Piwakawaka Mini Te Mära Reo ~ The Language Garden
Musa x paradisiaca & M. troglodytarum [plantain banana] cultivars (Musaceae)
PROTO POLYNESIAN, from PROTO MALAYO-POLYNESIAN *punti through PROTO OCEANIC *pudi Musa x paradisiaca and other Musa cultivars (Musaceae)


Reflexes of the Proto Malayo-Polynesian word *punti are used throughout the Austronesian world as a generic term for bananas, which originally in most places originally meant the plantain and other cooking bananas, notably the myriad cultivated varieties of the hybrid complexes given the shorthand designations Musa x paradisiaca and Musa troglodytarum by botanists. These are among the "canoe plants", brought into Polynesia by the first settlers. The earlier history of the banana is quite intriguing. It appears that it was first domesticated in New Guinea, but one of the two varieties eventually carried to Polynesia (and also domesticated in new Guinea) is a hybrid between a species endemic to the Philippines, Musa errans, and one endemic to New Guinea, M. acuminata var. banksii. Since the name *punti is also reflected in some Northern Philippine languages, this implies some kind of two-way exchange of banana cultivars during the Proto Malayo-Polynesian era (cf. M. Ross et al., Lexicon, Vol. 3, 275-277).

In Eastern Polynesia the word *futi has been replaced by reflexes of another, later word, *maika or *meika, in most languages; however a very early visitor to Rapanui (George Forster, who visited Easter Island on Cooks Expedition in March 1774) noted the use of the word futi there, and in Maori both words may have survived as terms for different root crops with banana-shaped tubers, hutihuti for a kumara variety and maikaika for terrestrial orchids (Orthoceras strictum & O. novaeseelandiae, and three species of Thelymitra) with edible tubers. This disappearance of one term and its replacement by another in closely related languages is not uncommon -- for example, among major Philippine languages, the reflex of *punti as a generic term for bananas is retained in Pangasinan as ponti, but in the neighboring Ilokano and Tagalog languages the words are sabá and saging respectively.

In the etymologies on the right-hand panel, the Samoan equivalent is recorded as futi in the Pollex database, but this may be an error, as the standard dictionaries record fa'i as the Samoan term, with no mention of futi in this context. In those parts of Polynesia where bananas grow, there are a large number of named varieties -- Churchward lists over 30 for Tongan and Milner observes that there are also more than 30 in Samoan; Pukui and Elbert record that there were about 70 named varieties in Hawaii at the time of first contact with Europeans, reduced to about half that since then. One of these varieties is the variegated a'ea'e (also a heritage name).

Tongan: Fusi Musa x paradisiaca, M. troglodytarum & other Musa cultivars (Musaceae)
Niuean: Fusi Musa cultivars (Musaceae)
Samoan: [Futi Musa x paradisiaca & other Musa cultivars (Musaceae)]
Rapanui: Futi Musa x paradisiaca cultivars (Musaceae)
Maori: Hutihuti (Ipomaea batatas cultivar [Convolvulaceae])

Synonym: Maika (Proto Central Eastern Polynesian) Musa x paradisiaca, M. troglodytarum & other Musa cultivars (Musaceae)

Plantain bananaMusa x paradisiaca Lyon Arboretum, Honolulu

Links to further information: When it is up and running, there are links to information about both Musa x paradisiaca (http://cookislands.bishopmuseum.org/species.asp?id=6417) and Musa troglodytarum (http://cookislands.bishopmuseum.org/species.asp?id=6413) on the Cook Islands biodiversity database.
Photograph: RB

Hue flower

Te Mära Reo, c/o Benton Family Trust, "Tumanako", RD 1, Taupiri, Waikato 3791, Aotearoa / New Zealand
Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 New Zealand License.