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Forest Lore of the Maori

Miscellaneous Small Berries

Miscellaneous Small Berries

Some of the berries eaten by the Maori are so small that the collection of them must have been a tedious task; this applies to the fruit of the kahikatea, matai, rimu, and totara (Podocarpus dacrydioides, P. spicatus, Dacrydium cupressinum and Podocarpus totara, and yet in some places the berries of the first three trees mentioned were collected in considerable quantities. Perhaps those of white pine (P. dacrydioides) were the most used; in Bidwill's Rambles in New Zealand (1841) occurs the following remarks on koroī, as the berries of this tree are called: "The people brought large baskets full of the berries of the kaikatora [kahikatea], (Dacrydium excelsum) for sale… These berries are very like those of the yew, but not slimy; page 54they are good tasted, and form a great part of the food of the natives during the season in those places where the trees are abundant; they are produced in such quantities as to give the trees a scarlet appearance." These remarks referred to a place in the Thames district; the scientific name of the tree given by Bidwill has long been abandoned. In the New Zealand Journal of November 26, 1842, appeared some account of a native feast held at Matamata whereat, in addition to 136 pigs and some other trifles, 60 baskets of white-pine berries were included among the comestibles. These trees provided much food for birds, and a fruituful season was marked by the congregating of great flocks of birds, especially pigeons, at the kahikatea forests, for this species is of a gregarious habit and is found forming dense woods to the exclusion of other forest trees. In the 'seventies, during fruitful seasons, large numbers of pigeons could be seen in, and hovering over, the white pine bushes of the Waipaoa valley, Gisborne district.

Baskets used by collectors of these small berries were often attached in an open manner to two branches, so that pickers might just drop or throw berries into them; such baskets were alluded to as kete tahora kahika, kete tahora matai, etc., according to the species of berry being collected; the word tahora means, 'to gather'.

In olden times natives ascended the trees, provided with baskets, and gathered the berries, then lowered the filled baskets to the ground by means of cords. These were detached by assistants and replaced with empty ones to be hauled up by the daring tree-climbers. The task was a highly dangerous one, but the fowlers of Maoriland were assuredly expert at tree-climbing. The berries of the trees mentioned were washed in order to get rid of stalks or other debris, and were eaten, I was told, without any form of cooking. In 1864, when British troops were beseiging the pa of the hostile natives at Orakau, the food-supply of the beseiged was short, and consisted almost solely of raw pumpkins. Some active young men managed to slip through the investing lines under cover of darkness in an attempt to secure some koroi, but they were detected by the soldiers, and so discouraged. Williams gives matawhanaunga as the name of the black seed of the berries of the white pine and rimu; also huarangi as the fruit of the rimu; possibly the latter term is not generally known, for I have often heard natives referring to the berries simply as hua rimu (rimu fruit).

Other small berries, such as were eaten by children but can scarcely be said to form a serious part of the food-supply were those of the poroporo (Solanum aviculare), konini (Fuchsia excorticata), kareao (Rhipogonum scandens), whawhakou (Eugenia maire), page 55kawakawa (Macropiper excelsum), tapia (Tupeia antarctica), and a few other still more insignificant, such as the small berries of the tataramoa (Rubus australis) Coprosrna, Myrtus, etc. The first mention of our local supplejack (kareao, karewao, pirita) occurs in the earliest printed account of Cook's first voyage, printed by Becket and De Hondt, of London, in 1771, and published anonymously. In Cook's account of his second voyage he states that: "In many parts the woods are so over-run with supple-jacks that it is scarcely possible to force one's way amongst them. I have seen several which were fifty or sixty fathoms long." These, we must admit, were fairly healthy kareao. The stems of this climber were used by the Maori for the manufacture of crayfish pots and creels, the latter known as toi and toiki, the former as taruke and pouraka.

Another plant, the kiekie (Freycinetia Banksii), provided two luxuries for the Maori, the fruit (ureure, teure, pirori, tirori, patangatanga), and also the fleshly bracts surrounding the spadix, and known as tawhara, these were considered quite a dainty; they are sweet and have a peculiar flavour. An old saying is He wha tawhara ki wa, he kiko tamure ki tai. The edible flower bracts of the kiekie of the land, and the flesh of the schnapper of the sea (are both prized foods). The Maori is much given to such distichous sayings as this. A South Island native applied the name of tarapapa to the flower of the kiekie. See Te Hekenga, pp. 58-59 for remarks on two different forms of kiekie, possibly male and female plants are referred to. Angas compared the taste of tawhara to that of a rich and juicy pear, with an aromatic flavour resembling vanilla; yet some of us prefer the pear, though Dr. A. S. Thomson styled the kiekie our 'finest indigenous fruit.' The Maori were wont to bind the uppermost leaves over the bracts and fruit in order to protect these edible parts from rats, etc. Rats are very fond of tawhara.