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Forest Lore of the Maori

Various Oils and Gums

Various Oils and Gums

As to the shark-oil mentioned above, in some cases the livers were cut up and placed in gourd-vessels, when hot stones were placed on them to cause the oil to run. Another mode of rendering was to place the livers in the stomach of a shark, and then place heated stones on or among the pieces to extract the oil. Yet another was to place the liver in a funnel-shaped bag made of green Phormium leaves; this was suspended and hot stones were again used, the oil being caught in a gourd-vessel placed below the dripping bag.

The Maori also obtained oil from the climbing plant (Tetrapathaea tetrandra), known as kohia and kahia to the Maori, well known to us by its glossy foliage and yellow fruit (sometimes called oranges by children). Of this berry the Rev. R. Taylor wrote: "The pulp is eaten, and a fragrant oil expressed from the seeds, which is highly valued by the armourer." This may be so, but the fragrance was probably imparted to the oil as it was in the case of titoki oil. The seeds were crushed and then steamed in an umu-kohia, and the oil (hinu kohia) obtained by pressure. Oil was also expressed page 61from berries of the miro (Podocarpus ferrugineus) occasionally, but we hear little of it. The natives of Waiapu explained that their forebears obtained a fine toilet oil from the seeds of the puhaiireroa (or parapara, Pisonia brunoniana); the seeds were steamed, pounded and pressed as in the case of titoki seeds. This is the tree often termed 'the bird-catching tree,' of which we read in Cheeseman's Flora that: "The fruits are so excessively viscid that small birds, such as the white-eye (Zosterops) and fan-tail (Rhipidura), are often caught and glued down by the feathers, and fail to free themselves." Pisonia excelsa of Sumatra holds the same bird-catching reputation, as seen at p. 378 of Fairchild's Exploring for Plants: "The most curious tree …. was the bird-catching tree Pisonia excelsa, whose fruits are covered with a gum that is as sticky as glue. Small birds that alight on it when the fruits are ripe get their wings so glued together that they cannot fly, and often fall to the ground below."

Connected with vegetable-oils in the Maori mind are vegetablegums; such gums are termed pia and ware, and a number of such substances were used when it was desired to render hair oil fragrant, and in making certain pomades, using pigeon-fat, or some other form, for a basis. These gums were obtained from the following plants:—

  • Tarata—Pittosporum eugenioides.
  • Rautawhiri—Pittosporum tenuifolium.
  • Taramea—Aciphylla Colensoi and A. squarrosa.
  • Koheriki—Melicope ternata.
  • Rangiora—Brachyglottis repanda.
  • Kohia—Tetrapathaea tetrandra.
  • Manuka—Leptospermum.

The gum (kapia) of the kauri (Agathis australis) was not used for the above-mentioned purpose, so far as I am aware, but it was used in other ways. The new kauri gum was used as a masticatory, and pieces of old gum were burned in order to furnish soot for making tattooing pigment; torch makers also used it, inserting pieces among the materials of which the torch was composed.

Cheeseman's Manual of New Zealand Flora states that the flowers of the tarata are highly fragrant, and were formerly mixed by the Maoris with fat and used for anointing their bodies. Quite possibly the flowers were so utilized, yet all old natives with whom I discussed the matter stated that it was a gumlike exudation from the trunk that was so used, and made no mention of the flowers. Taylor also states that it was the 'resin' of the tree that was so used. This pia tarata, as it was termed, was obtained by wounding the tree; short vertical grooves were formed in the trunk, and ere long a gum-like page 62substance oozes from the trunk to collect in the groove. The fragrant leaves of this tree were also used. The gum soon hardens when exposed to the air; these and other substances were placed in titoki or other vegetable-oil, or perchance oil obtained from pigeon's fat. The following is a list of names of the plants the leaves, etc., of which were utilized for scenting toilet oil, making sachets for neck wear, for chaplets, or for rendering a house fragrant when visitors were expected:—

  • Ake-rautangi—Dodonaea viscosa. Leaves used.
  • Heketara, Kotara—Olearia. Leaves used.
  • Hioi, Whioi—Mentha Cunninghamii. Leaves used.
  • Karetu—Hierochloe redolens. For women's belts, also for sachets chaplets, etc.
  • Kauere—A small plant.
  • Konguru, Kopuru, Ponguru—A moss.
  • Mairehau, Maireire—Phebalium nudum.
  • Makuruhau—A moss.
  • Manakura—Melicytus micranthus, a shrub.
  • Manehu—
  • Manehurangi—
  • Manuka—Leptospermum ericoides. Leaves used.
  • Mokimoki—Polypodium pustulatum (Williams). Doodia candata (Colenso). See Cheeseman's Flora, 2nd ed., p. 63.
  • Patotara—Cyathodes acerosa (Lyall). Botrychium ternatum (Colenso). Leucopogon Fraseri (Colenso, Best).
  • Piripiri—Hymenophyllum polyanthos, a fern used as a scent. A moss-like species of Hepatica (Colenso).
  • Pokuru—
  • Puakaito—Celmisia spectabilis.
  • Raukawa, syn. Koareare—Nothopanax Edgerleyi. Leaves used.
  • Raurenga—Trichomanes reniforme.
  • Rautawhiri, Tawhiri—Pittosporum tenuifolium. Leaves and gum used.
  • Roniu—Brachycome odorata.
  • Tanguru—Olearia. Leaves used.
  • Taramea—Aciphylla. Gum used.
  • Tarata—Pittosporum eugenioides. Leaves and gum used.

Heketara is Olearia Cunninghamii, and the tree or shrub called kotara by the Tuhoe folk may be the same species, but Williams has kotaratara as Olearia ilicifolia, a shrub, and this is possibly the Tuhoe kotara, though the evidence is in favour of the first mentioned species. Ran kotara and maurea were both used as terms denoting a person of superior rank, just as mahuri totara {totara sapling) was, and such expressions were, as a rule, applied to young persons. Taylor states that the root of the patotara plant was the part used. Both oil and fat were rendered fragrant by the immersion therein of pia tarata (gum), also leaves of karetu, patotara, mokimoki, hioi, kopuru, or any such substances as were procurable. One says that page 63the ingredients were heated, almost certainly fat would be melted ere the leaves, etc., were placed in it, and probably it was necessary that the hardened gums be melted. A Ngati-awa friend told me that the various fragrant leaves used for scenting titoki oil were wrapped up in some fabric and then pounded ere being used. The beating process intensified the fragrance of the various leaves. See No. 7 of the Addenda. Such fragrant materials were often enclosed in small bags, sometimes made from a piece of albatross skin, with feathers attached, or a section of pukeko (Porphyrio melanotus) skin with its brilliant blue feathers, or a plaited fabric composed of a fragrant grass, such as karetu. The feathers of such a container were sometimes drenched with scented oil, or the skin was placed in the oil, then taken out, rolled into a ball, and so worn. Such things were worn suspended from the neck, and so they were termed hei, and with this term was coupled the name of the particular scent used, or of the principal ingredient of such. Hence we hear of hei mokimoki, hei piripiri, hei tawhiri, etc. Such receptacles were occasionally called kati, as in kati taramea. A small gourd vessel containing tarata-scented oil would be termed a taha tarata, and the bird-skin dipped in it and rolled into a ball would be a pona tarata. A gourd vessel containing any kind of hair-oil or pomatum would be alluded to as a taha koukou; koukou and kaukau both mean 'to anoint.' Shark-oil was used for such purposes when no vegetable oil was to hand. As to hinu topitopi, the latter is merely another name for the titoki, while hinu taramea has been scented by means of the gum and leaves of the plant taramea, syn karamea.

Mothers were wont to apply some of the above terms to their infants, and so we encounter such expressions as Taku hei tawhiri (My tawhiri necklet), and Taku hei piripiri in old songs sung over infants. The attraction of pleasing scents was well known to young Maori folk, hence the following line from an old song: He wai tarata ra, me patu kia kakara, kia ingo mai ai; here is an allusion to the bruising of fragrant leaves to increase the aroma, and so the heart of man was supposed to yearn for the person who diffused the pleasing odour. Apart from belts made of aromatic grasses, etc., others were plaited in wide form and then doubled, so that they might be filled with fragrant leaves, etc. The dried blossoms of the plant roniu, and karetu grass were combined to form hei. Little bags were woven of the karetu and filled with fragrant leaves, etc., for neck wear, and these were called hei karetu, while fillets or headbands were woven of the same material and worn by young women on gala occasions, when plumes would be inserted in them. Girls also plaited anklets of the karetu leaf. The usage of old consisting page 64of making a layer of aromatic leaves on which to spread the sleeping mat of a visitor of standing was an interesting one. In the story of Paoa we see how a host instructed his people to produce a preparation of tawhiri in order to render a house pleasing to a coming visitor; there likewise seems to be an allusion to his using scented oil for the purpose of making the interior odoriferous by smearing it on the timbers of the house. As the visitors entered the house they emarked on the pleasing perfume (tiare, kakara) that met them. Leafy branchlets of trees mentioned above were also used for the same purpose. Again, in the tale of Hinemiki of Taupo, it is told that, when travelling to a certain place, she tarried a space ere entering the village in order to don her fine garments and perfume herself with titoki oil scented with tarata, tawhiri, mokimoki and taramea. An old saying of the Maori runs: He moenga rangatira he rnoenga kakara; he moenga ware he moenga haunga; so informing us that the sleeping places (one can scarcely call them beds) of persons of superior status were fragrant, while those of common persons were malodorous.

The taramea gum spoken of was obtained from the two species named in the list. Of these Cheeseman has written: "Both species yield an aromatic gum resin, which was formerly used by the Maoris as a masticatory." The use to which it was usually put, according to available evidence, was as a perfume. This gum was gathered from the objectionable, bayonet-pointed leaves. Waiapu natives told me that their forebears obtained taramea on Mt. Hikurangi, and that it had to be procured in the early morning, 'while the mist of the night was still on it,' otherwise it was worthless. The leaves were heated and softened in a steaming pit (umu), the tao process, after which they were subjected to pressure, squeezed I was told, in order to express the gummy secretion. I had not previously heard of the steaming process, but Dr. Shortland tells us that South Island natives held the leaves over a fire until the oil exuded, and so was collected in a small vessel. He likewise remarks that the aromatic substance was highly prized, that it was used in barter, also as a present, being sometimes sent to natives dwelling in the North Island. The plant is called kueo or kuweo in some districts, and in its young stage of growth is known as papaii; the roots of these were eaten, the plant being pulled up, I was told, by the help of a cord tied round it. The Tuhoe folk call the matured plant tumatakuru, a name applied in the south to the wild Irishman (Discaria toumatou).

Another account corroborates the remark above as to procuring taramea quite early in the day, ere the dew passed away, apparently page 65it was not so sticky to handle at that time. The exudation was used to scent miro and other oils, also fat obtained from dogs and rats. Scented oils were, we are told, kept in small gourds, and the owner of such a gourd might mark on it one of his tattoo designs, some peculiarity thereof that caused an observer to know the owner.

The gum of tawhiri (syn. rautawhiri and kohuhu) is said to have been obtained by means of bruising the bark of the tree, which caused it to exude. This gum was used as a masticatory in conjunction with the inspissated juice of a species of Sonchus. It has been stated that fresh kauri gum was obtained by means of a similar bruising process. It must be made clear that any oil scented by means of placing certain leaves or gum therein, would be called after such aromatic substances. Thus we hear of hinu taramea and hinu tawhiri, though the word hinu (oil, fat) may be omitted, and so taramea and tawhiri alone used.

A brief note is to the effect that a gum or resin obtained from Melicope ternata was used as a masticatory. Some kind of gumlike exudation was also obtained from the stem of the kohia (Tetrapathaea tetrandra, formerly Passiflora tetrandra) by means of making incisions in the bark in the spring season, an act that must, it is said, be performed on the western side of the stem.

Some gummy substance was obtained from the pukapuka (Brachyglottis repanda), through incisions in the bark, and this, like other gums mentioned, was put into toilet-oil, and then a heating process caused it to dissolve; it is said to possess some aroma. It is believed in some districts that the blossoms contain a poisonous nectar; and that honey obtained by bees from this source is harmful; the leaves are said to be poisonous to stock.

The accounts given above of scented oils and sachets read well, but it is well to remember that odours extremely offensive to us are apparently not so to the Maori. In former times they loved to anoint themselves with malodorous shark-oil, and the so-called scented oil used had often, apparently, 'gone bad.' Forster tells us that a Maori tried to anoint Captain Cook with oil that was 'not a little offensive,' while a young lady decked Mr. Hodges with a 'tuft of feathers dipt in oil' that is alluded to as an odoriferous present. Of some natives of the Wellington district seen in 1773, Forster tells us that they were superior in some ways to the natives of Queen Charlotte Sound, but that 'they resembled them perfectly in their uncleanliness, and swarms of vermin marched about in their cloaths …. We likewise saw some little calabashes among them, neatly carved, in which they kept some stinking oil.'

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Williams gives peru as a name of some form of unguent, apparently, that was made from certain plants and used as a scent. He also gives rautangi as 'a preparation of scented oils.'

Pia manuka is an exudation from the manuka, a kind of manna that was eaten by the Maori, though I have not heard that it was used in any other way; in taste it is said to be slightly sweet. White gave tohika as a name for this substance, but no corroboration thereof has come to my knowledge. In a brief article published in vol. 60 of the Transactions of the New Zealand Institute we are told that this manna is 'associated with the operations of a boring grub.' In about a dozen cases it was found on L. scoparium only, though both species were examined. It appears as 'a viscous syrup,' and apparently only on young wood.

Leaves of raukawa (koareare) were used on account of their fragrance, and the leaves of the young trees were, I believe, preferred. Among the Matatua tribes the name koareare is applied to the young form only, when its leaf-form is changed then the tree is known as houmangoroa. Doubtless many such things as were more or less aromatic to the keen-sensed Maori would be thought little of by us; I have had some so-called odoriferous substances brought to me in which I could detect no odour whatever. By the way, Colenso states that the natives sometimes rubbed the green leaves of raukawa on their limbs and bodies. See Essay on the Botany of the North Island of New Zealand, by W. Colenso, 1865.