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Maori Agriculture

Part VII — The Hue or Gourd. Lagenaria Vulgaris

Part VII
The Hue or Gourd. Lagenaria Vulgaris


The gourd found wild in India and Abyssinia. Widely cultivated in the Pacific Isles. Personified in one Pu-te-hue. Mythical origin. Charm to promote growth. Remarks by early voyagers. Colenso's account of its cultivation. Gourd vessels. Certain food products preserved in gourd vessels. Names of varieties. Curious method of planting. An acted invocation. Artificial fertilisation of flowers. Fruit ligatured. Method of germination. Fruit used as food in kotawa stage of growth. Gourd bowls decorated with incised designs. Hawaiian notes on the gourd.

The gourd plant cultivated by the natives of New Zealand was undoubtedly introduced from the Pacific Isles, where its cultivation is, or was, widespread. It is the Cucurbita lagenaria of Linnaeus. Candolle, in his Origin of Cultivated Plants, remarks that, under cultivation, its fruit has taken different forms, but that botanists have ranked them in one species which comprises several varieties. "The most remarkable are the pilgrim's gourd, in the form of a bottle, the long necked gourd, the trumpet gourd, and the calabash, generally large and without a neck…. The species may always be recognised by its white flower, and by the hardness of the outer rind of the fruit, which allows of its use as a vessel for liquids, or a reservoir of air suitable as a buoy for novices in swimming." This authority gives India as the original habitat of the species, and says that it has been found there in a wild state, as also in Abyssinia. He does not believe that it existed in America before the arrival of Europeans, but remarks that "out of the ten known species of the genus Cucurbita, six are certainly wild in America." Regarding C. maxima (the great yellow gourd, Spanish gourd, turban gourd, &c.) he is doubtful, for it is said to have been seen on the Niger in a wild condition.

The general Maori name for the gourd is hue, by which name it is also known in the Society, Hawaiian, Paumotu and Gambier groups, and other isles of Polynesia. At Samoa it becomes fue. The names wenewene and kowenewene are also applied to it on page 245the East Coast of the North Island of New Zealand, but are not widely employed.

The gourd is honoured in Maori myth with a personified form, or parent, as is the case with the kumara. Among the Awa folk of the Bay of Plenty the gourd is believed to have originated with one Pū-tē-hue, who was one of the offspring of Tane. This Tane was the progenitor of man, and of all productions of the earth, he was the Fertiliser. This Pū-tē-hue remarked—"The seeds within me shall provide water vessels for my descendants. Some of those seeds are of the male sex and will not bear fruit." The seeds of the gourd were planted during the Turu and Rakaunui phases of the moon (16th and 17th days of moons age), the following charm being repeated by the planter: —

Kia tuputupu nunui koe
Ka porotaka i nga ringaringa
Kia ahuahu nunui koe."

This calls upon Pu-te-hue to flourish and become large. The third line may refer to the curious position of the arms of the planter when about to place the seed in the earth, as explained below.

The gourd was cultivated to a considerable extent by the Maori in pre-European days, in all suitable localities, but it did not flourish in some high lying districts, and was not a success in the South Island, where seaweed vessels appear to have largely taken the place of the calabash. The Maori put the fruit of the gourd plant to three different uses, as a food, as domestic vessels, and occasionally as floats. The old Maori gourd is almost extinct now (1919). It is no longer necessary to look to the gourd for domestic vessels, and the many introduced kinds of pumpkin and squash are much easier to grow for food.

The Bay of Plenty natives state that the gourd was introduced into these isles long before the sweet potato and the taro, which may be a fact, for the seeds could be wrapped up and carried with ease, where large tubers might spoil during a long voyage, or perchance be consumed by hungry sea-farers.

We have already noted several remarks made by early voyagers concerning the gourd as seen in cultivation here. Banks wrote—"The cucumbers [gourd] were set in small hollows or ditches, much as in England." Cook says—"The gourds were set in small hollows, or dishes, much as in England."

page 246

In McNab's Historical Records of New Zealand, Vol. 2, appears a Journal kept by one Lieut. L'Horne, of De Surville's vessel, Saint Jean Baptiste. Under date December, 1769, he makes the following note: —"I have previously spoken of the sweet potatoes which the natives cultivate. I must add here that they also cultivate a kind of sweet calabash, but only in as small quantity as the potatoes."

The following note is taken from Bayly's Journal, the writer having been on board the Adventure in 1773. When at Tolaga Bay in November, he wrote: —"They have small plantations of sweet potatoes near their houses, but they run long and small in general. I saw plantations of something that resemble Pompion Plants. They were planted in the same order the Gardeners plant Cucumbers in holes [in England]. The plants were about two Inches above ground & out in rough leaf. They first set fire to the Wood & then cut it about knee high & then turn the earth and cleanse it with sticks which serve instead of spades."

Colenso has written as follows on the gourd, its cultivation and uses: —"The third food plant cultivated by them was a fine one of the gourd family, called by them the hue. This noble and highly useful plant was annually raised from seed, and was their only one so propagated; and, curiously enough, of this plant, though yielding seed in great plenty, there was only one species and no varieties. Its seeds, before sowing were wrapped up in a few dry fern fronds (Pteris esculenta), and steeped in running water for a few days. It was to them of great service, furnishing not only a prized and wholesome vegetable food, or rather fruit, during the whole of the hot summer days while it lasted, and before their kumara were ripe for use, but was also of great use in many other ways. It was always a pleasing sight to see it growing in a suitable soil, as it grew fast and looked so remarkably healthy with its numerous leaves, large white flowers and fruit, the latter often of all sizes, from that of a cricket ball up to that of a globular, pear shaped, or spheroidal figure, capable of holding several gallons. As an article of food it was only used when young, and always cooked, baked like the kwnara and taro, in their common earth oven, and eaten, like them, both hot and cold. Prodigious numbers of them were formerly daily consumed in the summer season. It was from this plant that the Maoris obtained all their useful vessels for holding water, oils, cooked animal food, &c. This was done by carefully drying and hardening the fully matured fruits with the heat of the sun page 247and fire, and just as carefully scooping out all their contents through a small hole made near the stalk end. In the very small calabashes so made they kept their perfumed oils and rouge for anointing; of the medium sized and large ones they made useful dishes, and all their common water calabashes, See Fig. 57 (p. 248) while the few very largest were neatly manufactured into pots for holding preserved and potted birds. See Fig. 58 (p. 248). For this purpose the stalk end was cut off, and it was ingeniously fitted with a hollow cylindrical neck of carved hard wood, cut out of one piece, and always made large enough to admit a man's hand through it; this was firmly fixed above, while below, the rotund vase was also fitted with three, or four, legs to stand on, and to keep it from off the ground. These big vessels were always prized and taken great care of, sometimes they were named, and some lasted a whole generation or longer, and were handed down as heirlooms." This is a good account, but it is an error to say that it provided all the useful domestic vessels of the Maori. See Figs. 59 and 60 (p. 249).

In another paper Colenso says:—"The hue, which is only propagated by its seeds, is very constant to its kind, although it varies much in size and shape, and has no varieties." The natives, however, have different names for the fruit, applied apparently to the different forms assumed by it. The following names have been collected:—

1. Pahawa, or Pahaua Collected by John White.
2. Pare-tarakihi Collected by John White.
3. Rorerore Collected by John White.
4. Whangai-rangatira Collected by John White.
5. Kiato Collected in Wairarapa district.
6. Puau Collected in Wairarapa district.
7. Tatara Collected in Wairarapa district.
8. Ikaroa Collected in Bay of Plenty district (Ngati-Awa and Tuhoe).
9. Kokako-ware Collected in Bay of Plenty district (Ngati-Awa and Tuhoe).
10. Manuka-roa district Collected in Bay of Plenty district (Ngati-Awa and Tuhoe).
11. Upoko-taupo Collected in Bay of Plenty district (Ngati-Awa and Tuhoe).
12. Whakahua-mātua Collected in Bay of Plenty district (Ngati-Awa and Tuhoe).
13. Wharehinu Collected in Bay of Plenty district (Ngati-Awa and Tuhoe).

Of these No. 2 is said to be a large form, No. 10 was the kind used in making bowls (oko), for which purpose they were cut in half. No. 12 was used for the large vessels styled tahā huahua; No. 5 was for tahā wai, water vessels, No. 7 as a food vessel (tahā huahua), as also was No. 6. See Figs. 57-58 (p. 248). page 248 Fig. 57. Gourd Water Vessels. (Tahā wai). H. Hamilton, Photo. Fig. 58. Tahā Huahua. Calabash to contain preserved food supplies. The gourd vessel is enwrapped with a plaited fabric, fitted with a carved mouthpiece (tuki), and mounted on carved supports. Bunches of feathers were added as additional adornments, and the vessel served as a kind of centre piece when guests were entertained. H. Hamilton, Photo. page 249 Fig. 59. Two carved mouthpieces for Tahā Huahua. Fig. 60. Four carved supports (waewae tahā) for vessel shown in Fig. 58. page 250 A small variety introduced by Europeans is known as kōkī. No. 7 grew to a larger size than No. 5. In the East Cape district the form of gourd with a curved stem end used as water vessels are described as hue kautu. A round but flattened form is styled a kina because in shape it resembles the sea urchin (kina). The name of hue mōri seems to be applied to a gourd after being taken from the vine. Gourds or gourd plants are sometimes termed kowenewene, a name that appears to have also been applied to some insect, probably the hihue or hawk moth that frequents its white flowers. Matured gourds, when picked, were dried before a fire, or buried in sandy, or gravelly soil, when the spongy interior (pukahu) would decay, whereupon it was easily removed through a small aperture, and the inside surfaces cleaned with gravel as we clean a bottle with shot. After this the gourd was hung in the smoke of a fire to harden.

The following notes were furnished by Tuta Nihoniho, of Ngati-Porou:—The seeds of the gourd were planted at the full of the moon in little heaps of earth. The planter takes a seed in each hand, each held between thumb and finger, and, facing the east, he raises his arms until his hands meet, but bringing them upward far apart so as to almost describe a circle, in order that the gourds may grow to a similar large size. As the right arm is so brought up, it is bent at the elbow, so that the gourds may acquire that form and grow with the curved shank so desirable in gourds used as water vessels.

The Maori fertilised the female blossoms of the gourd plant as we serve those of the pumpkin at times, a not unusual practice in the early days of European settlement, when bees were scarce. The word whakaaiai describes this process.

In some cases gourds of a long form were caused to assume a shape called mahanga by having a band of flax tied round the middle, which caused the gourd to develop into a dumb-bell like form. A hole was made in each of these ends, and these mahanga vessels were used for potting the tui bird in. At a feast these vessels were placed in forked sticks which served as supports, and were sometimes ornamented with feathers.

The Tuhoe folk of Ruatoki described their old method of planting gourd seeds, to the writer, and it agreed exactly with that given by Tuta, the arms swung upwards and then lowered so as to place the seeds in the hole prepared for them. At the same time the charm given above was repeated.

Seeds of the gourd plant were subjected to a process termed whakarau, ere being planted. In this process they are first soaked page 251in water and then placed in a small basket (kono), which contains a mixture of earth (humus or sandy soil) and decayed wood (popopo rakau). The seeds are embedded in this mixture. The mould in the basket is then covered with leaves or grass, and the basket is buried in the warm earth near a fire until the seeds sprout, when they are planted. I have caused pumpkin seeds to germinate in this manner, leaving them in the warm earth for about 24 hours, sometimes less.

It was considered quite necessary that seeds of the gourd plant should be planted at the full of the moon.

The first pair of leaves put forth by a seedling gourd are termed rau kakano (seed leaves). The third leaf to appear is styled rautara or patangaroa, and the fourth is the putaihinu. When these appear, then the work of cultivating or tending the plants commences, and the earth round them is loosened. When the young shoots or runners (kawai) begin to fall earthwards preparatory to running, the hika stage of growth is reached, after which it starts to run (toro). Wood ashes are now placed round the plant as manure. During the hika stage earth is heaped and pressed round the plants.

The fruit of the gourd plant is only fit for food in its young state, while small and when the outer part is soft. In this stage of growth the fruit is termed kotawa by the Mātātua tribes. It is very soft when cooked and cannot be termed a sustaining food, being much like our squash or vegetable marrow. The gourds that were allowed to mature became very hard and dry, the rind resembling wood. These were used as vessels to contain food, water, &c. The largest ones were selected to be used as vessels wherein to preserve food of various kinds, such as birds and rats. Others, usually somewhat smaller, were used as water vessels. These calabashes are called tăhā, ipu, kahaka, kiaka, kimi, koaka, pahaka, papapa, tăhē, tawha and wai. (See Williams' Maori Dictionary.) Some were cut in half, each half being used as a bowl or basin, oko or karaha. Small ones were used for a great many purposes; exquisites used them to contain the scented oil used for toilet purposes.

In his work Te Ika a Maui, the Rev. R. Taylor remarks:—"The hue (or gourd) is everywhere raised, and it is, indeed, an excellent vegetable. It bears a white flower, and produces a calabash which is sometimes of very large dimensions. When young it is a delicious vegetable. When ripe it is of the greatest use, supplying the place of crockery. In it the New Zealander page 252carries his water, his stores, potted birds, fish or flesh; he also uses it as a dish, and even as a lamp. It is often beautifully ornamented with tattooing. The natives have a very singular idea respecting the hue, that the seed can always be procured from the entrails of the sperm whale, which they affirm they have frequently verified. They account for it by saying, "that, in Hawaiki, the hue grows upon and hangs over the cliffs in great quantities, which, when ripe, fall into the sea and are devoured by the whales which frequent that part."

This myth can only be compared with such puerile beliefs as that concerning the cuckoo, its origin and mode of passing the winter.

In Crozet's Voyage are noted a few remarks on the gourd plant cultivated by the Maoris, and the uses to which the fruit thereof was put—"They cultivate a few small fields of potatoes similar to those of the Two Indies, they also cultivate gourds, which they eat when they are small and tender, and when they are ripe they take out the inside, dry them, and make use of them for carrying and conserving water. Some of their calabashes will hold as much as from ten to twelve pints of water."

The following item appeared in an account of New Zealand products published in the Sydney Herald of April 17, 1837—"The calabash (called in its green state a ui [hue], and when dried and scooped out for holding water, a taha, will decidedly not keep without attention to them, as they rot quicker than the kumara; the young calabash is carefully lifted from the ground when about the size of a large orange, and some dry grass is then constantly kept under it until it attains maturity. In its small state it is considered rather a luxury by the New Zealanders; it is very watery, but, with a little assistance from butter and pepper, it becomes a very passable food; and I should imagine a very wholesome one."

The Matatua folk apply the name of hue to a constellation of four stars called Pi-a-wai, possibly on account of its form.

On the East Coast the term hue kautu was applied to gourds that grew in an upright position, while hue kaupeka denoted those that decreased in size at the stem end, such stem being curved. These were used as water vessels.

East Coast natives assert that gourd seeds were sometimes planted in a seed bed, he mea parekereke, and transplanted into the puke or small mounds, four being planted in each. Ends of runners were often pinched off, and also some of the page 253young fruit removed, if large fruit were desired for vessels. In such a case the ground was smoothed under the fruit, and haply covered with sand. The runners are termed kawai. A gourd intended for a taha huahua was often stood up on end and kept in that position by means of pegs, that it might assume the desired form. The puau variety had a thicker rind than most others.

An old saying pertaining to the gourd is—"Te kai pae kau a Rangi."

The late Mr. John White collected the following charm repeated by a person when planting gourd seeds:—

"He aha taku kakano?
He Turu taku kakano
He Rakau-nui taku kakano
Moe mai na taku toko
Takoto mai ra koutou ko au tamariki
Hua kiwi, huahua moho
Te homai te ringia
Ki te kawekawe o Pu-te-hue."

These puerile compositions were supposed to have effect in producing a good crop. The names of the two phrases or "nights" of the moon on which gourd seed was planted are here applied to the seed itself—"What is my seed? My seed is a Turu; my seed is a Rakaunui." A request also seems to be made that numerous fruit like the eggs of the kiwi and moho (birds) be formed upon the kawekawe or runners of Pu-te-hue (the gourd plant). The egg of the kiwi is an abnormally large one, hence, perhaps, the reference to it.

The following note was also found among Mr. White's papers:—"When the first young fruit was plucked and cooked early in the season, a branch of the karamu shrub was put into the oven and the cook tending the oven made certain movements of the hands over the oven as though she or he were digging with a ko. This is supposed to have had the effect of causing the gourd vines to bear abundantly."

There was a wide range in the size of matured gourds, some were very small. Colenso says that, in capacity, they ranged from a gill to three gallons.

Forster tells us that the natives of Queen Charlotte Sound, who obtained glass bottles from Cook's vessels, applied the name of tăhā to them, from the name of their gourd vessels.

In his History of the Hawaiian Islands, J. J. Jarves remarks:—"The most useful article, and one which can be applied to an page 254almost endless variety of purposes, is the fruit of the Cucurbita, the calabash or gourd. From it their drinking vessels, dishes, masks, and musical instruments were made…. They are often prettily ornamented after the same patterns as their tapa, and are of every size, from the smallest water cup to the great poi dish capable of holding ten gallons."

The curious name Te Ika roa a Rauru was applied to the gourd in former times, and an old fragment reads:—"The gourd emanated from Rauru, hence it is Te Ika roa a Rauru. On the death of Rauru it was allowed to become prostrate and to spread out; and it was also then eaten." The meaning of this is unknown, it probably refers to some old myth. In the old legend concerning Maia-poroaki of the East Cape district, Maia is said to have, by pressure and other means, caused gourds to assume different forms, to each of which was assigned a distinctive name. Thus the one with a curved stem end was called Hine-kotuku-rangi; a long form was styled Te Ika roa a Rauru. Another with a big base and narrowing toward the stem was named Pu-matao. A round form was Tawake piri, while two diminutive forms were Ponotinoti and Te Karure. These names were probably mere local ones.

The Hawaiians treated the growing fruit of the gourd with great care, and so produced the different forms desired for various purposes. Some were suspended so as to hang between containing sticks. On the dried surface of a thick gourd rind, says the Hawaiian, fire can be generated by friction as it is on a piece of wood. These people were as careful as was the Maori to plant crops only during the certain phases of the moon, on certain nights of the moon, as the Maori puts it.

In David Malo's Hawaiian Antiquities we note the following:—"The calabash, or pohue, was the fruit of a vine that was specially cultivated. Some were of a shape suited to be umeke [kumete in Maori], others ipu kai [food bowls], and others still to be used as hue wai [Maori tahā wai] or water containers. The soft pulp within was first scraped out; later, when the gourd had been dried, the inside was rubbed and smoothed with a piece of coral or pumice, and thus the calabash was completed. A cover was added and a net sometimes put about it. In preparing a water gourd, or hue wai, the pulp was first rotted, then small stones were shaken about in it, after which it was allowed to stand with water in it till it had become sweet."

In an account of the Sandwich Isles given in Cook's Voyages, occurs the following:—"The gourds, which grow to so enormous page 255a size that some of them are capable of containing from ten to twelve gallons, are applied to all manner of domestic purposes, and in order to fit them the better to their respective uses, they have the ingenuity to give them different forms by tying bandages round them during their growth. Thus some of them are of long cylindrical form, as best adapted to contain their fishing tackle; others are of a dish form … which two sorts have neat, close covers, made likewise of the gourd; others again are exactly the shape of a bottle with a long neck, and in these they keep their water. They have likewise a method of scoring them with a heated instrument, so as to give them the appearance of being painted, in a variety of neat and elegant designs."

A publication of the Bishop Museum at Honolulu states that Cucurbita maxima, the giant gourd, was cultivated in the Hawaiian Group prior to the arrival of Europeans.

Ellis remarks that the drinking water of the Tahitians "is contained in calabashes, which are much larger than any I ever saw used for the same purpose in the Sandwich Islands, but destitute of ornament. They are kept in nets of cinet, and suspended from some part of the dwelling."