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Forest Lore of the Maori

Bark and its Uses

Bark and its Uses

Owing to the lack of metal tools and pottery the Maori made much use of bark in his hut-building, and also for domestic vessels. For these purposes, as a rule, the bark of two species was utilized: that of totara (Podocarpus totara), and manuka (Leptospermum ericoides), occasionally another species was resorted to when bark vessels were required, and no totara bark was procurable. Small vessels to contain water were occasionally fashioned from the bark of the mako (Aristotelia racemosa) or houhou (Nothopanax arboreum), but these soon became useless, as also did those made of Phormium leaves. The Taupo natives utilized the bark of tanekaha ( Phyllocladus trichomanoides), and one hears of that of hinau being used for the purpose. W.B[aucke] in his Where the White Man Treads, mentions both hinau and miro bark as having been employed; that of the hinau (Elaeocarpus dentatus) is a fibrous bark, tough and strong, that of the miro (Podocarpus ferrugineus) is much less fibrous and so probably superior to the other for the above purpose. I am doubtful about the Maori barking and destroying any miro tree that provided food for birds, they were highiy prized; possibly they selected for barking the toa, as he calls them, male trees that did not bear fruit.

We have two names of bark-vessels to consider, viz., patua and papa totara; the Tuhoe folk applied the former term to a bark vessel used as a water Container, and the latter to one used for potting food supplies in, as birds and rats. Apparently, in many places the two names are applied to both forms. A papa containing such food-supplies preserved in fat is alluded to as a papa huahua, the latter word describing the contents. The general terms in Maori for bark are kiri, hiako, peha, tapeha, while torokiri is perhaps not so widely-embracing a term. I was informed that papakiri is a term used to such scaling barks as those of divers species of Podocarpus, matai, kahika, and miro, also that of rimu (Dacrydium cupressinum). Kiri kowae describes such bark as that of manuka and totara, loose and easily stripped off, while kiri amoko one occasionally hears applied to the outer bark of the same two species. In some districts the outer bark of the male tree of totara is termed tuanui, and the tree is called karaka, the inner bark is kiri. The female (uwha, kouwha) totarapage 104is styled kotukutuku, because its thinner bark reminds the Maori of that of the native fuchsia, the name of which is kotukutuku; these names are used among the Matatua folk. Of such trees as the totara, miro, etc., the Maori says: Ko nga rakau kouwha anake e hua ana" (Only the female trees produce fruit). The term rangiura is applied to the useful inner bark of totara, such as was used for making domestic vessels; bark canoes were unknown here. At the same time the name seems to have also been applied to manuka bark (possibly to all stringy barks); in a recital given by a reliable man many years ago, he referred to rangiura totara, rangiura kahikatoa, nikau, etc., as roof-covering materials. The Whanganui natives State that the totara kotukutuku is the tree most approved of by canoe makers, apparently because it is not so straight-grained and free-splitting (he ahua mingi no te kotukutuku, a ka kiia he taipawa taua ahua). This name, I was told, refers in that district to the raunui or large-leafed tree, which is presumably P. Halli. Bark was sometimes termed te kiri o Tane, the skin or bark of Tane.

In high-lying districts, where totara was scarce or absent, the manuka bark (bark of L. ericoides) was valued as a roofing material. It is easy to obtain, for it strips off easily and in long lengths; as a roofing material it is much superior to thatch on account of its superior durability. The trunks of these trees, when situated in light bush, are often straight-boled and straight-grained, hence the timber was valued for the manufacture of implements, it being hard and strong. For these reasons the tree was held to be a very desirable possession, and woe betide any person found taking bark from a tree growing on land to which he had no claim.

The large-sized bark-vessels were often used as water-vessels in olden days, especially for storing water in hill-forts wherein no water-supply existed. These would be filled by means of carrying water in gourd vessels from the water supply outside the defences. If water had to be carried in a patua it was done by lashing a pole across the top of the vessel, secured to the upright pieces at the end, and the load was shouldered by two men. It is interesting to note that certain tribes of southern India make bark baskets of the precise form of the Maori artifact, and a very peculiar form it is. As to whether or not the same form is found in any other part of the Pacific I cannot say. In one native tradition we are told that when the ancestor of the Maori reached this land he fashioned bark and wooden vessels here, but there is no proof that he made such bark artifacts ere he came here.

The making of a patua has already been recorded in vol. 37 of the Journal of the Polynesian Society, and the process need not be page 105redescribed here; as a rule the material used was the inner bark (rangiura) of the totara. Concerning the stripping of a rectangular sheet of bark from a young tree wherefrom to fashion a patua, the bark was vigourously pounded with a heavy club first in order to loosen it somewhat, and so facilitate removal. Williams gives three words connected with this process. Whakapfakoko is said to mean 'to loosen the bark of a tree by beating,' and whakatakoko means 'to peel off,' as the bark of a tree, but paopao is said to mean to strip off by beating. Beating does facilitate the stripping off of the bark, as many of us know, but it must not be thought that beating alone enables one to remove the bark, that act demands careful manipulation in order to avoid flaws in the sheet. The bending of the bark sheet without injury thereto was rendered possible by heating it at a glowing fire. When a bark vessel was filled with game preserved in fat, a cover of bark was fitted carefully over the contents. The illustration in the above-mentioned work shows how the bark sheet was bent, drawn up, and secured, also how the horizontal hand-grip was affixed. When birds were potted in such a vessel the species were not mixed, and Mr. Downes teils us that the species contained in such a vessel was, in the Whanganui district, indicated by attaching feathers of such species to the two projections (poitu). In some districts a piece was cut out of either end of the sheet of bark ere bending operations began. Should any aperture or flaw be observed it was luted with vegetable gum or clay. These bark vessels were sometimes used in the peculiar process known as huahua and kohua or stone-boiling.

When Kahu made his memorable voyage to the Chatham Islands, his daughter Hine-te-waiwai had Charge of two vessels, one of which contained edible roots of the common Pteris or bracken, and the other seed-kumara and taro. The former vessel was named Te Awhenga, and the latter, apapa totara, was called Rangiura, which, said the reciter of this tale, is the bark of the totara when bent up, and so the saying: Ko te rangiura a Hine-te-waiwai is yet used in connection with such bark vessels.

The barks of the hinau, pokaka (Elaeocarpus dentatus and E. Hookerianus, and tanekaha were used by the Maori in his fibredyeing operations. Ropes made by twisting or plaiting the tough, pliant bark of the houhi (Hoheria populnea) were secured to the great seines formerly made by the Maori; this bark was also occasionally used for some other purposes. Old natives have told us that, in times long past, their ancestors endeavoured to make felted bark cloth from this material by the beating process which produced the tapa of Polynesia. The fine, thin inner bark is termed repehina in page 106some districts, a material used for bandages and other purposes. On rare occasions the Maori may have utilized barks to make rude capes,. or storm-coats, even as we lowly ones have often used a gunny-sack. When Angas was travelling in the interior of the North Island in the 'forties he saw a native wearing "a small black mat made from the fibrous bark of a tree, and dyed with hinau. It was the only one of the kind I remember to have seen in the country." It is just possible that Angas mistook the extremely coarse cape made from leaves of Cordyline indivisa for bark fibre. When Brunner was exploring Westland in 1848 he was accompanied by a useful native named Kehu, of whom he wrote on May 30, 1848: "Ekehu made a water-proof covering of the bark of the manuka, which allowed him to venture out in spite of the rain.

Two informants have contributed notes as to bark being used in the making of eel-pots, such pots were simply hollow cylinders, one end of which would be closed by a wattled lid, and at the other a funnel-like entrance would be inserted and secured.

The Maori has a peculiar feeling toward the totara tree, so prized by him because, in most parts, it was the most useful. It has a Special mythical origin assigned to it, and is spoken of as the principal member of what he terms the Company of superior or lordly trees (rakau rangatira), and so we have such sayings as the following: Na wai te puia hinahina i ki hei tu i tuatea moana; tena ra te wao totara mana e tu tuatea moana. Who said that the hinahina should provide vessels to brave the ocean surge; there is the totara forest to ride the angry billows. Here we have a contemptuous reference to inferior timber, as represented by the hinahina (Melicytus ramiflorus), an almost useless wood that quickly perishes. The Maori also remembered how much back-breaking toil canoes saved him, as exemplified in a remark made by Tamaoa of Wairarapa, who, wearied by the long task of carrying food supplies to Te Iringa, said to his people: Tenei ka haere ki roto ki Ruamahanga ki te tuara totara hei waha i te kawenga. I am now going up the Ruamahanga river to seek a totara back to carry the burdens. Human backs had wearied of the task, let a wooden back take it up, and so a canoe was made. The folk of the vale of Gleaming Waters have now ceased to rely on the 'wooden backs,' inasmuch as the motor-car has arrived.

Our friend Tamaoa went into the forest to seek a suitable tree, for the best-working timber is found within a forest, not on its borders. Even so the Maori says that a chief's proper place is in the midst of his people, thus will he retain and uphold the mana of the tribe, even to its outer bounds, and so our Maori quotes another page 107old saying: E kore te totara e tu noa ki te parae, engari me tu ki roto i te wao. A totara tree is not found growing out in open country, but in the heart of the forest. Lastly, it was a sad misfortune when, after long-continued toil with stone tools and fire, a totara was broken or split when it feil, and so we have the saying: Te totara wahi rua he aitua, kia kotahi he waimarie. A totara split in fauing represents a misfortune, one that remains whole betokens good luck. Yet another wise saw of old runs as follows: He iti kahikatoa pakaru rikiriki te totara. By means of small hardwood wedges the great totara is split into small pieces.

Another saying connected with trees is of commendable briefness and meaning: He piko rakau e taea te titiro, tena he piko ngakau e kore e kitea. A tree bend may be seen, a moral or mental kink cannot be seen. Another is: Rurea taitea, kia tu ko taikaka anake. Reject the sap and preserve only heart-wood. All such sayings were frequently quoted by Maori Speakers, who had a great liking for proverbial expressions, aphorisms, similes, etc. If a commoner expressed disbelief in some Statement made by a man of influence, the latter might say: Kaua e whakateka te pae tahi ki te pae wha. Let not the Single span reflect on the four span; let not a tree of but one arm span in circumference cast reflections upon one four spans round. This remark, made by one Haunui, has become a household word; the answer to it, made by a Maungapohatu native, is almost as good: Ahakoa to nui, he nui puwhawha. Notwithstanding your bigness yet is it the bigness of decay, i.e., although you are big it is a decaying bigness. The word puwhawha denotes a peculiar condition of timber, a dry, lifeless brash condition that precedes decay; komako apparently denotes a somewhat similar condition.

We cannot be surprised at the Maori comparing a person of importance to a big tree, a well-grown tree of superior size is a fine, majestic sight. I have before me an illustration of a kauri pine 49ft. in girth, apae warn, or eight span tree. In 1857 the late Mr. S. Percy Smith saw and measured a huge rata tree that he found on the head waters of the Waiwhakaiho, Tararaki; it was 68ft. in circumference; the largest seen by the present writer was about 48ft. J. C. Bidwill, he who described the rimu as the most beautiful tree in the world when young, speaks or seeing a tree 37ft. in circumference that was probably a pukatea. The flower of the rata is termed kahika by the Matatua folk; it is also known as the kanohi o Tawhaki, the origin of which name is to be found in the myth of Tawhaki, for which see vol. 37 of The Journal of the Polynesian Society, p. 359, also Transactions of the N.Z. Institute, vol. 40, p. 222.