Iwi Māori connection to the kumara is peppered throughout our history. The kūmara is in our kōrero (narratives), our whakapapa (genealogies) our pakiwaitara (legends) our waiata tawhito (songs of old) and karakia. Our tribal narratives relating to the arrival of the kūmara from Hawaiiki here to Aotearoa vary from iwi to iwi, however, its mythical whakapapa (genealogy) is across all tribes.
It begins with Rongo-maui, the husband of Pani-Tinaku (Tinaku, the germinator) and his older brother of Rongo-maui, Whanui (the Star Vega). Pani’s nephews taunted Rongo-maui concerning his failure to go fishing and provide food for his family. Shamed by this accusation, he decided to ascend to the heavens and ask his tuakana (older brother) Whanui, guardian of the celestial kumara, for some of his tubers. When Whanui refused, Rongo-maui hid from sight then returned and stole the kumara taking them back to earth. (In so doing, theft entered this world). Rongo-maui returned and gave the seed to his wife Pani-tinaku who gave birth to the kumara at the waters of Mona-Ariki. Source: Mere Roberts and Brad Haami
Mokoia Island / Te Motu-tapu-a-Tinirau
Matuatonga (our sacred deity) arrived from Hawaiiki on Te Arawa waka and taken to its resting place on Mokoia Island originally called Te Motu-tapu-a-Tinirau. Matuatonga is said to have supernatural powers thus retaining the kūmara connection to its celestial beginnings could be one way of putting it.
Mokoia Island is tapu (sacred) largely because of the presence of Matuatonga which is still there. Kūmara grow well on Mokoia, which is attributed to the great powers of Matuatonga. Each year before planting began the tohunga (wise scholar) took their seed-kūmara to the island and touched Matuatonga, thereby gaining its mana (power).
Te taiao (the environment) on Mokoia Island is ideal for growing kūmara. It is East facing providing all day sun. The island is a shelter-belt from the harsh westerlies. The thermal heat provided for growing kūmara all year round. The volcanic soil, is an ideal medium for the kūmara while at the lake’s edge the sand would have been great for growing tipu and of course the lake had pristine waters unlike today.
Whakataukī / Māori proverb
Ko te wai te toto o te whenua
Ko te whenua te toto o te tangata
As water is the blood of the land
So the land is the blood of humanity
Te Kete Rokiroki a Whakaotirangi
The secure Basket of Whakaotirangi
This refers to our ancestress tupuna, Whakaotirangi. Tasked with securing the kumara as Te Arawa waka journeyed to Aotearoa around the year 1300AD. On arrival at Maketu, Whakaotirangi disembarked and planted the first tipu putting in place the tradition of growing kūmara here in the Bay of Plenty and Rotorua.
Kāore to kūmara he kōrero mō tōna ake reka
The kūmara never speaks of its own sweetness
In 2017 students from Rotorua Boys High joined Kai Rotorua at Te Puea Orchard planting 14 varieties of kumara tipu (seed) including the hutihuti, taputini, rekarawa, paraparapara, matakauri, mahina, romanawa, maiko red, maiko gold, Hawaiian Blue, Owairaka Red, paukena, honey red and candy. The hutihuti and taputini are two original varieties that came on Te Arawa waka. These kumara seed were obtained from a number of sources including organic growers Joseph and Catherine Land and their whanau at Whirinaki in the Hokianga, Koanga Institute in the far North and Te Parapara Gardens at Kirikiriroa
It was the High School’s foray into growing kumara.
Kumara seed are planted in tapapa (seed beds) at Ohinemutu in a thermal environment. It is about 2 months before the tipu (seedlings) appear ready to harvest at which time they are placed in water to harden off before planting either at the end of October or early in November after the last frost.
Maramataka / Māori Moon Calendar
Kai Rotorua uses the Maramataka as a tool for the following purposes:
We also use the Maramataka to respond to and understand days set outside our control. i.e. when a hui/event is set by a third party. The Maramataka is an instrument that measures high, medium or low energy levels allowing us to respond accordingly.
Preparation of the maara kumara (plantation) is completed in the lead up to September which begins with ‘broadcasting’ green cover crops, oats and blue lupin seed. At about 1m the oats and lupin are turned back into the soil before applying organic fertiliser. 50m rows are prepared before the next rainfall then polythene is laid over each row. This provides a number of advantages. It locks in the moisture after the rain. It creates an artificial heated environment for the kumara, and is a great weed suppressant. Another great advantage is we have never had to apply water. Finally, weed matting is placed between the rows providing another benefit being the kumara vines cannot take root ensuring the parent isn’t competing for nutrients.