Forest Lore of the Maori
Aruhe — Rhizome of rarauhe (Pteridium aquilinum)
Rhizome of rarauhe (Pteridium aquilinum).
Here we deal with the staple food supply of the Maori people, for this root was universally used, and, even in districts where large crops of sweet potatoes and taro were produced, considerable quantities of fern-root were necessarily consumed. There are a great many terms connected with this plant and it will be well to enumerate these ere we discourse on methods of procuring, preparing, and cooking the edible rhizomes. This species was formerly known as Pteris aquilina var. esculenta.
Names applied to the plant.
Terms for Young Shoots—
Terms for the Plant as a Whole—
- Monehu, Nehu—Fine pubescence on fronds, much in evidence in summer.
- Tope—Fresh growth of fern after burning.
- Kaka—Stipe of frond. Takaka seems to be occasionally used in this sense.
Honorific Terms for the Edible Rhizome—
- Peka o Haumia
- Aka o te whenua
Ordinary Generic Terms for Edible Rhizome—
Names of Varieties or Varying Qualities of Aruhe, etc.—
- Arero-parera—An inferior kind of fern-root.
- Aukaka—Syn. kaka, takaka.
- Kaita—Aruhe kaita is an expression used to denote any superior kind having few hard fibres.
- Kaka—The hard, black fibres found in the root. Syn. aukaka, takaka.
- Kakanui—An inferior kind.
- Kirea—A superior kind. J.W.
- Koauau—Roots of good quality.
- Kopuwai—A superior kind.
- Kotai—Same as koauau. J.W.
- Kotau—Young roots; these are not used.
- Kowhiti—The 'best selected'— Colenso.
- Mahunga—A superior kind. W.C. Any mealy kind might be so termed.
- Manehu—A superior kind (Tuhoe). A name for the plant (Williams). See monehu.
- Mapara—Of a brownish colour inside. Ngati-Porou.
- Mata—(Ngati-Awa of Te Teko).
- Moheke—A thick, well grown root.
- Motuhanga—A superior kind.
- Onetea—A superior kind, same as taipu. J.W.
- Paetu—Roots obtained from hard ground. Colenso.
- Paitu—Contains coarse fibres. Williams.
- Paka—A good quality root. Tuhoe, Ngati-Porou.
- Pakakohi—Roots of poor quality.
- Para, Aruhe para—A superior kind. Tuhoe.
- Parahou—A superior kind.
- Paranui—Contains many fibres. Ngati-Porou.
- Parara—An inferior kind. Williams.
- Parara—Nature not specified. Colenso.
- Pawhati—Cf. whatiwhati.
- Pehapeha—An inferior kind, as when the best roots have been culled out.
- Renga—Good, mealy kinds so termed.
- Rotari—Young roots unfit for use. See kotau, taukuao.
- Taipu—A superior kind, same as onetea. J.W.
- Takaka—Fibres in roots. Syn. aukaka, kaka. 2. Stipe of frond.
- Taukuao—Young roots, unfit for food. See kotau, rotari.
- Tuakau—An inferior kind.
- Tuakura—An inferior kind.
- Tukurenga—A choice kind.
- Whatiwhati—Cf. pawhati.
A Cake made of Pounded and Cleaned Fern-root—
Wooden Pounders or Beaters used in Pounding Fern-roots, etc.—
- Patu aruhe
(The names in col. 3 are given by Williams as a pestle for pounding fern-root, etc. The word tuki denotes endwise use, as a pestle is used, but the Maori says that aruhe beaters (patu aruhe) were not used in that manner.)page 72
- Tarau—To pound aruhe
- Tarai—A basket for fern root.
- Tihi—A basket of fern root.
- Aupatu aruhe—A bundle of fern roots.
A Stack of Fern-roots—
- Titara aruhe
Place where Fern-root is Dug—
- Keringa aruhe
- Pakihi—To dig for fern-root. 2. Place where fern-root is dug. So Williams, but I have heard natives pronounce the word thus: pakihi, all vowels short.
- Puru—To prepare the roots by soaking in water.
- Kopure aruhe and Kowao—Patches of fern land in forest.
- Tuaeke—Inferior fern land.
Of the above terms there are a few concerning which there is some element of doubt. Rarauhe seems to be the name most frequently used to denote the plant, and aruhe that for the rhizome. The term root is, of course, incorrect when applied to these rhizomes from which the fronds spring, but it is in common use among us laymen, hence it frequently appears in this paper. Of the generic terms for the rhizomes mata-kai-awatea may be only a minor name, peka is probably an abbreviation of Peka o Haumia, a honorific term, and putuputu is evidently connected with Tapuwae-putuputu, of which more anon. In some cases words given as names of different kinds of rhizomes are dubious, for instance such terms as kowhiti, whatiwhati, and others given on p. 38 of vol. 13 of Transactions of the New Zealand Institute. A fugitive note tells that the term mata kai awatea illustrates the fact that it is deemed to be very unlucky to pound, that is to prepare fern-root during the hours of darkness. This superstition seems to be based on the dull thud of the wooden beaters when the roots were being beaten on a stone anvil; it resembled the sound of striking weapons getting home on naked human bodies, hence the saying: "Do not pound fern-root at night, a human head, a disaster." Kaua e patu aruhe i te po, he upoko tangata, he Kaupapa tahuri.
Concerning the honorific terms applied to this important food, that of Haumia comes first. This Haumia is given in many old recitals as one of the offspring of the primal parents Rangi and Papa, the Sky Father and the Earth Mother, but in some others the name does not appear. Haumia is, however, generally viewed as representing aruhe, or fern-root as we term it, and so that mythical being is page 73spoken as the personification of the aruhe, also as having originated it, as in the old saying: Ko Haumia nana te aruhe. When a quarrel broke out between the offspring of the primal parents both Haumia and Rongo took refuge in the body of Papa the Earth Mother, and so we hear to this day the saying: Ko Rongo, ko Haumia he mea huna —that is, both sweet potatoes and fern-roots took to subterranean homes, and that is where they are still found. In later times Haumia was discovered by his enemies, and so slain and eaten; he was detected by means of his hair (fronds of bracken) which appeared above ground. This tutelary being or personification is known in full as Haumia-tiketike and Haumia-roa, the former is most commonly heard; it appears in an old sententious saying: Ko Haumia-tiketike, Tangaroa-hakahaka. Williams terms Haumia a god, but the term is, as in many other cases, misleading; Haumia represents the edible rhizomes we are dealing with, but one does not often hear of Haumia being placated or appealed to, as he was one of the quiet, peaceful primal beings, possibly he was ignored on that account.
Many peculiar myths and puerile folk-tales pertain to these mythical beings of the night of time. In No. 8 of the Addenda we have a short recital from old Hamiora Pio, whose mind and memory were stored with such quaint lore. Here he explains that the two 'persons,' Harakeke (flax) and Kiekie (Freycinetia, a climbing plant), separated, each taking his own way. The kiekie fled to its ancestor Tane, and so is now seen clasping trees in the forest. The flax directed its course to its ancestor Wainui (personified form of water), and so we see flax plants growing not only on land, but also in the water. The raupo or bulrush followed its mother Wainui so as to be nurtured by her. The aka (climbing plants) seen clinging to trees were the binders of Tangaroa (fish), and hence were used in slaying Tangaroa (for the manufacture of fish traps). The mokehu (young fronds of brackenfern) is really Haumia, and its enemies are the Maori folk. The offspring of the mokehu are mosquitoes, whose companions are sand-flies, and both come to attack man. Albeit great numbers of sand-flies perished, what cared they; they said, what matters it if a thousand, or two thousand perish; reck not of death so long as the blood of the Maori folk of the world wells forth. And so, though many perish, yet still the sand-flies fight on, fire alone has power to cause the fight to cease. A saying of the sand-fly folk is: "What matter if I perish if only his blood flows."
The following quaint remark was made to me by an octogenarian of the Awa tribe, a man of singular mentality, much given to strange thoughts and strange sayings: Tetahi mahi a te iwi Maori he kari i a Papa-tuanuku, ko Haumia tenei ka karia nei e ona mokopuna; koia page 74nei to Haumia tika ko tehomai ora mo ana mokopuna…… He aruhe te kai nui o Aotearoa, kua tae ki te warn me te iwa ka whakaimuimu te kai hou i mahia. (Another task of the Maori people was the digging of Papa the Earth-Mother, this was the digging up of Haumia by his descendants; such was the gracious act of Haumia, the providing of sustenance for his descendants… . . Fern roots formed the most important food product of Aotearoa; in the eighth and ninth months the new foods gathered were attended to.)
Another term employed to denote fern-root is Arikinoanoa, and this seems to be essentially a honorific term. When a Maori is explaining his racial myths he will say: Te kumara ko Rongomaraeroa, te aruhe ko Ariki-noanoa—that is, when he does not employ the title of Haumia; this saying simply explains that: The sweet potato is Rongo-maraeroa, the fern root is Ariki-noanoa.' The term ariki implies superiority, importance. These two mythical beings Rongo and Haumia (or Ariki-noanoa) could not be coupled together, as it were, for Rongo was the more important of the two, which means that sweet-potatoes and fern-roots could not be placed near each other, that is, could not be placed in the same store-house. There is one peculiar use to which fern-root was put in olden times; it is, so far as I am aware, the only thing worn by the Maori as an amulet in connection with physical ailments. A small piece of aruhe suspended from the neck will preserve the wearer from such afflictions as headache, colds, etc., and this amulet is called zpitopito. A statement is on record that this fern-root is a preventive of sea-sickness, but I am not sure whether it has to be eaten or worn round the neck in order to be effective, neither can I say that it was an old belief of the Maori folk.
The term putuputu was sometimes used as a name for fern-root, and Tapuwae-putuputu was employed in a like manner, but the latter seems to have been a honorific term. These names appear to be connected with the myth of the aruhe having been brought to these isles by early voyagers. A northern story is to the effect that when the explorer Kupe came to New Zealand he brought the roi or fern-root with him, on board his vessel named Tapuwae-putuputu, and so, down through the fleeting centuries, names became somewhat mixed. That old vessel, we are told, still lies at Waima, probably in the form of a rock, and some credit her with having brought the kiore or native rat to New Zealand.
Another name connected with our bracken is that of Hine-and this seems to represent a female personification of the plant, or its growth, for kotau is the name of the young shoots and young rhizomes of our bracken; young shoots of the tutu shrub page 75are styled kotau tutu. This reference also makes known another mythical being connected with fern-root, viz., one Pukupuku-te-rangi. This being is said to have sprung from Rarotimu and Rarotake, and to have produced aruhe apparently, and this grew on the back of Rangi, the sky, until he was thrust up on high by Tane, whereupon it fell off and became a product of the earth, and is used as an offering to Haumia:—
"Ka noho Rarotimu, ka noho i a Rarotake
Ka puta ki waho ra ko Pukupuku-te-rangi nahana te aruhe
I runga o tuara nui o Rangi e awhi ana, i tokoua e Tane
Ka horo kei raro ki te tahataha o Rarowhana nei tu ai
Na Nuka-noa i kohi mai, na Toi i whakaputa ki te ao
Na Te Atoru i pokapoka, tautitia hei kaupeka mo Haumia
Ka toro te pitau ki te ao ko Hine-kotau-ariki."
Rarowhana appears as Rarohana and Rarohena in other versions; all these are probably variant forms of Rarohenga; pitau denotes the immature fronds of ferns. In a Takitumu recital we encounter the name of Tane-pukupuku-rangi, of whom we are told that he originated the aruhe. Here we have Pukupuku as being one of the many secondary names of Tane, which recalls old Hapurona's remark: "All gods are one … but the people must not know it."
There are two other expressions that are applied to our fern-root; one of these is peka o Haumia or 'branch of Haumia,' while the other is aka o tuwhenua, or, as it is sometimes given aka o te whenua, the roots or fibres of the earth. The northern tribes say that the original inhabitants of these isles, the first and true owners of the land and its products, were the Turehu folk (a mythical people, forest dwelling creatures of human form). In days of old those engaged in digging up fern root would sometimes hear a strange voice, like unto a spirit voice, speaking these words: E koa koe aianei, otira maku hoki te ra apapo—you rejoice to-day, but to-morrow is for me. They would then know that the old-time Turehu, the first people of Aotearoa, were speaking, whereupon each man would lay aside the first three pieces of root he had dug as an offering to the Turehu folk, so that they would not molest the diggers, but allow them to take away the balance of the roots obtained. Were this offering omitted then but little aruhe would be found by the diggers, and that would be of poor quality. Now the diggers (kaiko) would finish their day's task, but they would not return to the work on the following day, for that second day was left for the Turehu, but on the third day the diggers would return to their work, for the Turehu would be appeased and no further interference would be feared.page 76
In an old fable concerning the sweet-potato and fern-root these two comestibles are endowed with the power of speech, and the latter gains the best of an argument as to the value of each as a food product, for it was the great standby of the people generally while the supply of potatoes might at any time become exhausted. A man who was diligent in digging fern-root and in providing a goodly store of this staple product was esteemed, and so had no difficulty, we are told, in procuring a wife, as we see illustrated in the story of Kahungunu. In a popular dialogue favoured by young girls, the industrious root-digger is held to be superior to the skilled fowler, fisherman and agriculturist. Sometimes a people would be reduced to a diet of fern root only, as I have seen one or more villages reduced to a potato diet. During the fervent-zeal period of the New Messiah craze early in this century a large number of true believers settled at Maungapohatu, where the winter saw them almost foodless in that inhospitable spot. The fungi, leaves, etc., eaten by these longhaired enthusiasts possessed but little food-value; children in numbers died for want of food and flowed like water down to the spirit world.
Darwin told us that the Maori people need never perish from famine: "The whole country abounds with fern; and the roots of this plant, if not very palatable, yet contain much nutriment. A native can always subsist on these, and on the shellfish, which are abundant on all parts of the seacoast." G. Forster (Cook's second voyage) had little use for fern-root, and so speaks of 'that wretched article of New Zealand diet, the common fern-root.' This, he states, consists of nothing but insipid sticks, which, after being broiled over the fire for some time, are beaten or bruised on a stone with a piece of wood much resembling the Tahitian cloth-beater, but round instead of square.' He was mistaken in saying that it was chewed for the juice it contained, it is the meal that is the aliment. On the other hand, a writer of 1842 tells us in the New Zealand Journal that the fern-root will prove, when properly prepared, to be no mean substitute for a baker's rusk.
Cook noted that the Maori carried dried fern-roots and dried fish when moving about; in the account of his third voyage he remarks that the edible part of fern-roots has a sweet mealy taste not at all disagreeable. His first account of the food was in connection with his sojourn on the East Coast in 1769; he explained that the roasted roots were pounded until the bark and dry outside fell off, and added: "What remains is a soft substance, somewhat clammy and sweet, not unpleasing to the taste, but mixed with three or four times its quantity of strings and fibres, which are very disagreeable; these page 77were swallowed by some, but spit out by the far greater number, who had baskets under them to receive the rejected part of what had been chewed." Persons who swallowed all the fibrous refuse of fern-roots must have been of a hardy breed. The use of baskets to contain such refuse might, in at least some cases, have been connected with the condition of tapu. Certainly the use of such baskets would not be universal, and it would mark the users as persons of superior status. In Roux's Journal of Marion's Voyage (1772) we are told that fern-root was 'very pleasant' eating. Clesmeur, in the same year, wrote: "I have tasted it several times and have only found it a little bitter." In 1773 Bayly wrote that"…. their bread … is made of Fern-roots bruised and made into cakes and dried either in the sun or before the fire." Edgar, in 1777, was more emphatic "…. they have no thing by way of Bread but the Fern Root which is intolerably bad and which they are obliged to beat a long time before they can eat it." Dr. Anderson remarked that natives carried fern-root about with them, and he viewed it as their substitute for bread. Both French and English voyagers recognized our local bracken as closely resembling the European species. Crozet tells us that the root was chewed "in order to obtain the juices, which to me appear farinaceous; but when they have nothing else to eat they even eat the woody fibre, but when they have fish …. they only chew the root, and reject the fibre."
Dr. Savage, who visited New Zealand in 1805, tells us that fernroot was held in great estimation by the natives—"and previously to the introduction of potatoes was almost their only esculent vegetable"—which is certainly news to us. The doctor reminds us that natives call it Haddawai, which is, perhaps, near enough to aruhe for a passing visitor, and states that, in chewing the root, natives "extracted the glutinous substance with which it abounds"; this is certainly better than the 'juice' of other early writers. One, Aubrey, who in 1841 published an account of his visit to Taranaki, speaks strongly concerning fern-root as a food: "A very good imitation might be made with a rotten stick, especially if slightly pounded, to which it bears a striking resemblance, both in taste and smell." Nicholas, in New Zealand in 1815, explains the native procedure when distributing prepared fern-roots to waiting diners, it being thrown in handfuls to each of the expectant ones by the person preparing it; such procedure pertained, of course, to ordinary, informal meals. Says Nicholas: "The fern-root, when hot, has a pleasant sweetish taste." He also states that three-year-old plants furnish the best fern-root, and such is an inch in circumference. Here we must certainly read diameter for circumference. The roots page 78are dug about November, cut into lengths, and stacked to dry; fresh roots are very poor eating. The dried roots will keep a long time, but are steeped in water ere being roasted, pounded and eaten. The pounding process softens the fecula and tends to free it from the harsh fibres, when, if considered desirable, the fibres may be pulled out of the mealy matter; such is the procedure when the fecula is to be formed into cakes. Dr. Thomson tells us that 'seventy per cent, of flour has been obtained from good fern-root'; also that "In taste it resembles ship biscuits." Truly this fern-root of the past seems to have had many different tastes or qualities.
The roasting and beating softened the roots and rendered the fecula eatable, but this substance soon became hard if not eaten at once. Good fern-root is not the product of a particular variety of Pteris, but of suitable soil-conditions, in which it will produce roots an inch, or nearly so, in diameter; such roots show few of the dark fibres and the fecula is white, the root breaks easily and cleanly. Poor roots are discoloured inside, very stringy, and by no means brittle; they are lacking in the mealy matter. As already observed, all aruhe is not edible, and one may search long in fern-covered land ere finding a good sample; the smaller, tough roots that are too fibrous to break readily may be discarded as useless.
Each community had its own tawaha aruhe, or places where fernroot was dug, and these places were prized and attended to in proper manner. Any attempt made by unauthorized persons to obtain provender from such places would lead to hostilities and ejection. Many such cases are mentioned in Maori tradition. These rootpreserves were also known as keringa aruhe (fern-root digging-places), kohiti, and pakihi. A Ngati Porou companion told me that a place where fern-root was procured was termed a maunga aruhe, which name seems to demand a hill preserve. Also he explained that these roots were often obtained by the exertions of an ohu, a number of persons working together, a digging-bee. The roots were collected packed in baskets, and placed on an elevated platform, where they were covered with bracken or some other vegetation. Here they gradually dried, but had to be soaked ere being cooked; when roasted the outside of the root was removed. When made into kohere or cakes the aukaka or fibres were picked out. Shell-fish and dried crayfish-tails were often eaten with kohere aruhe, but were pounded ere being eaten, so hard do these dried tails become. Tawaha were occasionally burned off, such a fire destroying all the fronds, which were soon replaced by others springing from the younger roots. This is said to have caused the bracken to produce finer roots, and also it destroyed all foreign growth, such as shrubs, page 79that had sprung up since last burning; hence such a burning every three, four, or five years. If man and fire leave fern-land alone long enough it becomes scrub-land, and eventually forest-land. Fire prevents the condition known as kaikai rakau. Such burning is done when the hinau is in bloom, or maybe the tawari (November or December), after which fire aruhe will be produced. If the burning is postponed until the rata or korukoni blossom (January or end of December) then the result will be poor fern-roots. Colenso tells us that in the north these tawaha were burned off in August.
The Matatua folk were wont to dig their supply of roots for storing at the time when the mokehu or young growth of bracken had reached its full height. The tools employed were, as a rule, the ko or digging-stick, and a much smaller tool known as a kaheru, pinaki, and ketu, the former was used for the heavier breaking-up work, the latter for light work. Several men would punch their ko into the earth in a line, then all would heave together and tear away a long mass of earth. Others, often women, with the small, light implements, would break up the great clods, take out the bracken roots and throw them into a heap (koputu aruhe). In light friable soils but little cleaning of the roots was necessary, any adhering soil was easily detached, but in some soils the roots had to be cleansed of clay or other clinging earth; this was often effected by scraping. In the story of Kahungunu we hear how two parties went forth ta dig fern-roots, ka tungia te ohu kari aruhe. Then one party set to work at digging up the roots, while the other set to at scraping the roots so obtained. The term aku is employed to describe this cleansing process. (Ka tae ki te wahi hei karinga ma raua ko te iwi o Kahu ki te koko, ko te iwi o Rakai ki te aku i tepei o te aruhe). Our Matatua friends apply the term titara aruhe to a rude elevated platform on which fern-roots were stacked between containing uprights; this for drying purposes. Such an erection is called a tireki in some districts. When dry the roots were packed in baskets or made into bundles, then placed in food-stores or in cooking-sheds, sometimes suspended; a bundle of such roots is called an aupatu aruhe.
The first breaking up of a tawaha aruhe was a more strenuous task than any succeeding digging. The heavy masses of earth overturned by means of using a number of ko or digging-sticks as levers,, were thoroughly broken up by the root pickers with their short ketu or kaheru, sharp-pointed wooden implements about 30ins. long, with a paddle-shaped blade. In some cases a smaller tool, the wauwau, round, and about 15ins. long, was used. This would mean that when the same area was dug over again the task would certainly be an easier one; the soil would be easier worked and there would page 80be far less foreign matter in the way of roots, etc., to deal with. When it came to carrying great bundles of these bracken roots on the back to the village home women were, as usual in such labours, loaded down to the Plimsoll mark.
In favourable soil good roots are found quite deep down. It was not unusual for a root digger to reset any small broken piece of root in the earth if it carried a young shoot. In some cases the roots obtained were sorted out to some extent, the best ones set apart for the benefit of the more influential persons of a family or group, and for visitors.
Certain formulae were chanted by our root-diggers as they worked; these may be termed tewha or work-songs, but they often contain an appeal for good luck in their task, a plentiful supply of roots, as in the following case:—
Taumaha te peka o tu aruhe
Te homai nei te whakawhiwhia mai
Te whakarawea mai ki te mata o tenei ko
I whiwhia, i rawea; homai taku aruhe.
A longer form of this chant runs as follows:—
Ko rua uri, ko rua tea, ko rua i te whatiwhati
Ko rua i te monamona, te peka o tu aruhe
Te homai nei te whakawhiwhia mai
Te whakarawea mai ki te mata o tenei kaheru
Oi whiwhia, oi rawea.
These effusions contain a request that the worker's spade may turn up an abundance of fern-roots.
Another brief song pertaining to our aruhe is the following one of the haka class, one that is known far and wide:—
He aha te kai e ora ai te tangata?
He pipi, he aruhe, ko te aka o tuwhenua
Ko te kai e ora ai te tangata
Matoetoe ana te arero i te mitikanga
Me he arero kuri—au!
Herein is asked: 'What is the food that will satisfy man? It is shellfish, and fern-root, such are the foods that satisfy man. The tongue is roughened like a dog's tongue by licking this food.'
There is little to add to the description of the very simple method of cooking the roots, save that only a few of the accounts recorded mention the scraping process after the roasting or heating at the fire, and prior to the beating or pounding of the root; the scraping removes the black, inedible bark-like outer substance of the root. The root was roasted in pieces a foot long, more or less, and then page 81scraped, usually with a shell. A curious expression is sometimes used in connection with first-class aruhe; it is alluded to as aruhe mokopuna, possibly because thoughtful, kindly offspring will select the best food for their elderly relatives; this, however, is merely a conjecture, and not a Maori pronouncement. A fine, pleasant day is sometimes spoken of as a ra mokopuna; the latter word denotes grandchildren and descendants.
Several early writers tell us that fern-roots were cooked in a steam oven (hangi, umu), but roasting or heating at an open fire was the approved method. When pounded it was sometimes steeped in the juice of the tutu fruit, of which we have spoken, and this is said to have much improved the taste of the fecula, which meal, according to Angas, 'has an earthy and rather medicinal flavour.' One writer states that roots stacked to dry were protected from rain, but exposed to wind. The Ngati Porou folk informed me that newly-dug roots were placed on an elevated platform, a stage (whata) and there left to dry without any protection from the elements, though another member of that tribe said that fern or fronds of tree-ferns were put over it. These, however, would be no protection from rain, but merely from the sun. When dry the roots were stowed away in a rua or storepit, and taken thence as required. When pounded thoroughly much of the kiri, skin or bark, would drop off. When a considerable quantity of the cooked root was required, one or more persons would attend to the roasting only; they would throw the roasted roots to others who attended to the pounding. When the cook decided to form the fecula into a kohere or cake, it was prepared by the removal of all the stringy fibre; these were pulled out after the roots had been well pounded, or the meal was stripped from the fibres with the fingers. A quantity of this meal would be formed into a cake by means of another thumping; if beaten while still warm the meal sticks together. The cake so formed would be again heated at an open fire, a bed of embers preferred, ere being eaten. If designed for future use such cakes were wrapped up in leaves of rangiora (Brachyglottis), packed in baskets and stowed in a pataka or elevated store-house. Kept so they became extremely hard; and, ere being eaten, they had to be heated at a fire and subjected to another pounding in order to soften them.
Fern-root was viewed as a strong, sustaining food, hence it was deemed excellent rations for workers, travellers, and fighting-men when engaged on their peculiar business. A cake of aruhe that had been steeped in juice of tuta berries was looked upon as a superior meal. This sustaining food is often alluded to as Te manawa nui a Whete, because it was the principal sustenance of that ancestor when page 82strenuous doings were toward; ere entering a fight he would endeavour to find time to consume a meal of komeke aruhe (syn. kohere), after which, we are told, he would get busy and perform prodigies of valour. The saying He manawa tē Una also refers to fern-root used as a food, and means 'a satisfied stomach'; aruhe is said to be a satisfying food. Another saying concerning our fern-root is: Ka or a karikari aruhe, ka mate tākiri hākā—The fern-root digger survives when the parrot-snarer is in sore straits—reminding us that the fowler can secure his food supply in one season only, whereas the root-digger can always find a meal. In another old saying: He mata kai rangi, kapa he mata kai aruhe—we read the meaning, 'He is a proper man, a person of note, not a commoner.' Of the following I have heard no explanation: He tohinga aruhe ki uta, he tohinga tamariki ki te moana. As to yet another: Te kawa i te titohea o te aruhe—herein a reference is made to the unpleasant taste of inferior roots.
The usual form of pounder or beater (patu aruhe) employed was a round wooden one with a suitable hand-grip. An old Ngati Porou man told me that those fashioned from the hard, heavy, densegrained wood of the maire (Olea spp.) were preferred, and added that some were made square in cross-section, the prominent edges being used to crush the root, after which a flat side was used to pound the fecula. These square patu may have represented a merely local usage; those in common use seem to have been round. One Waiapu man termed the pounder a takaukau, and added that, occasionally, a pounder was assigned a special name, possibly that of a forebear of the owner. These implements varied in length, about 12 ins. would be an average length. Another informant used the expression: Me takaukau noa iho te aruhe, which seemed to denote a hurried preparation of roots to be eaten at once. If fern-root alone served as a meal it is said to have had a constipating effect, hence a considerable quantity of water would be drunk with it. Paoi seems to be a northern name for a wooden fern-root pounder.
In the account of Sir G. Grey's journey to Taranaki in 1849-50 we find a description of the feeding of a number of travelling natives in the Taupo district: "A number of female slaves were seated near the fires in which the root was roasting, each of whom had a large smooth stone on the ground before her and a wooden mallet in her hand. The guests sat in a semi-circle in front of the slaves, and as fast as the latter could beat the root and throw it to the former, so fast did they demolish it."
Brunner made many meals off fern-root when exploring Westland, and he remarked on the native dish of fern-root steeped in a form page 83of gruel made with the sago-like farina obtained from the young cabbage-tree (Cordyline). Natives also ate honey with fern-root; the introduction of the honey-bee was a boon to the Maori, who is exceedingly fond of honey. In pre-bee days the honey or nectar obtained from Phormium blossoms was used in like manner, to add a relish to fern-root meal. See no 4 of our Addenda, wherein we see how South Island natives appreciated this dainty. We are told that men and women went forth in the seventh month of the Maori year and collected the honey from the blossoms of the Phormium (harakeke, korari) in bowls, which honey they seem to have mixed with the sago-like meal of Cordyline australis, and also with aruhe, the latter being steeped in the nectar; hence the remark: Ka rawe koe, e te wai o te korari, hei puru mo te aruhe.
In No. 5 of the Addenda we have a South Island narrative concerning the procuring and treatment of these fern-roots. Whole families proceeded to the digging-ground to procure aruhe; men, women and children went together after the manner Maori. The better kind of fern-root was not found at places where young Cordyline were obtained; the two did not grow together. The work commenced in the autumn, and was discontinued in the sixth month of the Maori year (November). The digging season seems to have differed from that of the North Island. The roots were spread out and left to dry; when dry they were conveyed to the village-home, be it fortified or otherwise. There it was stacked on stages, elevated platforms; when required it was soaked in water, then spread out again to dry, then roasted and pounded with a wooden beater. These beaters were carefully fashioned, and designs were sometimes carved on the hand-grip. The anvil used was a smooth stone of the kind called karā; when roasted the roots were pounded on that stone. There might be twenty such stones round a cooking fire, and at each stone a person would pound roots until as much as was required had been treated.
Another way in which aruhe was treated consisted of packing it in baskets and placing those baskets under water. Such steeping-places were carefully made, much in the same way as they were for steeping maize, and in such pits the roots might remain for two, or even three, years. When folk desired to partake of these water-soaked roots, then some would be procured and dried, roasted, pounded, and so eaten by traveller-guests and the local people. This was a universal food of the Maori all over the two islands of Aotearoa and the Waipounamu, and it was procured every year, the work commencing in April and ending with October, for by that time all forms of growth are flourishing and young shoots had sprung from the page 84fern-roots, so the digging ceased. It takes four days to dry immature fern-root, but matured roots are dried in one day, and are then thrust into baskets, conveyed to the village and placed on elevated platforms. Strong persons were selected for the task of carrying the loads of roots to the village. In some cases they were carried to a river, if the digging ground chanced to be near such, and there placed in canoes. They would not be all conveyed in one trip, but the canoes would return, perhaps four or five times in a month. Such are the notes of my South Island friend on this important Maori food-supply.
An old sage of Taranaki has left us a statement to the effect that the fern-root obtained on the sea-coast is inferior to that of inland areas, in that the former is more fibrous. He remarked that the best kinds were those known as paranui, puahou, and pawhati. I have never quite grasped the utility of having so many different names for the roots of one species of plant. Certainly a number of the names are applied to superior kinds, those found in suitable soil, and others are applied to inferior kinds; also names differ to some extent in different districts, but the differences said to exist in some cases were never quite grasped by the dull mind of the writer.
The young shoots of Pteris were occasionally cooked and eaten, but they do not make a toothsome dish; the young, circinate fronds of Asplenium bulbiferum are much better liked. In former times considerable quantities of dried fern-root, fish, shell-fish, etc., were kept stored in the fortified villages of the Maori, all this in case of a sudden attack by raiding enemies. Crozet (1772) gives a good account of a store-house seen by him in the north, wherein were stored many dried food-products, as well as vessels full of water. All dried foods seem to be included in the term pakapaka, and a whata pakapaka is a store-house in which such foods are kept. A curious old saying runs thus: Ka riri tangata i te whata pakapaka ki te upoko papdroa i te waru — a thoughtful conserver of food-supplies despises the improvident. Another such saying is: Mau, ma te mangere taku tamaiti, ma te tangata ra i te pupu paka taku tamaiti, kia taea ai te riri nga ra roroa o te waru. (Is my child to be for an indolent person like you? nay, my child is for the industrious man, he who has a full food store, so that she may combat the long days of the eighth month.) These sayings are in praise of industry, and condemn indolence. A man who lays up a plentiful supply of dried foods will not run short in the days of the waru, or eighth month, i.e, mid-summer, when food is scarce.
Another is: Ka moe wharoro tangata i te whata pakapaka, ka moe hupeke tangata kaore āna whata pakapaka. Herein we are assured that the man who possesses a storehouse filled with dried food products page 85can stretch out his legs and sleep in comfort, but he who has no such store of food on hand sleeps in a huddled up manner.
Again, we encounter the following quaint saying: Ka kuhu tangata kaore ana whata pakapaka i ona ringa ki tona poho, tona mutunga he whanako, tona mate he whakama. (The man who possesses no store of dried foods thrusts his hands into his stomach [draws in his belt], the result will be pilfering, his affliction will be shame.)
When Hahore and his young folk were busily engaged one day in digging fern-roots, they were assisted by some persons who had insulted his two daughters; hence, at his word of command, his people suddenly attacked and slew those persons. In a moment they ceased digging and turned to fighting, then recommenced their digging. This quick-change experience is now embodied in the saying: Kari tu, kari noho te uri a Hahore. Fighting or digging, it was all one to them.
Places where edible fern-roots grew were prized and carefully preserved; if considered necessary such places would be protected by a rahui ordinance. At Ureta and Whakapapa-taringa, on the Paeroa block, two such embargoes were instituted in order to preserve fern-root grounds, ochre-deposits, and groves of superior flax (Phormium). One tawaha aruhe at Waiotapu was so protected by a most efficacious rahui, the edict being emphasized by exposing on a pole the head of one Koroua, who had been slain at Otaketake.
In Forster's observations made during Cook's second voyage occur the following remarks anent the foresight of the Maori: "... they have prudence enough to provide in the proper season stores of all kinds; when they catch more fish than they can eat, they carefully dry, and lay them up; their women go frequently up the hills, which are covered to an immense extent with fern, and dig up the roots, which they likewise dry, and preserve as a food to which they may have recourse, when neither fish nor any other kind of eatables are to be procured. We saw great quantities of these provisions in their huts, and frequently found them employed in preparing both fish and fern-roots, for the bad season. We were likewise told by Captain Crozet …. that… . . he found immense stores of dry fish, fern-roots, and other roots, in houses filled solely with these provisions."
We have scanned the old myth of bracken having been brought to these isles by one Kupe in olden times. There is a similar story to account for the plant at the Chatham Islands. When, long centuries ago, Kahu made his voyage from the shores of Cook Strait to the Chathams, he took with him, we are told, roots of three kinds of aruhe, the mapara, paranui, and pawhati. These were care-page 86fully packed in gourd-vessels containing pulverized decayed wood, and, on the Omutu night of the lunar month of Akaaka-nui, Kahu sailed out of the sea of Raukawa to seek a new home across the ocean. He made his landfall at the Chathams, and the fern-roots are said to have been planted at a place named Tongariro. The roots so taken hence by Kahu are said to have been aka pitau, that is the younger ones that produce shoots (pitau) and so send up fronds. The vessel of Kahu was named Tanewai, and the migrants landed at a place they named Kaingaroa after the Kaingaroa plains in their New Zealand homeland. This is a Singular tale. Kahu was a resident of the Bay of Plenty coast and set forth from there to seek a new home. It was not until he was approaching the sea of Raukawa, or Cook Strait, that he decided to seek that home overseas, yet when at Pouakani, near Taupo, he packed up some good specimens of aruhe to take with him on his journey, apparently for planting purposes, for the young aka pitau would not have been selected as a food-supply; mature roots would have been taken. This in a land that produced Pteridium acquilinum in wondrous abundance. The original text is interesting:—
Na, i te wa i noho ra [a Kahu] i Pouakani, i Taupo ra, ka kitea te pai o te aruhe o reira, te kore kaka, he aruhe ma tonu a roto. Ka haere mai ra te heke o Kahu ka mauria mai taua aruhe i roto i te taha hue nei, he maha nga akaaka i mauria mai … . . Ko te aruhe a Kahu i tiria ai ka tapaia ko Tongariro, ara ko te aka pitau a Kahu, waiho tonu iho hei ingoa mo taua wahi a Tongariro, ka kiia ko te aruhe a Kahu.