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The Coming of the Maori

Introduction of Plants

Introduction of Plants

Plants for cultivating in the new home were brought by the Fleet. Some of them are mentioned in the canoe legends but others that the early voyagers must have known are not mentioned.

The sweet potato (kumara) received the greatest number of references. Before the arrival of the Fleet, attention was drawn to the sweet potato through the dried kao introduced by castaways and two expeditions were made to Hawaiki to secure a supply. However, the return coincided with the coming of the Fleet. The Horouta brought a supply and the honorific name, doubtless derived from the name of a kumara god, was Rongomaraeroa, an alternative name of Rongo, the god of horticulture. The Aotea brought nine seed potatoes in the double belt of Rongorongo, hence the honorific name given to the kumara in the Aotea area was the Tatua o Rongorongo (Belt of Rongorongo). One tuber was used as a ritual offering after the birth of Turi's son, Tutawa Whanaumoana, who was born at sea. The eight remaining tubers of the kind named Kakau, were planted in the cultivation named Hekehekeipapa at Patea and from them a large yield was gathered. The Tainui brought the Anurangi variety, which the chieftainess, Whakaotirangi, kept tied in the corner of page 62a small basket (rokiroki). In the Tainui area, the kumara accordingly received the honorific name of the Rokiroki a Whakaotirangi (small basket of Whakaotirangi). Marama, another chieftainess of Tainui, was punished for a misdemeanour for her seed Kumara reverted into convolvulus (pohue). The tradition of Te Arawa (44, p. 143) records that on landing at Whangaparaoa, sweet potatoes were planted there; "and they are still to be found growing in the cliffs at that place." The Mahuhu and the Mamari are recorded as bringing the sweet potato, and probably all the canoes which came to settle brought seed.

The taro was brought in with the sweet potato, but traditions do not mention it. The only mention of yam is in the Mahuhu canoe tradition, which states that it brought the uhi-kaho but that it did not grow. As uhi is the general Polynesian name for the yam, I assume that uhi-kaho refers to it. Though the yams brought in the Mahuhu are said not to have grown, others must have, for they were seen growing in Tolaga Bay by Joseph Banks, the botanist with Cook's first expedition. The gourd (hue) was planted by Whakaotirangi of Tainui but misfortune again pursued Marama for her seeds grew into mawhai (Sicyos angulata).

Plants that did not grow were evidently soon forgotten. The Fleet must have brought the coconut, breadfruit, and banana, just as the ancestors of the Hawaiians took them north over an even greater distance from Hawaiki. It was not distance of carriage but the climate that led to the loss of these plants in New Zealand. A clear account of the coconut occurs in the Mahuhu canoe tradition of which the native text (77, p. 4) follows:

  • A mahia ai te hua o o reira rakau hei hinu, ara, he mea tahu a roto o aua hua ra, puta mat ai te hinu.

  • The fruit of the trees of that place was made into oil, that is, the inside of that fruit was heated, out came the oil.

  • He Ni te ingoa o aua hua, i penei te nui me te upoko tamaiti net; mau ai taua tu kai nei ki konei, me te uhi-kaho, a kihei noa ake i tupu, a, kua kore i enei ra.

  • Ni was the name of that fruit, the size being about that of a child's head; that kind of food was brought here, with the uhi-kaho, but they never grew, and, they are unknown in these days.

Ni, niu, and nu are the Polynesian names of the coconut. The country where it grew was Wairota. The details as to the part heated to make oil and the size of the fruit are almost too accurate to have been handed down without recent information, even though the informant gave it in 1839.

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The paper mulberry (aute) is included in the list of plants brought by the Tainui and successfully grown by Whakaotirangi. Marama again was punished for her plant grew into a whau (Entelea arborescens), the leaves of which somewhat resemble those of the aute, but the bark was not suitable for making cloth. The Mahuhu canoe tradition mentions the use of the plant in Wairota but does not mention any attempt at introduction. The native text (77, p. 4) reads as follows:

  • Nga kahu o to matou kainga i rere mat ai i tawahi, he aute nei, he rakau aute, tnahia ai te peha o taua rakau, a, ko te tinana o te rakau hei poito kupenga.

  • The garments of our home from where we sailed from the other side, was aute, an aute tree, the bark of that tree being manufactured, whilst, the wood of the tree was used for fishing net floats.

There is ample evidence that cloth was made from the bark of the aute in the north Auckland area, hence the above reference is not so questionable as the reference to the coconut.

A number of indigenous plants which could be used for food have been included in the lists of plants said to have been brought in the canoes. Chief of these is the karaka (Corynocarpus laevigata), the introduction of which is generally conceded to Turi of the Aotea, though other canoes such as Tainui have slipped it into their texts probably to make a more impressive story. The karaka, however, is indigenous in the Kermadec Islands, New Zealand, and the Chatham Islands. As Turi called in at the Kermadecs (Rangitahua), it is quite possible that he brought some berries from there and planted them at Patea, as tradition states. If he did, his attention must have been drawn to the plant by ripe berries at the time of his visit. The karaka berries ripen in the Kermadecs in March, and, as the Aotea left Hawaiki at a moment's notice to escape Uenuku, it is quite possible if not probable that she left in February or March. Thus, Turi may have brought the karaka from the Kermadecs. They were certainly not brought from Hawaiki, and his introduction merely added to those already here.

In addition to the karaka, the Aotea was credited with bringing the para-tawhiti (Marattia fraxinea), and perei (Gastrodia Cunninghamii and Orthoceras strictum). The para-tawhiti is present in the Cook and Society Islands and could have been brought, though it was probably here already. The Tainui brought the paraa which probably refers to the para-tawhiti. Marama was equally unfortunate with this plant, for it grew into the korokio (Lomaria capensis). The ti (Cordyline terminalis) is held by botanists to have been introduced, but proof is not certain. The Taranaki name of ti-tawhiti is significant if it was applied to this species.