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Niuē-fekai (or Savage) Island and its People

Vegetation (Trees = akau, Shrubs = lakau)

Vegetation (Trees = akau, Shrubs = lakau)

Situated as the island is, within the Tropics, it is natural to find many tropical plants growing there. The characteristic of the vegetation is the large size of the leaves and the fruits or seeds. It has already been stated that the island is practically wooded from end to end, and in some parts of the rao-motua, or original forest, the trees grow to a large size and have a very majestic appearance. These original forests are not too dense to allow of easy travelling in them—that is, where the rocks do not prevent it—for the undergrowth is not thick as compared with a New Zealand forest. There are many handsome ferns growing beneath the shade of the trees, amongst which the Kapihi is conspicuous by its beauty and frequency. Its leaves turn a bright yellow when dry, and are therefore much used by the natives for ornamental purposes in their dress on gala occasions. The Luku is also a very handsome plant (? fern), the bright shiny leaves of which grow sometimes to a length of 6 feet, with a width of 6 inches. There are two species known to the natives—Luku-fua, the leaves of which are eaten, it has the midrib green; and the Luku-la-ua, of which both roots and leaves are eaten, it has the midrib black. Many creepers are seen climbing up the trees, of which the Fua-kanai, with handsome purple-black berries as large as a walnut is very ornamental. There is a kind of cane, or liana, that sometimes reaches the very tops of page 10 trees 120 feet high called Va. Of the forest trees the Banyan (Orara) is the largest, but it is not common; the largest seen was about 130 feet high, with a circumference, outside its many stems, of about 60 feet. The Kafika is the finest timber tree, and it is very common, growing to a height of 150 feet or more, with a diameter up to 4 or 5 feet. It is a very useful timber tree with tall straight stems, the wood of a light brown colour. The Moota or Maota is also a fine tree used in canoe building, with very handsome foliage like the shumach—it appears to me to be identical with the Samoan Maota.* The Tarahi is also common, with handsome foliage somewhat like the Maota, and also like the locust or thorny acacia of Africa. It will be remembered that one species of the New Zealand Tawai, or Towai, has the young foliage like the locust, and probably herein is to be found the identity of name, Tarahi = Tawai—the Niuē people often insert an “h” in Maori words. (See this Journal, vol. x., p. 180.)

To mention all the names of trees and other vegetation, specimens of which I obtained, would be tedious, for there are over 150 of them; and, as with the Maori of old, these are known to everybody, even to the little urchins of 10 and 12 years of age. Every plant, however minute, seems to have a proper name, some of which are worth mentioning. Although the sandalwood tree does not now grow in Niuē (if ever it did), the people have retained its name—ahi—in place-names, as Fale-ahi, &c. It is known by that name in several islands—i.e., Tonga, Samoa, Fiji, and Futuna, asi; Tahiti and Hawaii, ahi; Marquesas, pu-ahi. The Fou, or yellow Hibiscus, is as luxurious, and its flowers as handsome in Niuē as in all other islands of Central Polynesia; its bark is used for string, for titi or kilts, and other purposes. The Ifi or Tahitian chestnut grows there, but is not at all plentiful; it is the same as the mape of Rarotonga. The Tuitui, or candlenut, is fairly common, and has the same name all over Central Polynesia; the seeds are used for lights by threading them on a stick, and the soot from them in marking the hiapo or tapa. The Tamanu tree has also the name of Fetau, as in Tonga, Samoa, &c., but it is not known in Eastern Polynesia by that name. The sweet-scented Tiale (gardenia) is known by that name in all Central Polynesia (in Maori—obsolete—the word means scent), and a variety—the Tiale-tafa—has a handsome tubular white scentless flower. The Oluolu is a tree with hard, white, close grained wood, much used in making the katoua or clubs, the wood becoming dark by age. The Brazilian plum Vi has the same name as in Tahiti, Samoa (Spondias dulcis), Tonga, Futuna, &c. It is a handsome tree, but rare in Niuē. The Pandanus or screwpine (Fa) is common; it is known by some variant of that name—

* See plate 4, which however is from a bad photograph.

page 11 fala, fara, haro, ara—in most of the islands. The leaves are used in thatching, for the making of baskets, hats (potiki), mats, &c., and sections of the large seeds are strung on string as an adornment to the person on gala occasions, its strong scent being pleasant to the natives. The coral tree (Gate)* is somewhat rare, and the fine spike of scarlet flower seen in other islands is much smaller in size in Ninē. The name is much the same in other islands—i.e., Ngatae, Gatae, ‘Atae, &c.

The Le is a tree with broad handsome leaves, the wood being of service in canoe building. The Mati is a small tree, bearing on its stem rows of reddish fruit very like one of the species of mandarin orange, the fruit of which is little larger than a pea. The name Mati has been used in the Niuē scriptures as the equivalent of fig. The Futu is the Hutu or Utu of other islands, it has fine broad handsome leaves. There is a Puka and a Pukatea, both trees of some size, the latter not unlike the Pukatea of New Zealand. The Tohi-hune, or Tai-hune, or Tavāhi-kaku, is a mimosa-like tree, probably identical with the Toromiro of Rarotonga. The Toi is useful for its wood of a mahogany colour; it is not at all like the Toi of New Zealand, the foliage being not unlike the New Zealand Pomadarris Tainui, and the fruit half an inch in diameter, purple in colour. The Pua and the Pao are trees of considerable size growing near the coast, the latter of which bears a large oval seed 4 inches by 2½ inches in size, eaten in time of scarcity. The Kalāka is so like the New Zealand Karaka in its habit that the one might be taken for the other at a short distance, but they are different species. The Kānomea is a handsome tree with large seeds like plums, but not eatable. The Kieto is apparently a species of ebony, for the wood is very like it. The natives use it for barbs to their spears, and for other purposes. If it grew larger in size it would be worth exporting as ebony. The Fekakai, or Fikakai, is a medium sized tree bearing pretty crimson flowers, like the New Zealand Rata, and a very agreeable fruit coloured pink and yellow, in shape like an elongated apple. The Fua-ai bears a nut which, in my opinion, is equally as good as a walnut.

Of the shrubs (Lakau) may be mentioned, the Kava-vao, a species of Piper, as is the Kava-atua. The Niuē people, however, did not make or use the well-known Kava drink, though the latter shrub appears to me to be the same species as that from which it is made in other islands. The only use to which it was apparently put, was to

* The Niuē “g” has always an “n” before it, thus gate is pronounced ngate.

There is some confusion in my notes here, I am not now sure if the species of Kava used for making the drink of that name is called Kava-atua, as it is in Rarotonga.

page 12 fasten little pieces of the root on to their spears, which caused much irritation in the wounds made therewith. The Fou-mamāla is a handsome shrub, from the bark of which their fishing nets (kupega) are made. The Cape gooseberry has been introduced, but there is a smaller species called Fua-manini, which is said to be native to the island. The Nonu, or Morinda citrifolia, is a very common shrub, it bears the same name in Tonga, Samoa, Rarotonga; Tahiti (Nono); Futuna and Marquesas (Noni). There are four species of Polo, a solanum:—Polo-kai, Polo-miti, Polo-magaiho, and Polo-iti, the first and the last are, if not quite identical, very like the Poporo and Poro-iti of New Zealand. The name Poro-iti contains an interesting survival of a word; iti, for small, is no longer used in the Niuē dialect, tote (probably the Moriori word toke) having taken its place. Iti, however, is the common Polynesian word for small. The Niuē people use ikiiki for very small, showing the same change from “t” to “k” that has taken place in Hawaii and Samoa.

Amongst the shrubs may be included the Talotalo, a very handsome lily-like plant, with leaves 3 feet long by 4 or 5 inches wide, and with a sweet scented head of white flowers. There are innumerable creepers, several species of convolvulus, a prickly creeper called Talamoa, very like the New Zealand Tataramoa, and one—the Pomea, or Malakamea—with very pretty red and black seeds, used for necklaces. The Maile also is a pretty creeper, but not scented like the Hawaiian Maile.

Ferns are fairly numerous; some I have already mentioned. In the open parts of the island a fern like the New Zealand Piupiu (Lomaria procura) covers the ground, and is called Mohuku (the Maori Mouku, or Mauku, also the name of a fern, but a different species). The Palatao is very like the New Zealand Paretao, and is probably a variety of the same species. There are several orchids called Pupu-kalei: the only one I saw in flower was a very pretty one, purple and white.

It is said there are four palms indigenous to Niuē (including the coco-nut), of which the Logologo is the most conspicuous from its large fruit, which grows in the centre of the stem from where the leaves sprout; it is like a gigantic pineapple in appearance. The leaves are not unlike the date palm. The Piu is the fan palm, a very handsome tree indeed. Another tall palm, growing to a height of 50 or 60 feet, I unfortunately have mislaid the name of, but it is not unlike the fan palm in appearance.

I believe there are five species of Dracoena, but I only know the name of one, Ti-mata-alea, about which there is a tradition that will be referred to later on. Ti is the general name in Niuē, as it is page 13 everywhere the Polynesian Race is found, but Niuē people pronounce the word tsi. The Ti above mentioned has a pretty spray of purple flowers, but its root, unlike the others, is not eaten.