the kete kumara, or baskets of sweet potatoes, is seen some manuka brush which is used as dunnage. Such pits are called rua tahuhu.

The Maori usually employed subterranean or semi-subterranean storage pits for the preservation of the kumara, but he also used for many products elevated storehouses. These resembled those of certain tribes of Borneo, which were erected on posts about six feet high, the posts being encircled by wooden discs to prevent the passage of rats. These elevated store huts, used largely for rice, are provided with a sliding door at one end. This description will apply equally to the Maori pataka. The semi-subterranean storage pits used by the Maori for the storage of sweet potatoes are termed rua tahuhu in some districts. This tuber was not stored in the elevated stores or pataka.

Fig. 55BThe Rua Kopiha or Well-like Store-pit. Sketched by Miss E. Richardson.