Volume 56 1947 > Volume 56, No. 4 > Original kumara, by Enid Tapsell, p 325-332
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TWO facts caused me to collect the following details of original species of kumara. The first, because a member of the War Memorial Museum (Auckland) staff was unaware that any original species were still extant (1942). At that time three varieties were then growing in Maketu and adjacent areas in the Bay of Plenty. The second, Professor James Hornell's reference to the origin of the sweet potato, Ipomoea batatas, L. (page 175, J.P.S., December, 1945), in which it was submitted that the original tubers might have come from Peru.

With reawakened interest on the subject, I set about seeking information as to where and how the several kinds were, perhaps still are, grown in various places in the Bay of Plenty. My informants, Pare Mita and Taukuira Mita, have a fairly extensive knowledge of the coast from Whangaparoa to North Auckland and their information can be regarded as fairly reliable. They are an elderly couple well versed in the older customs of Maori culture. Not all of the information was obtained from them, but Pare and Taukuira Mita were able to substantiate that derived from other sources.

In the illustrations, the drawings of leaves, Nos. 3 and 4, were done from memory and submitted to Taukuira Mita for approval. Although they may not be exact reproductions of pehu and taroamahoe leaves they will give readers an approximate idea of their shape. Nos. 1 and 2 were drawn from original leaves submitted to the War Memorial Museum, Auckland, in 1942.

It is to be regretted that none of these original species (with the exception of very small patches of hutihuti) is now grown in Maketu. Tradition says that Whaka-o-te-Rangi planted her little kit of salvaged kumara which had been nearly lost in the “Throat-of-Parata” on the perilous voyage to Aotearoa in the Arawa Canoe, on a section still known to local inhabitants as Whakatongia. It is a little

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sunny spot lying to the morning sun, near the site of Tania-te-Kapua's first home. Local tradition says the name of this original kumara was taroamahoe but hutihuti is claimed to be an original of the Arawa Canoe also.

My informant states the name of the first kumara planted at Whangaparoa was taroamahoe also, and it was grown until quite recently at Maraenui and Te Kaha, and he thought it was also grown until recently at Orekei pa, Auckland. From other sources I learned that an original variety was still being planted in the pa as late as 1942, but I have not been able to get confirmation as to its name. From the description and size it might have been a hutihuti or a rekamaroa which appears to be a later introduced variety, although still being claimed as an original.

The rekamaroa differs from the other three kinds (No. 1 in plate) as it was easier to cultivate and freer-growing in its habit. The name suggests this and, instead of being planted out carefully from “sets,” it was handled more carelessly and only the young shoots were placed in the ground. Although it was planted under the same conditions as the wina or island kumara, it was easily distinguishable in the plots by its lighter green, almost yellowish leaves, while the hutihuti plots were different again. The leaves were nearly the same in appearance, but greener, and slightly irregular in formation with more compact growing habits. In dry seasons the hutihuti hardly sends out any vines or off-shoots or suckers, while the ordinary commercial variety usually has to be cut back to prevent the plot becoming “all top,” or leaves, instead of rooting.

Until the hutihuti died out it was kept from one season until the next in pits and planted straight into the ground at the same time as the rest of the crop. This itself was quite a ceremony and planting time was usually November, or when weather signs and conditions were favourable to the young plants. When a marangai came in from the sea, and the sun was obscured and the air damp with the sea mist, was the most propitious time to plant.

Until the outbreak of war in 1914 the people of Maketu carried on in the old traditional way of kumara planting. After that the custom died out, and finally, coinciding with the Second World War, the planting of kumara as a staple - 329 food of Maori diet has died out also, mainly because of a lack of manpower to cultivate and prepare the plots for the planters.

It has been said by those who remember kumara planting ceremonies in Maketu prior to 1914 that the singing in the early morning, the rise and fall of the chanting as the planters worked in unison, was almost ethereal as it rose on the mist-laden air. All work was done on a co-operative basis, each plantation being visited in rotation, while individual owners, or groups of owners, provided the meals for the working teams in turn. At the end of the planting one big feast for everybody, followed by dancing and singing, rounded off the ceremony.


1. Taroamahoe. Oldest known species; claimed by Arawa to be the original variety brought to Aotearoa by Whaka-o-te-Rangi. (No. 4 in illustration.) Small, dry tuber with few “eyes”; could be eaten raw, dried or steam-cooked. Hard to cultivate owing to care needed in storage during winter and difficulty in handling when planting out. 1 Taroamakoe, pehu and rekamaroa were all prepared in the same way (see illustration) by dividing the tuber into three pieces after the young shoots were hardened off enough to move. Care had to be taken that they were not dislodged from their “eye” sockets in the process of transferring from hot-bed to plot.

For Nos. 1, 2 and 3 shallow pits previously warmed by fire were hollowed out, lined with dry fern, then layers of tubers, more fern, and finally earth and left three weeks or more. Then the soil was carefully loosened and tubers divided into two or three pieces before carrying to planting grounds.

(2) Pehu: (No. 3 illustration) is also claimed as an original and has practically disappeared, although it was grown extensively at Torere at one time, it was more

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compact in growth and had a hard, smooth surface skin and smaller leaves than any of the other known varieties. (Taukuira Mita states it might be still found growing at Torere.)

(3) Hutihuti: This is claimed to be an original by the Arawa also, and differs only in size from the taroamahoe. It was said to be a favourite food of travellers when eaten on the march after being sun-dried. It also supplied the almost only known drink to the old-time Maori, kao, which was made by mixing the dry powdered root with water. Until 1942-43 it was, with the rekamaroa, a fairly familiar sight in every home kumara plot. Another reason why hutihuti has not been propagated latterly is that it has outgrown its popularity as a food and is much more tedious to prepare for cooking. (I have seen the older generation of kuia (women) spend hours scraping a basketful of hutihuti just for one meal in the home. Straight from the ground it compared more than favourably with the large Island Red or even the more fleshy rekamaroa when cooked, and used to be a favourite dish with boiled fish-heads or any fish meal, to the older generation.)

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(4) Rekamaroa: (No. 1 illustration). This seems to have been the most easily cultivated and the most popular variety of the four named species, probably because of its larger size and fleshy contents, and the fact that it propagated more easily than the other three. Invariably also, the root crop per plant gave a better yield in a good season, averaging three to five tubers per plant. It was more easily handled when planting out, being as hardy as the Island Red, but like this commercial variety, a poor keeper.

There seems to be some doubt as to whether this is really an original kumara, but it was certainly known to the old-time Maori long before the advent of the Pakeha.

  • Whangaparoa: taroamahoe (by Arawa Canoe).
  • Maketu: taroamahoe, pehu, hutihuti, and rekamaroa.
  • Motiti island: hutihuti, rekamaroa (recently).
  • Tauranga: hutihuti, rekamaroa (doubtful).
  • Te Puke: hutihuti,—?
  • Matata, Otamarakau, Te Teko (Whakatane), all grew hutihuti extensively until recently.
  • Mokoia island, Rotorua: supposed to have grown all four named varieties and until quite recently grew hutihuti and rekamaroa.
  • Torere: pehu until recently (vide Takuira Mita).
  • Orekei Pa (Auckland): An original variety until as late as 1942. Might have been hutihuti or rekamaroa or another species again, as it has been stated that the Bay of Plenty Maori knew the names of at least a dozen varieties prior to European settlement.

It is also possible that there are still other varieties known to the local inhabitants of remote settlements.

1   Previously more care was taken with the preparing of beds for “sets.”