Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

The Coming of the Maori



The introduction of cattle, sheep, and pigs by Europeans enriched the meat supply and less difficulty was experienced in providing the meat complement, or kinaki, to go with the vegetable foods. The pig, which had been left behind in central Polynesia, was happily restored by another breed. In coining a Maori name for the forgotten animal, the English word "pork" was accepted and converted into the Maori form of poaka, page 111which came very close to the original Polynesian name of puaka. Pigs were reared extensively by the Maoris for food and for sale, cattle less so, and sheep not at all until the development of the Maori sheep stations on the East Coast for wool. Human flesh and dog's flesh ceased to be a source of meat supply and the native dog became extinct.

Fish and shell-fish still retain their favoured place in the Maori diet, though fish are now more often bought than caught. The tribes which have shell-fish beds or mussel-bearing reefs on their coast line have sources of supply which form rich assets to the tribal economy.

The introduction of the Irish potato also effected marked changes. The potato was prolific, grew practically everywhere, and was less trouble to cultivate than the sweet potato, taro, and yam. The yam disappeared but the taro has survived in some localities. Even the sweet potato is less cultivated than formerly though some districts, such as Waiapu, adhere to it because the form of soil gives better crop results with the sweet potato than with the Irish potato. Being a new introduction, the Irish potato was given a Maori name by various tribes, but as the name potato did not find favour, a number of different names were coined such as taewa, parareka, kapana, and mahetau. These were general names, but the various varieties received distinctive names such as raramu, uhi, huakaroro, and others. The general use of the Irish potato and flour led to the abandonment of fern root as food.

Of other introduced vegetables, the pumpkin (paukena) and squash (kamokamo) were accepted early as was also maize, or Indian corn, which received the name of kanga, the Maori form of the word corn. Corn was raised for the market, but a unique method of utilizing it as food was evolved probably from the established method of treating karaka berries. The unhusked cobs were placed in fenced enclosures in still water where the grain became soft. When required, the cobs were husked, the grain rubbed off the cob by hand, and cooked in a pot to form a thick porridge. The food was termed kanga wai (corn steeped in water) and, sweetened with sugar, it was very palatable though the odour was somewhat distracting. It is probably the odour and pakeha criticism that have led the younger generations to abandon the method of steeping corn in the water enclosures.

The introduction of green vegetables such as cabbages did not interest the Maoris. They preferred the native sow-thistle (puwha) or the introduced wild water-cress for boiling. Root crops such as carrots, parsnips, turnips, and onions did not arouse any enthusiasm and neither did peas and beans. Thus out of the great variety of introduced vegetables, the Maori people in general cultivated only the Irish potato, maize, pumpkins, and squash. Of introduced fruits, the peach, cherry, and water-melon were the most popular.

page 112

A marked addition to cooking technique took place through the introduction of metal pots. Formerly, boiling was restricted to heating the water in wooden bowls by adding heated stones from an earth oven. This technique was rarely used but the process of cooking in heated water was termed kohua in distinction to cooking in an earth oven which was termed tao. The early trade goods included three-legged iron pots which from their function were also termed kohua. Boiling became popular for ordinary family cooking because it was easier and more rapid than earth-oven cooking and hence the earth oven (umu) was reserved for cooking in quantity for feasts and funerals. The later adoption of large cooking ranges in connection with community kitchens is relegating the earth oven still further into the background and in the course of time, it will perhaps be used only by boy scouts in camp demonstrations. The bucket and tin pannikin superseded the gourd water bottle and the change of beverage from water to tea has completed the neglect in cultivating the gourd which is now probably extinct. The adoption of English ways of serving food with crockery and knives and forks has led to a lapse in the making of flax serving platters (kono). Such changes were inevitable and yet they were slow in coming for in my childhood I have drunk water from a calabash and eaten food with my fingers from a plaited flax container. The change in cooking and in serving has not improved the taste of the food.