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Niuē-fekai (or Savage) Island and its People

Food Plants

Food Plants

The coco-nut will be referred to later on, but next to it in importance is the Talo (Arum esculentum), of which there are many varieties, some of which are:—

  • Talo-matāgi

  • Talo-pulekau

  • Talo-pogi

  • Talo-toga

  • Talo-maga

  • Talo-pako

  • Talo-mātau

  • Talo-matāga

  • Talo-fati

  • Talo-kula.

Of these all are said to be Talo-tuai (from of old), except the Talo-futi and Talo-kula, which, together with the Talo-kiamo introduced from Aneityum, have been taken to the island in modern times. Kiamo is the name the Niuē people give to Aneityum Island of the New Hebrides; why, it is difficult to say, for it does not appear to be a corruption of the name of the island. This species of the Talo is yellow inside and particularly good eating. The Talo enters as an ingredient into many of their made dishes to be referred to later on. It is usually baked in the native oven (umu), but sometimes boiled. The Talo had a god (tupua) of its own named Mana-tafu-e-ika.*

The giant Talo (Kape) also grows at Niuē; it is the Colocasia of the Botanists. There are three varieties known to the natives, viz.:—

  • Kape-matamata, a tall one

  • Kape-lau-maō

  • Kape-tu-uli.

These are all eaten, but only in time of scarcity. The flower is like the arum, but smaller and yellow. It is a handsome plant, but not nearly so luxurious in growth at Niuē as at Tahiti. Pulaka is its name in the northern islands.

The yam (Ufi) is common in Niuē, but I saw none of the immense size grown in Samoa, Tonga, &c. There are nine varieties known to the natives, as follows:—
  • Ufi-lei

  • Ufi-kavekave

  • Ufi-kokau (wild yam)

  • Ufi-toga

  • Ufi-fetēka

  • Ufi-pia

  • Ufi-filita,

  • Ufi-tuā

  • Ufi-kamo

  • Ufi-pāka

of which Uti-pia and Ufi-paka are introduced kinds. It may be men-

* From Fata-a-iki's paper, which was written by the King of that name (1888-1896), which I shall often have to refer to later on.

The Samoan name is ‘ape, which is also the name for a blunderbuss. How is it the Maoris use the same word (kope) for a horse-pistol? for kape and kope are identical.

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here that the Maoris had a species of Kumara (Batatas), which they named Uwhi-rei, identical with the first name above, which no doubt is a recollection of the times when their ancestors knew the yam of the islands—indeed their traditions say that their forefathers brought the yam with them to New Zealand, but that it did not flourish, and so died out many generations ago.

Of the wild yams (Hoi, species of Dioscorea) there are four varieties, all more or less bitter, though the natives say of the first three mentioned below that they are magalo, sweet. They are:—

  • Hoi-tua

  • Hoi-vakili

  • Hoi-tea

  • Hoi-kona (or bitter)

This species of yam is prepared (tuhoi) by scraping, washing in salt water, and then in fresh before cooking. Their handsome convolvulous-like foliage is to be seen constantly creeping over the shrubs in the forest.

The sweet potato, know more generally as the Kumara (Batatas) is grown in Niuē, but they call it Timala or Fua-timala (pronounced Tsimala).* There are several varieties, but my informant failed to supply me with the names before I left, so I only know two, viz: Mala-kula and Mala-tea. The particular kind that I saw tasted much like the old Maori Tukau variety of Kumara.

The sugar-cane is common and seems to do well in the more open parts of the island; it is of course a cultivated plant. Its native name is To, as it is in most other islands inhabited by the Polynesians; the people chew the stem, and use the leaves for thatching. The following varieties are known to the natives:—

  • To-gatatea

  • To-hega

  • To-hiata

  • To-maka

  • To-kula

  • To-fua

The Pia or native arrowroot is very common everywhere. It springs up abundantly wherever the wood has been burnt. There is a variety named Tere, with which I am not acquainted, but it is said to be acrid in taste. The Pia enters largely into the foods of the natives. It is very good, but, prepared in their way has not the bright white appearance of the arrowroot of commerce; it is light purple in color.

The banana (Futi) is almost as important a food-plant as the Talo. It grows everywhere, i.e., by planting, even in the most rocky part it seems to flourish as well as elsewhere. Some varieties have been introduced, but others are native and wild. There are quite a number of kinds I believe, but the only names I have noted are:
  • Futi-maholi

  • Futi-tea

  • Futi-hulahula

  • Futi-hai

  • Futi-pili-kolo

  • Futi-tolo

    * To save repetition, it may be explained that in the Niuē dialect, wherever the “t” is followed by “i” or “e” an “s” is introduced. The Rev. Geo. Pratt in his Samoan Dictionary says this change only occurred some 15 years before 1876.

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  • Futi-kula

  • Futi-uli

  • Futi-moamoafua

  • Futi-ume

  • Futi-mamei

  • Futi-toga

  • Futi-pāpā

  • Futi-hehefaga

of which the first is very large, and the mamei particularly good eating.

The Futi is largely used in the made dishes of the people. The name given by the Niuē people to the banana, differs from that of Eastern Polynesian a good deal; the names in various islands are: Tonga, Fuji* (which is the same as Futi); Samoa, Fa'i and Mo'ē; Futuna Futi, Rarotonga, Meika; Tahiti, Fe'i—the wild mountain variety=Samoan Fa'i, and Mei'a, the cultivated variety; Marquesas Fahoka; Hawaii Mai'a, Fiji, Vudi, which is the word Futi no doubt.

The bread fruit, Mei, so largely used in Tonga, Samoa, Tahiti, Rarotonga, &c., is not nearly so common in Niuē, and the trees have the appearance of being comparatively young; it seems probable therefore that it is an introduction of modern times. The name is identical with that used in Tonga, Futuna, and Marquesas, but in Somoa, Rarotonga, Tahiti and Hawaii it is Kuru, Uru, or ‘ulu; in Fiji it is Uto.

The pandanus (Fa) has already been mentioned; its drupes are only eaten in time of scarcity. The pine-apple has been introduced; but is not so plentiful as in many of the other islands; the natives give it the same name as the pandanus (Fa) from the similarity of leaves and fruit in appearance.

The papaw or mammy apple (Carica Papaya) called in Niuē Loku, flourishes well, and is to be seen everywhere. The Samoan name is Esi, Tonga, Oleji, Tahiti, Rarotonga, Mangarewa and Paumotu, Ninita, Hawaii, hei. From the diversity of names, this tree is evidently of modern introduction in the islands, and, so far as Niuē is concerned it was first brought there from Raiatea in 1831-2.

Pilita is a creeper having a tuberous root, which is eaten in time of scarcity. It is probably the same or allied to the Pilita of Samoa (Dioscoria pentaphylla). The same name is given to the root of the Ieie (Maori Kieloie) in Tahiti, and from the tuberous root and climbing habit of the New Zealand supplejack it probably received the name of Pirita in remembrance of the above or a similar plant in the “fatherland.”

The orange (Mŏlĭ) grows well and bears fine sweet fruit, but the natives have not planted it to any extent. It bears the same name in Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, Futuna, Rarotonga, and Tahiti. The lemon, lime, citron, and shaddock also flourish very well in Niuē, particularly the lemon (Tipolu). The tamarind, mango, cotton (Vavae, which is

* In the Tonga dialect, the letter “t” is frequently replaced by “j.” This approximates to the Niuē “ts.”

Rev. Wyatt Gill says it was introduced from Rio.

page 16 its name in Samoa, Tonga, Rarotonga, and Tahiti), the kapoc tree (also called Vavae), the date palm—its fruit does not ripen properly—and numbers of other useful and edible plants have been introduced, and all seem to do well. The grenadilla (Niuē name vine, which is probably the English word vine), grows well; its handsome foliage and flowers are seen climbing over the shrubs, together with its large vegetable-marrow-like fruit, very delicious to eat. In the more open parts of the island the yellow guava (Kau-toga) is spreading fast, and already covers many hundreds of acres, as it has done in Rarotonga, Tahiti, Hawaii, and Samoa, but to a much larger extent, especially in Hawaii.