Part VIII — The Genus Cordyline
The Genus Cordyline
C. terminalis grown by Maori. Probably an introduced plant. Its edible root. Propagation. Method of preparing the food product. Near extinction. The ti para or ti tawhiti. Edible fecula in trunk and root. This plant not known in a wild state. Its flower unknown. How grown at Taranaki. The mauku or C. pumilio. The ti para an unnamed species or variety. Species of Cordyline and their names. How root and trunk were cooked. Only young plants so utilised. Evidence of early writers; of Rev. R. Taylor; of Mr. John White. South Island data. Brunner's evidence. Notes by Canon Stack; by Shortland; by H. Tikao. Tapu and quaint beliefs pertain to the cooking of the ti. Waitau kauru. The para of the Cordyline used as sugar. Offerings to atua. The rua ti.
It is clear that the Cordyline terminalis and the Ti para were preserved by the Maori and planted as a food product, though this does not imply cultivation in the sense in which the kumara, yam, taro and gourd were cultivated. So far as we are aware C. terminalis was known here under cultivation only, it was not known growing wild, and its range was apparently limited to the northern part of the North Island. Mr. T. F. Cheeseman has shown, in a paper entitled On the Food-plants of the Polynesians, published in Vol. XXXIII. of the Transactions of the New Zealand Institute, that this species is a native of Polynesia, Melanesia, North Australia and the Malay Archipelago, as far north as Malacca and India. "It is largely planted in most of the Pacific Islands, mainly for the sake of the huge tuberous root, which often weighs from ten to fifteen pounds. Its north and south range in Polynesia is from the Hawaiian Isles to the Kermadec Group. It being found at Sunday Island of the latter group, its introduction into New Zealand across 600 miles of ocean would present no difficulties."
The late Archdeacon Walsh found a few specimens of C. termi nalis, known to northern natives as ti pore, growing in the Bay of Islands district about the year 1886. These had been found in old native cultivations. It was formerly known only as a cultivated plant, and was commonly grown in that district in pre-European page 257times, being fairly common, apparently, as late in 1850. C. pumilio (ti rauriki) was also there utilised as a food plant. No species of the genus can ever have formed any important part of the food supply. The Archdeacon remarks:—"In appearance and habit the ti pore is quite distinct from any other species of Cordyline found in New Zealand. A short slender stem, with a tolerably smooth bark, showing a ring for every leaf fallen off, is surmounted by a handsome head of soft glossy leaves, from l½ft. to 2ft. long by 3in. or 4in. wide, each leaf being set on a fine stalk and bending over in a graceful curve. In older and well grown plants the tree trunk forks about 3ft. or 4ft from the ground, and the top divides into several heads…. The root was by far the most important part of the plant from the Maori point of view. It is a mass of greenish white pulpy fibre, of such consistency as to be easily cut through with a sharp spade. In shape it is a very elongated cone, with an irregular outline and lumpy and corrugated surface, and furnished at occasional intervals with thin, wiry feeders set on at right angles to the axis. In size the root is out of all proportion to the rest of the plant. On one that I transplanted it was nearly 3ft. long, with a principal diameter at the upper third of from 3in. to 4in., and tapering to a fine point at the lower end. Soil and situation, of course, greatly influence the growth, and the Maoris inform me that on rich alluvial bottoms the roots often attained such large dimensions that it was necessary to quarter them down the middle in order to reduce them to a convenient size for cooking.
The propagation of the ti pore was very easy and simple. The usual plan was to cut off and replant the stalk with a small portion of the root attached in the same manner as is done with the taro. Advantage was also taken of the offsets which often spring up from the foot of the old stocks, especially when any injury has happened to the top. So far as I have been able to learn, the ti pore does not seed in New Zealand.
To prepare the root for food it was finely pounded with a wooden club on a flat stone, in the same manner as the fern root, until the fibre was quite broken up, after which it was steamed in the hangi or native oven, for from twelve to twenty-four hours. The substance then presented the appearance of a glutinous mass, and the taste is described as of a sugary sweetness far beyond that of the ti rauriki (C. pumilio), but, like that root, with slightly bitter after flavour. The cooked article was highly esteemed, not only for its agreeable taste, but for its nutritive and keeping page 258qualities, especially in time of war, when it was a question of pro visioning the pa, or carrying food on the war path. It is probable, however, that owing to the slow growth of the plant, it was most generally used merely as a sweetmeat. In fact the Maoris say that, in olden times, the chewing of a piece of the prepared root, when one had nothing else to do, gave the same satisfaction as is now afforded by a pipe and tobacco.
The almost total disappearance within a couple of generations of a plant once so widely grown and so easily propagated is not so difficult to account for as might appear at first sight. In the first place, its tropical origin limited its culture to certain favoured spots within a comparatively small area of the northern peninsula, while the fact of its not reproducing itself from seed rendered its preservation dependent on continuous plantation. And as on the general introduction of European trade which took place during the second quarter of the century, sugar and other ready made delicacies of the pakeha (Europeans) could be obtained at a cost of much less labour than was necessary to produce the primitive sweetmeat, its cultivation would naturally be abandoned, and the few plants which remained in the deserted enclosures would be gradually exterminated as the number of cattle increased and the fences fell to decay. It is not surprising, therefore, that although there are several men now living who can remember the general cultivation of the ti pore, the number of known survivals should be limited to the four specimens discovered by Mr. Reid at Ahipara, and the two in my possession at Waimate North."
The Archdeacon came to the conclusion:—"That it was introduced by the Maoris is self-evident, from the fact that it has never been found in a wild state, and that it cannot reproduce itself in the New Zealand climate without artificial help." He discusses the possibility of it having been introduced by whalers in early days—'who are known to have introduced the taro hoia (the large coarse variety), and to have attempted the introduction of the yam,' but comes to the conclusion that it was brought hither by the Maori in pre-historic times. Mr. Cheeseman seems to have come to the same conclusion.
A later note states that one of Mr. Reid's specimens of C. terminalis has flowered for the first time.
Ti para, Cordyline sp. and other Species
There is another species or variety of Cordyline that was culti vated by the Maori, and which was known as ti para on the east page 259coast, as ti kowhiti at Whanganui, and as ti tawhiti at Taranaki and in some other districts. It does not seem to have been described by botanists, and, so far as the writer has been able to ascertain, is not found growing wild, though occasionally seen in old abandoned cultivation grounds now covered with a growth of scrub. Bay of Plenty natives state that it never grew wild there, but that it was formerly cultivated; it is a short stemmed species, the trunk growing to about 3ft. or 4ft. in height, according to native evidence. C. terminalis appears to have been unknown in the district mentioned, and local natives say that the ti para was the most highly prized of the different species known to them. Both trunk and tap-root (more) were eaten, and this, it is said, is the only species which it was not necessary to hew or chip the outside off prior to cooking in the steam oven. It was supposed to be extinct in the district, but about 1906 a plant was found growing in a long deserted cultivation at Ohaua-te-rangi, far up the Whakatane river, in a remarkably wild region. A shoot from this propagated by the writer grew into a flourishing plant; when the trunk was two feet high a number of shoots sprang from its base. This represented two years' growth. Its leaves were l½in. wide in the middle. When leaving the camp I cut the trunk and got an old native woman to cook it in the orthodox manner by steaming. The result was a mass of soft fibre containing a considerable amount of fecula that had a slightly sweet taste, but left a bitter taste in the mouth. It was by no means a food to yearn for, from my point of view; possibly the tap-root would have provided a daintier repast.
The Rev. T. G. Hammond has recorded the following note concerning this species, under its name of ti tawhiti. In describing the coming of the vessel Aotea to New Zealand, and the introduction by her crew of certain food plants, he writes:—"Another tree was also cultivated which it is contended formed part of the 'valu able freight of Aotea,' the ti tawhiti, one of the varieties of the cab bage tree. It was grown from suckers or branches, planted over large stones to prevent the roots penetrating too deeply into the soil. When developed the roots were taken up, washed, and steamed in the umu (oven) and eaten at once or stored for future use. This root is very nutritious. The tender shoots and part of the stem are also edible. This tree has always been cultivated, and in the fighting days of old warriors from Hokianga carried plants home with them, where specimens are still found and known as ti tawhiti from Taranaki. It is in all probability ti tahiti or ti from Tahiti."
Colenso writes:—"Another plant which was also cultivated by the old Maoris as an article of food, was the ti para, a species of page 260Cordyline; this was propagated by its side shoots and suckers. Its thick stem, as big as, or bigger than, that of a very large cabbage or broccoli, was cooked and eaten. In these parts, however (Hawkes' Bay), it has become very rare; indeed I only know of the plants now growing in my own garden, which I raised from a single plant I found in an old Maori cultivation belonging to the father of the present aged chief Tareha, in 1845. I have had some dozen of plants from it, and although they were very healthy and grew well, not one of them ever flowered, in this respect resembling both the kumara and taro. It grows four to five feet in height, never quite erect, and then it sends out suckers from below ground and from its stem, and dies. Thirty years ago, whenever some of the oldest chiefs here should happen to see this plant growing in my garden, they would invariably longingly beg for its stems to cook for a meal, saying how much they liked it. Its leaf is shorter and broader and of a finer texture than of C. australis, with slightly recurved edges, and its bark is also much thinner, and smooth, not rugged…. It was formerly cultivated extensively, both at Waikato and Upper Whanganui, also here in Hawkes' Bay, and in other places; and, from what I have heard from the Maoris, there also it did not produce flowers.
Is this another curious instance of a plant losing its powers of producing blossoms, etc., through long and continuous cultivation from its suckers?
I have also good reasons for believing there was yet another and a much smaller species of Cordyline formerly cultivated for the sake of its root. It was in 1838-9, at Waikato. Young seedlings were carefully selected and planted out, and in the following year the root was fit for use. The plant was then dug up, stacked in small piles, and dried in the sun; while drying the fibrous roots were burned off; and when sufficiently dry the roots were scraped and baked slowly, requiring 12 to 18 hours to cook them. These were chewed, or pounded and washed and squeezed, and used merely to extract the saccharine matter, which was eaten with their fern root to give it a relish. I have never seen the plant itself, only its dried roots. It may be the same as Cordyline pumilio, but this I doubt. By the Maoris of Waikato it was called mauku."
This name of mauku is certainly applied to C. Pumilio in the Waikato district, and perhaps also at Hauraki. Hence it appears that this species also was cultivated, or at least planted, as a food product in former times.
The Bay of Plenty natives informed the writer that, in former times, when the ti para matured, they bent the trunk down until page 261its upper end touched the ground, where it was secured and covered with earth. The result was that the part so covered struck root and grew, whereupon the curved trunk between the two roots, new and old, was cut away and utilised as food.
Williams gives:—Tahanui=A variety of ti para with broad leaves. Mahonge=A variety of ti para with narrow leaves. It would be interesting to know if these varieties have been produced by cultivation. A Bay of Plenty tradition states that the ti (species not given), the taro, and seeds of the karaka (Corynocarpus laevigatus) were brought to New Zealand in a vessel called Nukutere some twenty generations ago. This vessel landed at Waiaua, near Opotiki. The ti plant so brought was named Whakaruru-matangi, and it was planted at Pokerekere. The name of Te Huri a Roau (the seed of Roau) seems to be applied to both the ti and the taro so introduced, they having been brought by a chief named Roau.
The Rev. W. R. Wade makes a clear statement that the mauku (C. pumilio) was cultivated as a food product, in the following paragraph:—"One species of the ti, which somewhat resembles the grass tree of New South Wales, is planted out and cultivated by the Waikato natives for the sake of the root, which furnishes a saccharine matter, and is called mauku. The young seedlings are carefully selected, though but little care is taken in planting out, and the following year the root is fit for use. It is dug up and stacked in small piles to dry in the sun. The filaments are burned away by making a fire under the pile, and the roots are then left for some days for further drying. When sufficiently dry the roots are scraped and put into the hangi or native oven, to remain from twelve to eighteen hours, when the preparation of the mauku is completed. It is either chewed by the natives to extract the saccharine matter, or it is pounded, washed and squeezed, so as to separate the fibre, and in this state it is used as a sweetener with the kaanga pirau (putrid maize), or with baked fern root."
The name of mauku seems to have been applied to the whole plant rather than to its root only, as given above. Again, the removal of the outer covering of the root seems to have been effected by a chipping process rather than one of scraping.
The foregoing remarks of Colenso concerning this species curiously resemble those of the Rev. Wade, as here given; the latter were published many years before Colenso's article appeared.
The young side shoots were removed from such plants of C. pumilio as were to be used for food purposes.page 262
The Tuhoe folk apply the name of mauku to a fern, Asplenium bulbiferum.
A note in Vol. 7 of the Journal of the Polynesian Society states that the ti tawhiti 'was grown by the natives for the sake of the starchy matter which was produced when a part of the plant would be tightly ligatured.' This ligature has not been mentioned by any of our native contributors. The above note also speaks of the plant as seldom or never flowering. A remark had been made by Dr. Hector in 1896 on 'the curious Ti tawhiti, supposed to be a Cordyline, which never flowered in New Zealand. It was grown by the natives in the Taranaki district, and had large branches of rather thick green leaves for a palm-lily, with long intervals of stem. These were tightly ligatured by the Maoris, and pegged down, when they developed a large amount of sweet starchy matter, which was used as food.' Sir W. Buller remarked that the ti tawhiti was a narrow leafed Cordyline, and very scarce. He believed he had once seen the flower which was of a pale blue colour. These remarks are to be found in a discussion that took place on July 22, 1896, and which appears at p. 600 of Vol. XXIX. of the Transactions of the N.Z. Institute. Mr. Kirk stated that the ti tawhiti had never been known to flower in New Zealand, and that it might turn out to be a plant that flowers in a warmer climate. Sir James Hector said that he had seen a Cordyline growing in the Sydney Botanic Gardens that seemed to be the same as the plant under discussion. He was told that the plant had come from New Zealand, and that it produced blue flowers. This species or variety does not seem to be referred to in Cheeseman's Manual of the New Zealand Flora. He states that all species found in New Zealand except C. terminalis are endemic.
In a paper by T. H. Potts on The Cultivation of some Species of Native Trees and Shrubs, in Vol. 3 of the Transactions of the N.Z. Institute, we are told that "The Ti tawhiti of the Whanganui tribes grows here [at Wellington] very well; it has a dark green leaf, and throws off young plants more freely than some of the other species." Of this species the late Professor Kirk remarked:—"The form cultivated by the Upper Whanganui natives, so far as an opinion can be formed from the foliage of young plants only, is closely, related to C. australis, but I believe the flowers are unknown."
The ti tawhiti was grown by the natives at Waikato, Whanganui, Taranaki, Heretaunga, the East Coast and Bay of Plenty districts, and probably elsewhere, but was unknown in the South Island. Several plants grown in a Wellington garden show very slow growth, and have developed several offsets ere developing a stem.page 263
It should be here explained that Ti is a generic term that includes all species of Cordyline in Maori nomenclature. The following native names of the various species have been collected in divers districts:—
|Ti kouka||Cordyline australis||Ti para||Cordyline sp.|
|Ti kauka||Cordyline australis||Ti kowhiti||Cordyline sp.|
|Ti whanake||Cordyline australis||Ti tawhiti||Cordyline sp.|
|Ti mataku tai||Cordyline indivisa||Ti mahonge||A variety of ti Para ditto.|
|Ti kapu||Cordyline indivisa|
|Ti tõi||Cordyline indivisa||Ti tahanui|
|Ti kapu||Cordyline Banksii||Ti papa||Cordyline pumilio|
|Ti ngahere||Cordyline Banksii||Ti koraha||Cordyline pumilio|
|Ti torere||Cordyline Banksii||Ti rauriki||Cordyline pumilio|
|Ti pore||Cordyline terminalis||Mauku||Cordyline pumilio|
An East Coast native gives kouka tarariki as a name for a narrow leaved variety of C. australis, and kouka wharanui as that of a broad leaved variety of the same. The Rev. T. G. Hammond gives ti manu as another name, but does not give its specific name.
The generic term is by no means always employed by natives, and very seldom in using the names toi, whanake and mauku. Ti kupenga = C. pumilio; ti parae = C. Banksii, and ti rakau = C. australis, also appear but are not so well corroborated. All species are said to have provided food to some extent, but of C. Banksii the rito or young undeveloped leaves alone were eaten. The taproot and upper part of the trunk of C. indivisa are said to have sometimes furnished food to bush folk, as also the rito. A bitter principle contained in young leaves of C. australis is said to be absent in those of C. indivisa. The Tuhoe native say that, when a tree was to be cut for food purposes, the crown of leaves was cut off in early spring, and the trunk and tap-root allowed to remain for some time before being taken for cooking. It was steamed in a hangi or earth oven for a considerable time, being sometimes left in it for as much as 48 hours. On being taken out and allowed to cool it could be eaten in two ways; a portion of the soft fibrous mass might be chewed and the fecula or meal swallowed while the fibre was ejected, or the meal could be first detached by lightly tapping a portion of fibre on some object. The tap-root of Cordyline is called the kopura in the Whanganui district. C. australis, the most common species, the common 'cabbage tree' of our settlers, was utilised as a food product, but considered much inferior to the page 264ti para, though apparently superior to C. indivisa. One native authority says that the tap root of the ti para was dug up about March or April, the outer part chipped off and the inner part cooked. During the time that the roots are in the oven it is highly necessary that men and women should keep apart; the same superstition is connected with cooking of the mamaku (Cyathea medullaris) according to Wairarapa natives. In some cases the root was dried after being cooked, then pounded in a wooden bowl to free the meal, which appears to have been sometimes placed in water to disengage any fibres remaining in it.
The Waiapu natives say that only young plants of Cordyline, those of a few years' growth, were utilised for food purposes. The top of the young plant was cut off some time before the trunk was taken. The outer part was chipped off with stone adzes, and the inner, soft part, was taopakatia, that is cooked for a prolonged period in a steaming pit. See Fig. 61 (p. 265).
The Rev. R. Taylor writes:—"There are several varieties of Cordyline, all of which have long tap roots, which the natives cook; they have then a bitter sweet taste. The early missionaries brewed excellent beer from them. The tender shoots are also eaten, and, although rather bitter, make a wholesome dish. The toi also has a large tap-root, which is likewise eaten."
An East Coast native states that, when a number of plants of ti para were set out, a damp rich soil, such as alluvium near a stream was selected. When the tap-root was taken for food the upper part was cut off, the balance left in the ground would throw up new shoots; these would be taken and planted out. The root for cooking was scraped or 'shaved,' soaked a day in water, then steamed thoroughly. The cooked product might be kept for some time wrapped in leaves and packed in baskets
Mr. John White writes as follows concerning C. pumitio: The ti papa was formerly cultivated and tended as carefully as was the kumara. It was grown on rich, deep soil and propagated from the shoots that spring from the upper part of the stem of a full grown plant, and from seedlings growing round roots left to seed.
This species did not grow with an upright stem, but like a thick bunch of tussock grass partially trailing on the ground. When full grown or ripe, which was in the latter part of December, just before the appearance of the flower stem, it was taken up and allowed to lie on the ground, care being taken not to break the root stem or the shoots on the top. It was turned over each day so as to get quite dry.page 265
When dug, those with the healthiest looking shoots were left untouched in the ground for future cultivation, and of such the flowering stem was pinched off when it appeared. These roots were allowed to grow until September. A ko or a maire spade was used to dig a hole or loosen the earth, in which a sprout of the te was planted, but it took three years to come to maturity.
The roots that had been dug up were dried until the fibrous rootlets thereof were all dry and brittle, when they were burned off. The leaves were then removed and the root scraped clean with shells. The larger roots were split lengthwise and wrapped in hangehange leaves (Geniostoma) which were tied on. This was to prevent it breaking when taken in a soft condition from the oven. A large hangi (steam oven) was made to cook ti root, possibly 8 ft. in diameter or more, and large stones were used for it, many people collecting to assist in the task. Each family brought its lot of roots and all were cooked in the same oven. Manuka (Leptospermum) was used as fuel to heat the oven. The wood of the rewarewa (honeysuckle) was not allowed to be used for this purpose because its wood, when decayed, is phosphorescent, like a glow worm, which latter is the offspring of Tangaroa-piri-whare, the mischief maker, and if the wood was used for such a purpose some mishap would occur to future crops. When the stones were placed on the fire in the oven another lot of fuel was piled on the top of the stones. When the fire had burned down the mass of stones was thrashed with green branches in order to dislodge all ashes or dirt.
Each family tied its roots up in small bundles which were distinguished by a peculiar knot in the cord of flax. The elderly men arranged the roots in the oven, putting the large ones in the middle and the smaller ones at the sides, while water was sprinkled over them. The oven was then covered with leaves and then with some green flax mats plaited for the occasion, after which it was covered over with earth and left for days until it was cool or comparatively so. The roots were then taken out and hung up on poles or laid on a platform to dry, being placed under cover each night until the process was completed, after which they were placed in the food stores for future use. When used these roots were pounded and placed in a trough of water, where the fecula or meal was separated from the fibrous parts of the root by a rubbing and squeezing process.
Large sized stones were placed in any oven used for preparing any food, such as tiand mamaku, which requires long steaming; such stones retaining heat longer than smaller ones. Colenso has page 267left us the following note:—"The New Zealanders were often curiously particular as to what plants were used tied around, or under and over, their vegetable food in their cooking ovens in the earth; for instance, the roots of the ti koraha (Cordyline pumilio) were tied separately for baking in bundles of hangehange (Geniostoma ligustrifolium)." And also the following:—'the large roots of Cordyline australis were sometimes slowly baked [steamed] and bruised up in water, and yielded a sweetish drink.'
In Brunner's journal of his explorations on the West Coast of the South Island, where he lived for many months on the products of forest and stream, we note a few remarks on the Cordyline as a food supply:—"The natives … make large ovens of the mamaku (a tree fern), and a species of the ti, the stem of which, called koari [probably a misprint for kauru] is the eatable part, and to the taste is sweet and pleasant." Further on he speaks of the root as providing food:—"The root of the ti is the part used by the natives, and is generally from three to four feet in length, of a conical shape, with an immense number of fibrous roots attached to it. The natives, whose tools consist of a pointed stick and their hands, consider they have performed a glorious day's work if they manage to obtain five ti roots in the day. It requires an immense oven, and must remain twelve hours' baking … The natives prepare a very palatable dish of the ti and fern root. They extract the sweet particles of the ti by beating and washing the same in a proper quantity of water. When about the consistency of honey, they put some layers of well beaten and cooked fern root to soak in the liquid, which, when properly moistened, you eat with a similar relish to gingerbread. This can only be made when staying several days at a place." During his arduous and perilous journey Brunner had often to rely upon fern roots and those of Cordyline for a food supply.
In the New Zealand Journal of March 25, 1848, appears a short account of some edible plants of these isles, in which occur the following remarks on Cordyline:—"There are several varieties of the tree, all of which have long tap-roots, which the natives cook, they have then a bitter sweet taste; the early missionaries brewed excellent beer from them. The tender shoots also are eaten and, although rather bitter, make a wholesome dish. The Toi also has a large tap-root, which is likewise eaten. The Kouka is another variety which may be used in a similar way."
In the South Island the ti was perhaps a more important article of food than at the north. This was C. australis. The southern natives seem to have spoken of it as kauru, a word denoting the page 268head of a tree in the North Island. The following remarks by Canon Stack tend to show that only the stem was used in those parts:—"The kauru was prepared in the summer months from the cabbage palms, which grew in profusion on the upper parts of the plain. Young trees about five feet high were selected. The stems were cut into about two feet lengths, and stripped of the bark and woody substance which cover the fibrous core, the only part which was valued as food. These were tied in bundles and stacked, till a sufficient quantity had been obtained, when an oblong pit was dug, varying in size from four to twelve feet in length, and about five or six in depth. A quantity of stones were placed in the bottom and firewood piled upon them, which was afterwards lit, and, when consumed, the pit was filled in with the prepared ti palm stems, which were covered with matting and soil. A quantity of water was then produced in buckets formed with flax leaves, and poured into the pit, the bottom of which was covered with the heated stones. The steam generated was prevented from escaping by a sufficient quantity of soil being heaped upon the mat covering of the pit. After several hours the oven was uncovered and the kauru was found to be cooked sufficiently for use. It was then placed in flax baskets and carried to the storehouses. When required for food the fibre was either chewed for the extraction of the saccharine matter it contained, or it was pounded and mixed with water in a wooden dish till it assumed the consistency of thin gruel, when it was ready for use, being conveyed to the mouths of those who partook of it either with a mussel shell spoon or a sop of fern root; or, wanting these, with the first two fingers of the right hand."
The above account seems to show that the species of Cordyline utilised in the South Island was the common C. australis, and that it was not cultivated by the Maori. The fact that young plants were selected tends to show that the matured tree becomes too woody, the fibrous interior perhaps contained less meal. The Canon does not mention the tap-root as having been used. As to 'several hours' of cooking, native evidence tends to show that in no case was it left in the steam pit oven for less than twelve hours. Some state that 48 hours was the time allowed, but this probably depended on the size of the pieces cooked, and to some extent on the species and stage of maturity of the tree.
Of this South Island kauru, Shortland writes in his Southern Districts of New Zealand: "Just as we were leaving the place [Te Waia-te-ruati] Te Rehe brought us a basket of kauru or baked root of the ti, for which Waiateruati is celebrated. This root is in shape like a carrot, but from two to three feet long, and requires page 269a deep and rich soil for its growth. The natives have learned to dig it at the season when it contains the greatest quantity of saccharine matter; that is, just before the flowering of the plant. They then bake, or rather steam it in their ovens. On cooking, the sugar is partially crystallised, and is found mixed with other matter between the fibres of the root, which are easily separated by tearing them asunder, and are then dipped in water and chewed." Here we have a plain statement to the effect that the root was used as providing the desired sago-like fecula. As a matter of fact both trunk and tap-root were so utilised.
The following notes on the treatment of C. australis in the South Island were contributed by Hone Tare Tikao, of Rapaki:—" The ti was not cultivated by man, but grew spontaneously in many places. This kind of food was prepared twice a year; in the months of November and February trees about four feet in height were cut down, the outer part was chipped off and the pieces set up to dry. In January [the first lot] was cut into lengths of about two feet and placed in baskets made of Cordyline leaves. The ovens of each family were prepared at dawn, the trenches used as steam ovens being very long. The cooking occupied about twenty-four hours. There was a considerable amount of tapu pertaining to the cooking of this food; the two sexes were compelled to remain apart until the process was completed. Should this rule be broken, then assuredly the food would be found not properly cooked, or possibly it would be burned. Persons so offending would be detected, they could not conceal the fact. If they did not confess on being questioned they would be slain. Burned contents of an oven were entirely lost, but the puna [oven] of underdone contents were rekindled, though the kauru would not be very palatable but would be puia [unpalatable, having a smoky taste]. The same remarks apply to the cutting of February. When this process was over the product was stored in the elevated store huts as a food supply for winter, and when it would keep without decaying for two or three seasons. When about to be eaten it was placed in water in order to soften it; it was then shaken so as to disengage the para [fecula] which was collected in the paepae [vessel]. It was now ready to be eaten. Some masticated the fibrous matter, swallowing the fecula and rejecting the former. The tap root and young leaves of the ti were also eaten, though not prepared in the above described way. They were cooked with eels, birds, etc., at all times of the year in a steam oven, and the fat mixed with the vegetable foods and rendered them much more palatable."page 270
A subsequent communication from Tikao contained the following information:—"With regard to your question as to the Cordyline used as food by my ancestors in olden times. When the tree reached a considerable height it put forth branches, it flowered and produced seeds, these matured, fell to earth, germinated and grew. When about four feet in height these were cut to serve as kauru. The stumps again grew, and, in four years, another cutting would result; this process would continue. This is the Cordyline that is called ti para, the para [fecula] being eaten when cooked. The carrying of baskets of this kauru and other foods to the pa at Kaiapoi was a strenuous task, hence that pa was named Kaiapoi, because they [the people] did poi food supplies to it from inland and sea coast. See Fig. 61 (p. 265).
To return to the kauru. Having conveyed the lengths of trunk to the pa, these were beaten until soft, and when they had all been pounded they were tied together in twos at the ends with ti leaves. They were then placed on beams in a whata [elevated food store] and so preserved for two or three years. When required as food, they were put in water contained in a bowl or trough; when softened a shaking process disengaged the para [edible matter, fecula], and that food is called waitau kauru.
As to the kouka, the rito [young undeveloped leaves] was plucked off and cooked, and when saturated with the fat of eels or birds cooked with it, was good eating. In like manner was used the taproot of the ti. It was dug up and roasted at a fire, buried in the hot ashes until cooked. It was then pounded to soften it, spread out on flax mats, sprinkled with the sweet water [nectar] of flax blossoms, and when so saturated the edible matter was shaken into bowls, and men, women and children partook of that preparation of the ti para. This process was adopted during the month of November. At other times it might be cooked in a steam oven. These latter food supplies were not for long preservation."
These data furnished by Tikao give us a fairly complete account of South Island methods of utilising the food products of Cordyline australis. He applies the name ti para to it, and hints that it is so called on account of the edible matter (para) contained in its fibrous stem and tap-root. The ti para of the North Island was unknown in the South Island, and this application of the name to C. australis by southern natives has led to some confusion. They evidently apply the name kauru to the stem of C. australis, but we do not know that it was applied to the ti para of the North Island. Tikao uses the term kouka to denote the head of C. australis, the page 271leaves. In the North Island kauru means the head of a tree, any tree, but in the south it is apparently applied as given above, perhaps only when alluded to as a food supply. In some cases it looks as though it were used to define the edible fecula only. This food supply and the method of obtaining it reminds us of the sago palm. As to the term poi employed by Tikao, it means to swing or twirl, and scarcely seems applicable as used. Possibly it has another meaning, haply a local one.
In his Reminiscences of Earliest Canterbury, James Hay writes on Maori methods of cooking the Cordyline:—"In the 'forties' the Maoris had a method of extracting sugar from young cabbage trees which, I fear, is now lost. They began operations by digging a hole eight feet long, four feet wide, and from five to six feet deep. A layer of stones was placed in the bottom, and on them an enormous fire was built. When this had burned down, the young cabbage tree was stripped and laid on the stones. Water was then poured over them, and all was quickly covered over with earth and left for many days. Beyond this I do not know what other process was adopted, but it seemed to me that the pith of the tree had the sugar encrusted in it. The Maoris carried it with them in this fibrous form. They chewed it when on a journey, spitting out the fibre when they had exhausted the sugar from it. As boys we were very fond of this. It had an excellent flavour, and we collected it, soft and brown in colour, by knocking the fibre on a piece of wood. It was very good for sweetening tea. This native made sugar was troublesome to produce, and when ordinary sugar could be produced they gave up preparing it, and I believe the art is now lost."
The remark that the ti was left in the oven for many days seems to be an exaggeration. These steaming pits in which the Maori prepared his food are known as hangi, umu, etc. One in which the ti is cooked would be called an umu ti.
Hochstetter provides the following brief note:—"There are several varieties of this tree, all of which have long tap-roots, which the natives cook; they have then a bitter sweet taste; the early missionaries brewed beer from them; the tender shoots are also eaten."
Colenso writes again of the use of the tap-root:—"The large tap-root of this plant was also dug and split and cooked for food; it was very fibrous, yet contained a large amount of both saccharine and farinaceous substance. It took very long in cooking, and was chiefly resorted to in times of great scarcity of vegetable food. page 272Upwards of thirty years ago, at a time of severe want of vegetable food here in Hawkes' Bay, through long drought and failure of their crops, the roots of this tree were extensively used in every village, the modern Maoris being greatly benefitted through having iron pots in which to boil them. Another species of this genus, ti koraha (Cordyline pumilio), a very much smaller plant of low growth, with narrow grass-like leaves, had much more fleshy and saccharine roots; these were sought and dug up, hung in the wind and dried in small bunches, and eaten sometimes in their raw state. This plant was more commonly found at the north, growing in the open fern lands."
The following remark made by a South Island native shows how ceremonial observances entered into the manipulation of food products:—"Ka maea te mara kauru, ka whakairia te take tuatahi hei kai ma te atua, a ka taona etahi kauru ma nga tohunga." (When the kauru field was taken up, then the first root was suspended as a food offering to the god, and some other kauru were cooked for the priests.)
The expression rua ti implies a pit in which the ti is stored, but it is used in another connection, apparently as a metaphorical expression for plenty, in regard to food supplies. This usage is noted in the following sentences:—" 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 importance.) " He tangata mate tenei, kaore ona rua ti." (This is an impoverished person; for he has no rua ti.) Even so it has come about that a person who accumulates a good supply of food is said to possess a rua ti (Na, kua tau ki te tangata whakaputu kai he rua ti tana.) The expression mara ti (ti field or plantation) is occasionally used in a similar way:—"Ki te kore he mara ti o te tangata, he tangata mate tena." (If a man has no ti plantation then he is in a poor way.)
With the exception of C. terminalis all species of Cordyline found in New Zealand are endemic, we are told, but the ti para is somewhat of a puzzle. The Aotea folk say that it was introduced here by their ancestors, but we hear nothing of it as existing elsewhere outside of New Zealand.
The sweetish taste of the meal or fecula contained in the tap-root and trunk of the Cordyline doubtless partially satisfied a natural craving for sugar in the Maori. He certainly much appreciated manufactured sugar when it was made known to him by Europeans, as also honey. Forster tells that, in 1773, the natives of Queen Charlotte Sound were very fond of water sweetened with sugar.