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The Maori: Yesterday and To-day

A Rotorua Planting Song

A Rotorua Planting Song.

A fine rhythmic chant which was used until recently by the people of Mokoia Island, Lake Rotorua, at the planting of the kumara, was given to me by the old man Tamarangi, at the ancient cultivation ground on the Paepaerau flat. He picked up a long manuka stick, and gripping it firmly at the “should-arms” in the fashion in which the priests grasped the rapa maire, the digging implement, he recited the sacred planting song, dandling the staff to and fro, as he showed how the fields were blessed. This is my translation of Tamarangi's pihapiha-ko-kumara, as chanted for centuries past on Mokoia, beginning “Ue-uea, ue-uea te titi o te rua; kia tutangatanga te ara ki Mokoia”:—

page 190

“Unloose the fastening of the food-pit;
Let the way to Mokoia be open.
How many backs are bending to my song!
O give me breath
To outstrip mine enemies.
The earth is shaken,
The Rainbow-god appears.
O plant the seed, whose tendrils stretch
Hither from distant lands,
From far Waeroti,
From Waerota,*
Our fathers' Island homes.
Though we have not here
The fruit of the kuru,
Spread out, abundant, is the produce of the food-vine.
May a strange cloud
Obscure the foeman's eyes,
And guard the children of the soil.
Deprive mine enemies of strength,
Hinder their war-like steps!
'Tis a magic cloud
That guards me from the foe.”

And all the planters join in the loud chorus-shout,


The opening words in this chant, “Ue-uea, Ue-uea, te titi o te rua,” refer to the loosening of the wooden pin which closes the door of the pit in which the seed kumara are kept, so that the door may be opened, and the kumara served out to the planting-party. In former days not only the Maori on the island but also the tribes living on the mainland invoked the help of the sacred carved stone image “Matuatonga,” the mauri of the cultivations, when planting their seed-kumara, and performed ceremonies to ensure a plentiful crop. When the season comes page 191 each year for the planting of the kumara each tribe sent a number of its tubers across to the Mokoia, so that they might be taken to the shrine of the atua and there touch “Matua-tonga,” while the priests recited the necessary karakia to preserve the plantations from harm and send a bountiful harvest. The expression in the chant, “Kia tutangatanga te ara ki Mokoia” is an allusion to this olden custom of taking the seed-tubers across to the Island so that they might absorb some of the mana-tapu of this Ceres of Maori Land.

The Rotorua Maori have over forty names for different kinds of the kumara. The only old Maori varieties now cultivated there are the toromahoe, hutihuti, and pehu. The kumara grown which were introduced by Europeans are known as the waina (a red tuber) and kai-pakeha (white). The hutihuti is regarded as the best.

Maoris of the Urewera tribe informed me that in the Upper Valley of the Waimana, near Tauwharenikau, there is a large and remarkable rimu-pine, the top of which was shaped as a store-house for food. It is called “Te whata-kao a Rongo-mai-pawa.” In this tree store the chief Rongomai used to keep his stock of kao or dried kumara. Maori when on a journey often took a small quantity of kao stowed away in the folds of their tatua or flax waist-belts. This kao, mixed with water, was a favourite food, very sweet and satisfying.