W hat I believe to be genuine and authentic the collected publications of William Colenso


II.—Of Plants Formerly Cultivated For Their Textile Uses



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II.—Of Plants Formerly Cultivated For Their Textile Uses.


1. I will first mention the Aute = Paper-mulberry (Broussonetia papyrifera), although, as far as I know, not a single vestige of this plant is now left in New Zealand! its name remains, and that is all. Few Maoris now living have ever seen it; and yet, in ancient days, it was commonly and largely cultivated throughout the country.527 At the time of Cook’s visit it was very common, and seen by those early voyagers everywhere, both growing in their plantations and worn in fillets by the chiefs in their hair; the thin white bleached paper-like bark contrasting excellently well with their ebon locks! Very many of the heads of Maoris, in the plates in both Cook’s Voyages and Parkinson’s Journal, are drawn thus ornamented with the aute. Yet though commonly cultivated, it was of small size, and never was used by the Maoris for clothing purposes, as it was by many other of the Polynesians. The chiefs also made ornamental paper-kites of it, which was one of their great diversions in times of peace, especially among the older men.528

2. The New Zealand Flax Plants (Phormium tenax, and P. colensoi) in some of their many prized varieties, were also largely cultivated by the ancient Maori. First—they always had planted near to, if not adjoining, their food cultivations and their towns and villages, the commoner sorts of this useful plant, which was constantly used by them in its green state for the daily making into baskets and dishes for cooked food (all such woven dishes not being used a second time), and, also, for common and hasty tying purposes; but those common kinds (which grew spontaneously almost everywhere, except in the deep forests,) they did not make use of for making thread, cord, fishing-lines, nets, and garment weaving purposes; these superior kinds were cultivated. Second—of the varieties of New Zealand flax known (even now) to the Maoris, there are more than 50.529 I have seen old plantations of this plant (or, rather, [19] the remains of them) more than forty years ago in travelling.530 The variety which was suited (in its prepared fibre) for making into fishing-lines, would not serve for making nets (which were made of unscraped flax); and what was required for the woof of their superior woven flax garments, would not serve for the warp of the same,—while another kind again was used for their dyed borders; they also used a different variety for the girdles of their chiefs; another variety for the hard, almost closely woven, sack-cloth-like lining of their prized dog-skin and kiwi-feather garments; another kind was used for the inner garment (or small apron) of the young girls of rank; another sort for the common shaggy rain-protecting shoulder mats; and yet another sort for making the all but impenetrable hard shield, or arm-buckler, used to receive and ward-off spear thrusts, in their assaulting of forts. The dressed fibre of some kinds was soft, of others glossy and silky, while of other kinds it was harsher and stronger, more linen-thread like; and the colours and lengths of their staple also greatly differed.

A similar question here arises in the mind, as has already been brought to our notice in considering both the kumara and the taro plants, namely—the old Maoris having many distinct and well-known varieties of their flax, how did they get them? And while this question is more easily and naturally answered, owing to the Phormium plants abundantly seeding, still, there is another (or more than one) remaining to be met:—Did the old Maoris, the ancient cultivators of the flax plant, did they accidentally discover all, or any, of those several sorts naturally produced? Or did they, in their cultivating of the plant, and so bringing together the finer and choicer specimens—did they, in their so doing, cause, or help to raise the new varieties?

This question, however, cannot readily be answered; although, duly considered, (especially in connection with what has preceded about those other cultivated plants), it will, I think, be found to have a good deal to do with that very important question which has yet to be solved—the great antiquity of the Maori race. Of which more anon.


III.—Of The Wild Or Uncultivated Food-Producing Plants Of The Ancient New-Zealander.


These were many in kind, some strange and peculiar, yet mostly all common. [20] They were obtained from nearly all the great natural vegetable families,—trees, shrubs and herbs, ferns, algæ, and fungi. In fruits, leaves, and roots.

Strange to say, the trees and plants generally of this large and densely forested country,—blessed, too, with an excellent temperate and moist climate,—scarcely bore a single fruit worthy of being eaten by a European! Still, it was wrong to write—“In New Zealand there are no fruits or vegetables of indigenous and spontaneous growth; all they have must be cultivated and tended constantly.”531

Nature was indeed niggard to the Maori people, as to fine fruits and edible vegetables, yet they made the best of it, and commonly used advantageously what she had provided for them. Certainly the preparation of several before that they were fit for eating was highly curious.

In remarking on their various kinds of vegetable food of spontaneous growth, I think the better way will be to take them as they valued them and used them; so setting aside both their natural and botanical sequence.

1. The first, then, is the world-renowned fern-root = aruhe, roi, or marohi,532 = Pteris esculenta,—rightly so named by its first botanical discoverer, Forster; and though very well known by its common name to Europeans and to settlers (with whom, also, the plant itself is familiar), yet the edible fern-root is far from being rightly understood; I shall, therefore, have to offer a few remarks concerning it.

(1.) As to its proper localities:—

Good edible fern-root,—that which produced a large amount of fecula, was not to be found everywhere. In some districts, particularly at the north, it was comparatively scarce, and had to be dug and brought many a weary mile on the backs of the people to their homes, especially to their sea-side or fishing villages.533 Here, however, in Hawke’s Bay (south side), in many patches of the low-lying rich alluvial grounds, on the banks of the rivers, it was more readily obtained. The best roots were produced in loose rich soil, where the plant had been undisturbed for years. I remember, many years [11] ago, travelling over an isolated hill of loose rich earth in the interior, which had been long famed for its fine fern-root; and for the occupancy and use of that hill for digging the root, several battles had been fought. The fern-root obtained from hard ground, was, at the north, collectively called paetu; while that got from soft, loose, red soils was called koauau. All fern-root diggings and places of good fern-root, were rigidly preserved; no trespassing was ever allowed.

(2.) As to the proper time of digging, and manner of drying it, etc.—The old Maoris had their set flxed times of digging the root, in the spring and early summer months; they knew well when the roots were abounding in nutriment, and would no more have dug them up in the wrong season than we should our potatoes. They were also careful not to burn off the fern plants from their digging grounds, save at the proper time of the year, as such careless burning injured the roots; but burning off the fern in the proper season, in August, improved them. In doing so they were ceremonially careful (at the north) to use the wood of two plants for firing the fern,—the kareao (Rhipogonum scandens), and the mahoe (Melicytus ramiflorus). In digging it, which was always done with their long wooden sharp spade (koo), they took care not to bruise or break it into pieces; at the same time they examined it by breaking, etc.,—if it were dry internally, then it was good, and they went on with their digging; if wet, inferior. They carefully put it up in loose stage-like piles, on wood, to dry in the wind, shading it from the sun. And when it was quite dry, at the end of a fortnight, they went over it, selecting and separating it into several kinds or qualities, of which they had many (just as with us, the various kinds of wheat, potatoes, etc.); some being for the chiefs, some for warriors, some for visitors, some for common daily use, and some for the slaves.534 Each quality was put up separately, and carefully stored away in large quantities from both sun and rain for future use,—properly harvested, dried, and stored, it would keep good for years.

(3.) In preparing the fern-root for daily food, it was never used green. The dried root was slightly soaked in water, roasted a little on the embers, and beaten soft with a stone pestle, or short hard-wood club, or one made from the bone of a whale (each properly made for the purpose), on another large smooth waterworn stone; this beating of the root was constant and hard work. In the roasting and beating the black outer bark, or skin, peeled off. The better quality root so prepared was as soft as a bit of tough dough; it soon, however, became stiff and hard, when it snapped like glass or good biscuit. When it was prepared in large quantities, for taking with them to sea in their coasting voyages, and also for going to fight, then [22] it was made up into a kind of pounded mass. In the spring of the year the succulent young shoots (monehu), which rose out of the ground like asparagus, were also eaten fresh; they were very mucilaginous.

No doubt the fern-root was very nutritious; the old Maoris thought highly of it, and always liked it, even preferring it in the summer with fresh fish, of which, in that season, they always had abundance. They also used it in the summer season soaked, after pounding, in the sweet luscious juice of the berry-like petals of the tutu (Coriaria ruscifolia). Pigs fed on it, in their wild state, always yielded the finest and most delicious pork; as we well knew and experienced before that we had either beef or mutton in the country.

Both by way of illustration and of proof, of how the fern-root was formerly prized, I here bring forward the following:—

(1.) It is stated of the New Zealand chief Kiinui—who had been basely kidnapped and carried violently away from his native home (Doubtless Bay) by M. de Surville, commander of the French ship Saint Jean Baptiste, in December, 1769, and who died of a broken heart at sea, on the 24th March, 1770, off the Isle of Juan Fernandez, on their passage to France—that “while he ate heartily of all the ship’s provisions, he pined after the fern-root, and always regretted the want of his primitive food.”—(Rochon’s Voyages aux Indes Orientales, Tom. III., p. 389.) Curiously enough Captain Cook, on his first voyage, had only just left that bay on his voyage north, when De Surville entered it! They did not, however, see each other’s ships.

(2.) The Fable of the Fern-root and the Kumara.—The fern-root and the kumara were one day bantering each other; at last the kumara rudely said to the fern-root, “Thou art an unsightly thing! containing but small sustenance from long eating.” Then the fern-root answered his antagonist triumphantly (for it has passed into a proverb with us), “Although I am but an unsightly thing to look at (as thou sayest), carry me to the water and soak and prepare me properly, and when the sea-breezes are blowing, then it will be nothing else but the joyful cry of ‘prepare! prepare!’”535

Meaning, that in the summer season, when the sea-breezes blow daily, and the choicest fish in large shoals approach the coast and are caught, and [23] the cockles and other prized bivalves are in their season, (and when, too, there are no kumara to be had), then the cry continually will be—“Prepare the nice root as a delightful adjunct with our fresh fish.”

(3.) Among the many diversions of the young folks in the olden time, were those of witty and laughable questions and answers, of course taught them by their seniors. Here is one, showing how greatly they prized the fern-root—it is the diversion of a party of young girls—it is called, “What is thy husband to be?” And it runs thus:—

Question: What is thy husband to be?

Answer: A man who well knows how to cultivate kumaras.

Rejoinder: Then thou must seek such, away, in a fine sheltered soil, and under a powerful chief to protect.

Again the question is put:



Q. What is thy husband to be?

A. A man who is a good and lucky fisher.

Rej. Ah! yes, at times, now and then, when the sea is smooth.

Again the question is put:



Q. What is thy husband to be?

A. A man who is good at digging fern-root.

Rej. That is the choice one: always a pile of your own, stacked in store, ready at hand for the wife to pull from.

Much of the beauty and wit of this little piece is lost in a translation; in the original it is exceedingly terse, full of meaning, and semi-poetical.

(4.) In a very old and quaint semi-genealogical song, the heavenly origin, or birth, of the fern-root is thus given (omitting the introduction):

—This tradition (is) not from me,—


From ancient times (was) this tradition;
Mine (is) merely an announcing,
A proclaiming to the habitable world.
Thus I speak forth, that thou mayest hear;
Nevertheless, (it) has been repeatedly heard.
... From Rarotimu was born
The closely-woven-mat536-of-the-sky
Which verily formed537 the Fern-root;
There, upon the great broad back of the sky,
It was clinging closely.
But when Taane538 uplifted his father on high,
(Separating him for ever from his wife, the earth),
Then the Fern-roots fell off rattling down below
To the earth beneath539 who received them,
[24] Henceforth to stand in her fertile vales and sides.
In the times of deception540 they were first thoughtlessly (collected),
But thoughtful-ability first selected them properly,
And planted them fittingly out into little holes
Sticking them in securely—
So as to become firmly-fixed roots of the Fern.541
At last, the succulent crosier-like shoots
Appeared, uprising among the habitations of men;
And (they were) named
(The) Young-lady-who-showed-how-to-dig-up-her-lord.542

A piece very difficult of translation, owing to its containing such a large amount of compressed allegory, referring to their ancient mythology and cosmogony. It is almost unique (as far as I know), and therefore I have given a free literal translation of it, with a few notes.

To the foregoing Maori testimony I would just add a few brief extracts from the writings of their first European visitors respecting the fern-root.

Captain Cook says: “Instead of bread they eat the root of a kind of fern. Of these roots, after roasting and beating, a soft substance remains, somewhat clammy and sweet, not unpleasing to the taste.”—(First Voyage, Vol. II., p. 312.)

Mr. Parkinson (Sir Joseph Banks’ draughtsman) says: “They have a kind of fern, the roots of which roasted make a good substitute for bread, especially when their kumara is young and unfit for use.”—(Journal, p. 99.)

Dr. Anderson, who was Captain Cook’s surgeon on his third voyage, says: “They use a fern root, which seems to be their substitute for bread, as it is dried and carried about with them in great quantities when they remove their families, or go far from home. This they beat with a stick till it becomes pretty soft, when they chew it, the edible part having a sweet mealy taste, not at all disagreeable.”—(Cook’s Voyages, Third Voyage, Vol. I., p. 158.)

Rutherford also, who had to subsist in part on it, à-la-Maori, during his long residence among them, speaks approvingly of it; and a Hindoo, whom Marsden and Nicholas found dwelling among the Maoris, and who refused to leave them, preferred the fern-root to rice.

Twenty-five years ago experiments were made at home in England on the root of the common fern of that country—the brake, or bracken (Pteris [25] aquilina), partly under the belief (which still obtains with some folks) that that common British species is identical with this of New Zealand; or, at all events, that both plants were but varieties of one species, which I, however, do not believe, for they differ in several important particulars, particularly in the root itself. The experiments signally failed, very likely owing to the roots having been dug up and used fresh, and that perhaps at the wrong season of the year; besides, they did not go about its preparation and cooking in the right way. This is what the celebrated cryptogamist, the Rev. Mr. Berkeley, says about it: “The long creeping rhizoma of a variety of Pteris aquilina was formerly much used in New Zealand for food; but, if the New Zealand variety is not more palatable than our own, it is a very undesirable food.543 The rhizoma of our own form of Pteris aquilina when roasted has just the slimy consistence, taste, and odour of ill-ripened brinjals” [Solanum melongena.—W.C.] “when cooked, than which nothing can be a worse compliment. The great objection, however, to this as an article of food is the nauseous mucilage. If the rhizoma, after being washed and peeled, is scraped, so as to avoid including the hard-walled tissue, and then mixed with a sufficient quantity of water, the mucilage will be dissolved, and after a few hours may be decanted,” etc.—(Introduction to Cryptogamic Botany, p. 519.)

2. The second is the succulent fruit of the karaka tree (Corynocarpus lœvigata), a genus confined to New Zealand, of which, also, only this one species is known. This fruit, or, rather, in common language, its nut or seed, was of inestimable value to the Maori as a common and useful article of vegetable food, second only in place to their prized kumara tuber; and I should have placed it before the fern-root, only it is not so common, being confined to the vicinity of the sea. In its raw state, however, it is a deadly poison; a small quantity sufficing to throw into convulsions and great and permanent distortions of the limbs, and to kill; but prepared and cooked, it is perfectly innocent and wholesome. The Maoris ate both the flesh (sarcocarp) of the fruit (a drupe) when fresh and ripe; and its kernel (embryo) or large seeds; it was this latter only that was poisonous in its raw state.

Every autumn the Maoris removed in large numbers,—men, women, and children,—to the karaka woods and thickets on the sea-coast, to gather [26] up and prepare the karaka kernels for keeping; properly prepared and kept dry these would keep two or three years, or more. The fruits were collected in baskets full,—placed by bushels in very large heated ovens, generally made in the sea-beach above high-water-mark, and there baked and steamed a considerable time, then taken out, put into loosely-woven baskets and laid in running-water, and shaken and knocked about a little, to detach and to carry off all of their outer skin and pulp, leaving the large seed intact, within its own cartilaginous shell of fibrous network (endocarp). The baking and steeping completely removed all their poisonous qualities. Afterwards, they were spread out on mats and stages in the sun to dry, and when perfectly dried, stored away in baskets for future use. When used, the kernels, still in their thin yet tough inner skin or husk, were steamed in an earth oven, which softened them for eating. As an article of vegetable food they were greatly and universally esteemed by the Maoris; and were very wholesome.

3. The third was the fruit of the hinau tree (Elœocarpus dentatus); a tree generally common throughout the islands, in the forests in the interior, but not near the sea. Of this genus there are two, probably three, species in New Zealand. The fruit, which grows plentifully in small loose bunches (racemes), is a small drupe about the size of a large sloe, having a tolerably large and peculiarly shaped furrowed nut within; its skin is hardish, dry, brittle, and shining, and of a dull ash or grey olive colour, and its flesh (if such it may be termed) is also dryish, small in quantity, austere, and altogether uneatable in its fresh and raw state, reminding me of the taste of the acorn. Here, too, the ingenuity and patience of the Maoris were particularly displayed. These fruits were collected in large quantities when ripe from the ground under the hinau trees, and placed in water in the hull of a canoe, or some similar large wooden trough; there, after steeping, they were well rubbed in the hands, the nuts, stalks, and bits of broken skin strained out, the water carefully drained off, and the grey coarse meal left as a residuum made into a kind of huge cake, cooked and eaten. By some tribes, however, the fruits were not steeped in water at all, but merely gathered up and pounded in a rude wooden mortar with a pestle-like club, and the whole sifted through a cunningly-devised though coarse sieve, made of the long, straight mid-ribs obtained from the linear leaves of the tii-tree (Cordyline australis). To bake a big cake (20–30lbs) of it thoroughly, took two days. In colour the cake was a blackish-grey, darker than barley or rye bread; the rough unpalatable taste of the fruit in its raw state being wholly lost in the cooking. Although a troublesome and lengthy preparation, especially when the very small amount of floury meal obtained from each drupe is considered, this food was greatly esteemed, and [27] always made a first-rate dish, when in season, for visitors. The Maoris had even an old proverb as to its superior excellence—showing that it was well worth being roused up out of one’s sound sleep to eat it freshly cooked—which, I suspect, arose in a great measure from its large, solid, heavy pudding-like mass—a kind of “cut-and-come-again” dish! of which they had not another such among all their vegetable messes. The rats, in the woods, were very fond of its seed or kernel. Often have I, in travelling through the forests, picked up the nuts, and have been astonished at the patient gnawing of the rats, always made at one end, to extract the kernel, which they also invariably did through a very small hole! the shell of the nut being excessively hard, and the kernel itself very small. I scarcely ever found a sound nut on the ground, all had been gnawed.

4. The next is the puwha, or common sow-thistle (Sonchus oleraceus, var., or two varieties, exclusive of the later introduced British one). This was only used fresh as a vegetable, and gathered daily, or twice a day, as required, and steamed with their other food in the earth-ovens. Only the tender young leaves and unexpanded flowering tops of the plant were used; and the succulent stems of these were sometimes roughly bruised and washed in running water to get rid of the bitter milky juice before cooking. This plant was largely eaten, especially with fresh fish in the spring and summer, and it was greatly liked. It is a very good and wholesome vegetable; often have I gathered it for my morning or evening meal. Though everywhere common, yet in some places, as in the woods and on the dry open plains in the interior, both myself and travelling party have not unfrequently, when hungry, sought for it in vain!

5. The roots of the pohue, the common convolvulus or bindweed (Convolvulus sepium), were also carefully dug up and cooked for food. These, however, were not greatly esteemed; partly, I am inclined to believe, from the trouble of digging their long thong-like roots, and the small quantity obtained for the amount of labour expended.

A great peculiarity here to be noticed, is, that the roots of this plant, said to be identically the same species as the British one, are here in New Zealand edible and wholesome; while in England and elsewhere they are highly purgative (a few grains being sufficient), and were formerly there used medicinally. [I early pointed this out to the late Sir W. Hooker.]

6. The fine frond-stems (stipes) and trunk of the korau or mamaku, the black tree-fern (Cyathea medullaris), were also baked and eaten, and were greatly liked. This excellent boiled sago-like substance was certainly one of their very best wild vegetable productions, so easily, too, obtained; but it could only be used occasionally from its comparative rarity, as the plant being slow of growth required several years to bring it to any size, and when [28] once cut died. The first European who discovered and named it, Dr. Forster, spoke very highly of it.

7. The blanched heart-shoot (korito) and bases of the youngest leaves of the tii, or kouka, or whanake, the cabbage-tree of the settlers (Cordyline australis), were also commonly eaten both raw and roasted in the embers or hot ashes; but more as a makeshift in travelling or fishing (eels), etc., than as a regular village article of food. Being common, and almost everywhere at hand, it was very useful at such times of hunger,—as I, myself, have proved; its taste is slightly bitter, but not unpalatable.

The large tap-root of this plant was also dug up and split and cooked for food; it was very fibrous, yet contained a large amount of both saccharine and farinaceous substance. It took very long in cooking, and was chiefly resorted to in times of great scarcity of vegetable food. Upwards of 30 years ago, at a time of severe want of vegetable food here in Hawke’s Bay, through long drought and failure of their crops, the roots of this tree were extensively used in every village,—the modern Maoris being greatly benefited through having iron pots in which to boil them. Another species of this genus, tii-koraha (Cordyline pumilio), a very much smaller plant of low growth with narrow grass-like leaves, had much more fleshy and saccharine roots; these were sought and dug up, hung in the wind and dried in small bunches, and eaten sometimes in their raw state. This plant was more commonly found at the north, growing in the open fern lands.

8. A very capital article of food was the blanched heart (korito) of the southern palm-tree, nikau (Areca sapida); but as a fine tree only afforded a single dish, and the obtaining of it always killed the plant, it was not very commonly used. It, however, is excellent eating, even in a raw state, juicy, succulent, and nutty, with an agreeable taste, and is very wholesome. It proved of very great service to me once when I had both lost my way and my companions too, in travelling in a new country, and was starving.

9. Another highly curious article of vegetable food was the pungapunga, the yellow pollen of the raupo flowers—the common bulrush, or cat’s-reed mace (Typha angustifolia). This was collected in the summer season, when the plant is in full flower, in the wet swamps and sides of lagoons, streams, and lakes. I have been astonished at the large quantities of pollen then obtained. On one occasion, more than thirty years ago, I had several buckets full brought me by the present chief, Tareha, in his canoe, some of which I sent both raw and cooked to the Kew Museum. In appearance in its raw state it exactly resembles the ground yellow mustard of commerce, and when put up into bottles would be mistaken for it. It is obtained by gently beating it out of the dense flowering spikes. To use it as food it is mixed up with water into cakes and baked. It is sweetish and light, and [29] reminds one strongly of London gingerbread. Dr. Sir. J.D. Hooker informed me that when he was in India he found the natives of Scinde making a precisely similar use of it.

10. The large, hard, stony seeds of the plum-like drupe of the tawa tree (Nesodaphne tawa) were also used as food by the natives of the interior. This tree grows tall and large, and is very common throughout New Zealand in the low-lying forests. The fruit is something like a common English dark-coloured plum, and the flesh or pulp, though eatable in its raw state, is scarcely palatable, and not relished. The seed or kernel is peculiar, resembling that of the date of the shops, and equally hard. Long steaming them, however, in their Maori earth-ovens does wonders, and makes them to become serviceable to man. For this purpose they were formerly collected in quantities.

11. Another magnificent fern (Marattia salicina), para of the Maoris, was also an article of food, the large, scaly, bract-like pieces of its big tuberous root were used for this purpose. It inhabited damp, shady forests, and was very scarce. I never found it but once, in forests at the head of the Waikare River, Bay of Islands, when I took off my hat to it! Of those plants I sent specimens to my good friend, the botanist, Allan Cunningham; also to Sir W. Hooker, at Kew,544 I believe that it only inhabited the northern parts of this North Island, and formerly was much more plentiful there (from Maori report). No doubt its being so eagerly sought for food caused it to become scarce, just as with the black tree-fern (Cyathea medullaris). Its large arching fronds were ten to thirteen feet in length.

12. Another peculiar plant was the karengo (Laminaria sp.), a sea-weed, found growing in abundance on the flat clayey tidal rocks of the East Coast, and particularly about the East Cape;—a plant not readily forgotten by the traveller that way, should he have incautiously trodden on it when wet, from its extreme slipperiness, and flat prostrate paper-like form of growth. This plant was collected and dried in the sun, and closely packed away in baskets for use. I have known baskets of it dried, to be taken inland to Taupo and elsewhere, on the Maoris’ backs, as a suitable present, in, exchange for the delicacies of the interior forests, like the karaka kernels (ante). Sometimes in the summer season it was steamed in the earth-oven, and together with two other species of sea-algæ, rehia and rimurapa (Gigartina and Gracilaria sp.), was mixed with the sweet juice of the tutu, as an excellent kind of blancmange-like summer food, eaten cold, and devoured with avidity. [30]

13. Several fungi were also eaten in the summer season, such as the two large terrestrial species called pukurau (Lycoperdon fontanesei and L. giganteum); the harore (Agaricus adiposus); the hakekakeka (Hirneola auricula judæ); and the paruwhatitiri (Ileodictyon cibarium). Of this last, only the thick gelatinous volva, or outer shell, was eaten, and that when young and before it burst. For—after it had burst and thrown out its curious pileus of globe-shaped white network, covered with dark and fetid slime—its stench was unendurable; hence, no doubt, and from noticing how readily they sprang up after thunder showers, arose its Maori name—thunder excrement!545 The two species of pukurau grew commonly in the open fern and grass lands, and were often of large size, and when young are very good eating. One species, L. giganteum, is said to be identical with the well-known edible European species of that name. The harore and hakekakeka were found plentifully on trees, both living and dead, in the woods, but were not greatly esteemed; recourse would be made to them in times of want.

14. The thick, fleshy roots of the New Zealand lily, rengarenga (Arthropodium cirrhatum), were also formerly eaten, cooked in the earth-oven. This plant grows to a very large size in suitable soil, and when cultivated in gardens. From this circumstance, and from having not unfrequently noticed it about old deserted residences and cultivations, I am inclined to believe that it was also cultivated. [31]

15. The inner part of the white succulent roots (koreirei) of the raupo or bulrush (already noticed), was also largely eaten raw, especially by children in the summer; it is mild, cooling, and refreshing, and not unpleasant.

16. In times of great scarcity of vegetable food, the globular nut-like roots of the riiriiwaka, tall sedge (Scirpus maritimus), were collected and eaten,—that is, the kernel-like inner part. It was amusing to witness the half-wild pigs of the modern Maori in the summer season—before the arrival of the European settlers—when the littoral swamps were drying up, how they would go into them, and dig and crack and munch those roots, concealed in the sedges of the swamps; they were often detected by the sound of their cracking and munching!

17. Another fleshy root, and that a tolerably large one, of the Orchis family, often the size of a middling-sized kumara tuber, or of a stout, long-red radish root—the perei (Gastrodia cunninghamii)—was also eaten; but it was rather scarce, and only found in the dense forests.

18. Lastly, the leaves of several smaller plants were also used in their season as vegetables; as raupeti (Solanum nigrum); toi (Barbara australis); tohetake (Taraxacum dens-leonis); and the very young succulent and mucilaginous shoots of two ferns, Asplenium bulbiferum and Asplenium lucidum. But the use of these in modern times, or during the last 40–50 years, was commonly superseded by that of the extremely useful and favourite plant—the “Maori cabbage,” (Brassica oleracea), introduced by Cook (nanii, of the Maoris at the north; and rearea at the south), of which they carefully sowed the seeds. I have, however, often partaken of Solanum nigrum, boiled as greens, at the table of a settler.546



Before, however, that I close this subject, a few words on their summer fruits may not be out of place. Foremost here (the karaka having been already mentioned) is the tutu (Coriaria ruscifolia); the rich and wholesome juice of the berry-like petals of this plant, common everywhere, was in large request and plentifully expressed into big calabashes, which were kept in a cool place for immediate use. Next is the tawhara, which can scarcely be called a fruit, being the large thick white fleshy and sugary bracts of the [32] climbing kiekie plant (Freycinetia banksii), these were largely collected in the summer in big calabashes, being delicious eating when fresh;547 curiously enough the real fruit of this plant (called ureure), which was also eaten, was only ripe in the winter season, thus being, as the Maoris say, the only New Zealand plant which yielded them its fruits twice in the year. The fruits of the larger timber trees, totara (Podocarpus totara), kahika or kahikatea (Podocarpus dacrydioides), mataii (Podocarpus spicata), and rimu (Dacrydium cupressinum), were also gathered in baskets full, and greedily devoured; these, however, were only obtained through difficulty and danger, in climbing those high trees and getting at the fruit on the very extremities of their branches, which the adventurous climber broke off and threw down; in doing so not a few accidents yearly happened, some being sadly maimed for life. The purple perfumed berry of the large fuchsia shrub, kotukutuku or konini (Fuchsia excorticata), were abundant, easily obtained, and very nice when fully ripe, even to a European. So were the orange-coloured berries, though small, of the rohutu (Myrtus pedunculata); these the natives obtained by spreading their larger garments, or floor-mats, on the ground, and shaking the trees, when the fruit fell in showers; the berry is about the size of a red currant, seeds large and very hard. The large berry of the poroporo (Solanum aviculare), was also eaten; it is about the size of a small plum, and when fully ripe it is not unpleasant eating, before it is ripe it is very acrid. This fruit was commonly used by the early colonists in the neighbourhood of Wellington, in making jam. The koropuku (Gaultheria antipoda, var. γ), a curious small white fruit (though large for the size of the plant), growing on a very low shrub only two to four inches high, on the high plains in the interior, is also good eating. And so is the pulp of the rich orange-coloured fruit of the kawakawa (Piper excelsum), when fully ripe, rejecting the numerous seeds.548 The small fruits [33] of several species of Coprosma (karamu, kakaramu, taupata, papaauma, tatarahake, etc., of the Maoris) were also eaten; so were the fruits of several species of Rubus (tataramoa), and of the ngaio (Myoporum lætum), especially by children. While the liquid honey-like fluid abundantly supplied in the perianths of the korari, or New Zealand flax (Phormium sp.), was commonly used by all, both old and young, and was very wholesome eating.

Lastly, and in conclusion, I would briefly observe, that this estimable trait in the character of the Maori,—of passionate attachment to cultivation, descended and remained with him down to modern times,—to times long after the foundation of the Colony. For many years, however, prior to that event, the chief harbours of New Zealand (North Island) were thronged with ships—whalers and others—which called in to get supplies, mainly of vegetables,—potatoes, kumara (both small and large, the latter newly introduced), pumpkins, onions, maize, melons, cabbages, etc.; these were all raised by Maoris, who often received but a very small return in barter, especially if sold by them to the intermediate men, the storekeepers and ships’ husbands on shore. A writer on New Zealand in 1884 (who for some years previous had been a resident in the Bay of Islands) says,— “Vast numbers of whaling vessels touch at the various harbours on the eastern coast, for supplies of potatoes and pork and other fresh provision, the produce of the country. In the Bay of Islands there have been at anchor, at one time, as many as twenty-seven vessels, most of them upwards of three hundred tons burthen, all of which have been supplied, by the industry of the inhabitants, with a sufficient stock of fresh provisions for a long whaling cruise.” And a similar testimony I can also bear for the time (ten years) that I resided there. I have seen 400 seamen on shore at one time from those ships! and when the great and increasing number of the shore residents, including the several mission stations, the large number of their dependent natives at school, etc., and the sawyers in the neighbouring forests, are duly considered, the quantity of potatoes, etc., raised for all seems really astonishing! and all, too, done by manual labour, together with their bringing their produce many miles by land and by water—on their backs and in their canoes—to the market. And it must not be forgotten that the Maoris had now double labour in their cultivating,—in having to fence against the incursions of the pig, everywhere abounding; and, also, through their non-using of manure, as has been already shown. Such, indeed, was the strong, the passionate attachment of the young Maoris [34] of those days to the cultivation of the soil, that we were obliged to allow the young men residing with us,—whether as servants, boatmen, or scholars,—to return to their several homes for that purpose every year in the planting season.

And just so it was here in Hawke’s Bay for several years; in 1845 the Maoris (south side) first sowed and reaped wheat (the seed of which I had obtained from Auckland); and in succeeding years they raised enough of wheat and maize (exclusive of potatoes and scraped New Zealand flax), to load annually several small vessels; and all the produce of hand labour! Truly the Maoris of to-day, with all their civilization and riches, may take for a proper motto Fuimus!



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