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Forest Lore of the Maori


page 49


(Coriaria ruscifolia). This well-known shrub or small tree is also known as tūpākihi, puhou and tāweku; as a rule the term shrub is applicable, but I have seen specimens with a short trunk well over a foot in diameter, and tall enough to be termed small trees. The tutu was valued by the Maori on account of the use he made of its fruit, hence it was considered an affront if any person took fruit from shrubs growing on land in which he had no right of ownership; such an offence might lead to quite a serious affray. In some places a considerable number of these shrubs are seen growing on quite a small area, and such uru tutu might receive a special name, as did one called Uru-takohekohe, at Ohae, Ruatoki, which was strictly rahuitia or preserved in former times, such protection being for the period of the fruiting season. This rahui would be imposed by the principal owner, whose mana or prestige would cause the interdiction to be respected. It is an interesting fact that, at least in some districts, it was held to be a very unlucky act to break off branches of tutu, such an act would at least bring on a heavy downpour of rain. By means of teaching such absurd beliefs did the Maori of old hold young folk in check and preserve his tutu shrubs, etc., from destruction.

The ripe berries of this shrub were widely used, and the part so used was the pulp, the small seeds being rejected on account of their poisonous properties, this meant that the berries had to be crushed and strained. The desired liquid so obtained is, so far as appearance goes, just what would be expected from ripe elderberries if subjected to a like process. Several early writers compare tutu fruit with elderberries. Nicholas remarks that the juice afforded a delicious treat to the natives, and it is gratifying to know that the Maori of 1815 was so easily pleased. Colenso also describes it as a pleasant juice, but Wakefield will have none of such pleasantness, and terms it a sickly beverage. The Beagle folk were regaled with what they termed wine expressed by natives from tutu berries at the Bay of Islands in 1835. Taylor tells us that 'a pleasant wine is manufactured from the fruit,' but that may have been made by the missionaries. Dr. Bennett tells us that the brotherhood of Paihia made such wine. Travellers seem to have used the juice of the berry as a beverage; Shortland speaks of seeing a travelling Maori collecting, crushing, and straining the ripe berries; this was in the South Island. Polack was about to eat some of the ripe berries when travelling in the north, but was warned by his native companions of the danger should he swallow any of the seeds. Later he did swallow some and passed a very page 50unhappy time in consequence; he was compelled to resort to 'powerful antidotes.'

The gathering of tutu berries was often performed by a considerable number of persons. In some coastal districts we are told that the amount of juice in the berries varies with the state of the tide; it is most plentiful at flood tide and ebbs with the receding tide, hence berry-pickers would endeavour to gather berries to supply their wants at the most propitious time. When a considerable quantity of berries was to be strained a peculiar form of plaited container was often employed, a basket-like fabric. The berries were crushed after being placed in this receptacle (kopa) and then squeezed by means of compressing and twisting the containing bag-like form of basket. This was done over a framework under which were arranged a number of the panicles of the toetoe (Arundo conspicua); the expressed juice trickled through these, but they retained the deleterious seeds of the berries. These panicles were arranged within a conical form of plaited basket called a pu tutu, the small lower end of which was inserted in, or suspended over, a vessel to receive the expressed juice. It was in this manner that the Maori disposed of the poisonous seeds called huarua by the Matatua folk. The pu tutu was suspended to the framework of sticks mentioned above, and the bag-like fabric containing the mass of berries was twisted by two persons, one standing on either side of the frame. These operators held the ends of the bag firmly, and, twisting in opposite directions, brought a considerable amount of pressure to bear on the contents. The small form of pu tutu above seems to have been used when dealing with small quantities of berries, which latter were crushed in the hands; it was not considered necessary to first wash those hands. The pu tutu was also known as a koheke; kopa is the long form of bag twisted in order to express juice or oil; it is also known as a ngehingehi, a tawiri, a putoro and kopua. It was often a long, comparatively narrow, plaited bag of lobster-like form, each end terminating in a stout cord. The operators would often secure a stout rod at either end of the kopua, and these served as handles or hand-holds by means of which much greater pressure on the bag was obtained. These hand-grips were quite necessary when dealing with titoki berries. A kopae tutu was a plaited bag-like receptacle for tutu berries distended by means of a hoop; this was used by gatherers of the fruit.

Another method sometimes followed was to place the ripe berries in a bowl and therein crush them by hand, the contents of the bowl were then poured into a funnel-shaped pu tutu made of narrow strips of Cordyline leaf and lined with the aforesaid toetoe panicles. page 51The juice, freed from its seeds, would be put in a gourd vessel, where it gradually became less liquid, and much of it would be resolved into a somewhat thin jelly. One contributor states that gourd vessels full of the juice were sometimes placed in small pits and left there until it became fermented (toroī), whereupon a gourd full would be emptied into a bowl. Coast-dwelling tribes were wont to steep in this tutu juice pieces of an edible species of seaweed. After this had remained for some time in the bowl then both were eaten together. In Crawford's account of his travels he speaks of reaching a place on the Whanganui river called Te Rimurimu, and remarks: "Here the Maoris eat a dish of tutu thickened with seaweed and with kumara [sweet potato] immersed in it." The New Zealand Journal of September 9, 1848, tells the world that missionaries 'make a wine from the fruit,' and that the wine resembles our elderberry wine; also that 'the wine, when boiled with rimu, or seaweed, forms a jelly which is very palatable'; but this boiling formed no part of the Maori process, nor have I heard any native state that it was even heated with hot stones. Certainly since the Maori obtained European utensils he has taken readily to boiling methods, but I am not writing of the modern Maori.

Aruhe or fern-root was another comestible that was deposited in the tutu juice or jelly in order that it might acquire an appreciated flavour. This usage demanded the proper treatment of the roots of the fern (Pteridium aquilinum), which were heated on embers, then scraped and pounded with a wooden club on a stone anvil, after which the fibres were picked out of the starchy meal, and it was formed into cakes and subjected to another roasting before a fire, then immersed in the tutu juice or jelly. Colenso tells us that the Maori put a thick succulent fucus into the juice in order to give it consistency, but presumably the fern-root fecula or meal would not have a like effect.

Another brief account that I collected many years ago gives much the same explanation of old methods: The ripe berries were collected in baskets (kono). These were taken to the village, and the contents poured into a putoro, which was twisted in order to express the juice from the berries. This juice was kept in gourd vessels, and in colour resembled port wine; it was an excellent thing to steep fern roots in. When people were partaking of it, one might remark: "How excellent are the foods ripened by Rehua." This Rehua represents the heat of summer, and so is viewed as the ripener of fruits, even as he causes the feeling of lassitude that comes to all creatures during the heat of summer. Hence the Maori says that page 52all fruits ripen, all plants flower through the influence of Rehua. See No. 2 of Addenda for the Maori text of this note.

But the most peculiar item concerning our tutu beverage or food is one recorded by the Rev. J. Buller. He states that the juice 'affords a refreshing beverage' and: 'A funnel was made of flax leaves, the end of it placed in the orifice of a large calabash; it was filled with the berries, which were covered with a layer of fern; and the women, holding on to a pole, stamped out the juice with their feet.' Here we are—berries, pole, fourteen-stone women and trampling all in a suspended flax-leaf pu tutu! However, this was the writer who made the old-time Maori boil his sweet potatoes before he dried them.

Early journals state that a blue or bluish-black dye is obtainable from the tutu, but the Maori does not seem to have made use of this dye in his weaving activities. Mr. Hughes, in his paper on the tutu, remarks that the dye is '…. . superior to that of logwood, inasmuch as it is pure. Woollen materials take it readily and well, silk is not so easily affected, and linen takes more time…. The colours were pure, from a neutral grey to a deep black.'

As to methods adopted by the Maori in cases of tutu poisoning, I was informed that a sufferer was placed bodily in cold water and allowed to remain there for some time. In late times salt and water has been administered as an emetic, and one friend of the writer relied on soul-searching doses of Mr. Davis's superfine Painkiller. Shortland reports that the head of the immersed person was kept below water until he was nearly drowned, then he was hauled out and vigorously rolled in order to induce vomitting. One authority states that the patient was gagged, and that, after his immersion in water he was held, head downward, in the smoke of a smothered fire; this often relieved him of his poison, and he was then allowed to recover. The same measures are said to have been taken in cases of bites inflicted by the poisonous katipo.

The Rev. W. R. Wade, a traveller of 1838, explains that among the natives tutu berries were squeezed by hands none of the cleanest, and that the seeds were carefully rejected, as they produce a degree of intoxication approaching to raving madness. It took three or four strong natives to hold a white man who had imprudently eaten some of the berries. Of this berry we are told in Cheeseman's Manual of the New Zealand Flora: "The poisonous principle appears to be a glucoside, to which the name 'tutin' has been applied." Dr. Shortland seemed to believe that the seeds of tutu are not harmful, but that the poisonous substance is in the fruit stalk; this information he obtained from natives. Dr. R. G. Jameson, in his work on New Zealand, describes the symptoms in a case of poisoning: "The page 53symptoms resembled those caused by an over-dose of opium, affecting the nervous and muscular systems, and producing coma, or insensibility, with partial paralysis, and convulsive twitches of the limbs." In the case he saw, an emetic saved a child's life.

Taylor tells us, in his New Zealand and its Inhabitants, that the tutu produces a large droop of currant-like fruit with seeds outside; we had thought that this reprehensible habit of wearing seeds outside was confined to titoki berries. This writer also states that the 'seeds and foot-stalks' are highly poisonous, hence they are carefully strained off; Williams gives the expression kaikaha tutu as describing this refuse.

Tutu bushes often present a striking appearance when bearing large quantities of ripe and black berries. At such a time one hears an old saying: Me te whata raparapa tuna e iri mai ana te tutu. Herein the many clusters of black berries are compared to rows of black, dried eels hanging from a scaffold. Tapia, hōnā, and kahoho berries were also eaten. (Tupeia antarctica, Fuchsia excorticator, and Solanum aviculare), also those of Astelia and of the rohutu, a Myrtus.

One of the species of seaweed formerly eaten by the Maori is known to them as karengo, which according to Williams, is a species of Laminaria. It was collected at a certain time, dried, and so preserved for future use. One gave rehia as the name of another edible seaweed, a name that I have heard applied to a species of marine grass (Zostera). Another edible seaweed is known as koiri. Gifts of mataitai, a term that includes all food-supplies obtained from the sea, were extremely welcome to natives dwelling in the interior, at the same time we have no evidence to show that such folk had any pronounced craving for salt. Crozet noted that the natives of the Bay of Islands shewed no partiality for salt.