Piwakawaka Mini Te Mära Reo ~ The Language Garden
*Manuka, *Kanuka, *Nuka, *Nukanuka
Decaspermum fruticosum (*Nuka, *Nukanuka; Myrtaceae ). A weapons-grade wood with healing properties (*Manuka)
The root word (*nuka) is PROTO POLYNESIAN, through PROTO-FIJIIC *Nuqa, Decaspermum vitiense, probably in turn related to Proto-Austronesian *Nuka' ("wound"); *Manuka (or *Mänuka) appears to be Proto-Polynesian, and *Känuka is probably from Proto-Tahitic.


All the trees whose names incorporate the word root *nuka seem to have in common a hard wood and medicinal properties. Most belong botanically to the family Myrtaceae, and therefore have discernable similarities in their flowers. The word nuka itself probably echoes the Proto-Austronesian word *nuka', "wound", an appropriate reference to both the medicinal properties of these trees, and the fact that the wood of most, if not all of them, is highly suitable for making spears for hunting and weapons of war.

The Rennellese cognate for Mänuka is included here because this being shared with Maori is what indicates that name may be of Proto-Polynesian origin. I have not been able to find any specific inflormation about the plant to which the Rennellese name refers, but the closely related Altonia scholaris, which grows in Southeast Asia and parts of the Pacific is a tall forest tree noted in Indonesia and Papua New Guinea for its medicinal properties.

The derived form Känuka may have originated in Tahiti; it is not clear which tree the Tahitian cognate of the Maöri word refers to.

The original "nuka" is featured on a Fijian stamp, with this description written by the noted linguist and botanist Dr Paul Geraghty:

The nuqanuqa (also widely known as nuqa, and niqwa in parts of Westen Fiji) is a moderate sized tree found at the edge of the forest, particularly in dry, rocky places, and also cultivated. It is endemic to Fiji, and as small round pointed leaves which give off a pleasant smell when crushed,small black berries, and small white fragrant flowers. The nuqanuqa is also medicinal; an infusion of its leaves, with the leaves of certain other plants, is said to cure diabetes, the bark makes apoultice for piles, and an infusion of its root, with root of vobo, is said to cure cervical and breast cancer.

Of the New Zealand plants that have inherited these names, only the mingimingi (Leucopogon fasciculata) is a little puzzling, in that Mänuka rauriki literally means "small-leaved mänuka" -- it's leaves are certainly not small in relation to the New Zealand Mänukas. However, the reference could be directed back to Polynesia, ironic, or motivated by something else. There may well be something in traditional accounts or poetry which will shed some light on this mystery. Since there are no Decaspermums in the New Zealand flora, the other mänuka seem good candidates to inherit these names.

Rennellese: Manguka (Altonia spectabilis [Apocynaceae])
Tongan : Nukanuka (Decaspermum fruticosum)
Samoan : Nu'anu'a (Decaspermum fruticosum)
Tahitian : Nuanua (Decaspermum fruticosum); Anua ("A tree with strong wood");
Maori: Mänuka (Leptospermum scoparium & Kunzea ericoides [Myrtaceae]);
Känuka (Kunzea ericoides) ;
Mänuka rauriki (Leucopogon fasciculata [Epcridaceae] & Kunzea ericoides)


Nuqa, Nuqanuqa (Decaspermum vitiense)

Mänuka (Leptospermum scoparium)

Acknowledgements. Picture of Decaspermum fruticosum - http://yushodo.co.jp/kikou/banks/img/605.jpg. Nuqanuqa stamp, and text by Dr Paul Geraghty: http://www.stampsfiji.com.fj/stamps/christmas2006/index.html. The Mänuka was photographed in Te Mära Reo.

Hue flower

Te Mära Reo, c/o Benton Family Trust, "Tumanako", RD 1, Taupiri, Waikato 3791, Aotearoa / New Zealand
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