Piwakawaka Mini Te Mära Reo ~ The Language Garden
*Hue [Proto Eastern Polynesian, from Proto Oceanic *puRe through Proto Polynesian *fue]



Lagenaria siceraria [formerly L. vulgaris] (Cucurbitaceae)


The hue (calabash gourd, Lagenaria sicareria) was almost certainly introduced from South America into Polynesia by Polynesian explorers some time after contact with Western Polynesia was lost, but while communication between the Marquesas, Tahiti and Rapanui (Easter Island) was still being maintained. There is more information about that in the page about the Proto Eastern Polynesian source word (linked at the top of this page).

I have had an interest in these plants ever since I first encountered them in the 1950s, and was given some seeds of one of the Maori varieties, accompanied by directions for the care of the plants and their fruit, and strict admonitions to respect their sacred quality, by the Dutch artist Theo Schoon who spent many years learning about traditional Maori art and design by living in Maori communities, and who among many other things played a major part in reviving interest in the growing, conservation, and artistic possibilities of the hue. Unfortunately, my parents moved from our family home in Russell to Auckland about the time I left for Hawaii in 1965, and although some of the seeds were kept for me, they were no longer viable by the time I returned more than six years later. However, when I became Director of the James Henare Mäori Research Centre at the University of Auckland in 1999, Dante Bonica, who taught traditional Maori art and artisanship at the University, gave me seeds of the hue he was cultivating, and we have been growing them in Te Mära Reo, where the photographs illustrating this page have been taken, ever since.

The importance of the gourd up until the nineteenth century is underlined by the large number of words in classical Maori for kinds of gourds, stages of growth, and things made from or associated with its fruit. The list below is probably not exhaustive, but includes most of those recorded in the Williams Dictionary.

Mäori names for varieties of Lagenaria gourds

Variety used for bowls:


Variety used for ceremonial calabashes:

paretarakihi (a large variety)

Varieties used for making containers for specific uses:

püau (for preserved birds)
... also, possibly
whängai-rangatira ("feed the chief")
wharehinu ("oil house")

Unspecified varieties:

ikaroa (also a name for the Milky Way)
ikaroa a Rauru
Pütëhue (also the personification of the gourd -- see comment in the right-hand column)
upokotaipu ~ upokotaupu

Mäori words for stages of growth and treatment of gourds.

Growth and development:

whakarau (treat gourd seeds to get them to germinate by soaking them in water and applying gentle heat)
pätangaroa (the seedling leaves [cotyledons])
tara (to put forth the second pair of leaves)
rautara (The third leaf of a seedling gourd after the cotyledons [the tara leaf])
pütauhinu ~ pütaihinu (fourth leaf of a seedling gourd)
tautototoro (to throw out runners)
uma (a plant that has put out all its leaves)
whänaua (be brought forth -- see note in the column opposite)

Parts of the plant and fruit:

emiemi (bract at the footstalk of a gourd)
karu ~ karukaru ~ pukahu (spongy matter enclosing the seeds)
kautahu (runners of the gourd, also tributaries of a river)
käwai ~ käwei (runners of a gourd, also lines of descent)
kïwai ~ kïwei (runners of a gourd, also loop or handle of a basket)
köngutu (stalk end of a gourd, also mouth of a river)
köpuka (the soft pulp around the seed)
kotawa (fruit when young and edible)
maupu (fruit growing near the base of the plant)
rewa (fruit growing near the end of a runner
taunuke (stalk)
wene (a shoot or runner)
wenewene (a general term for gourds and other creeping plants)

Treatment of fruit:

kärure (scoop out the pith)

Mäori words for calabashes & vessels made from gourds

Calabashes in general: :

tawä ~ tawhä

Calabashes with special qualities or uses:

höteo (large)
hue kautu (gourd shaped like a carafe)
hue kiato (gourd used as a water vessel)
ipu (a calabash with a narrow mouth)
käraha ~ kararaha ~ karahe (wide mouth)
kärure (small calabash or vessel)
kina ("sea urchin" - a globular calabash)
kömutu ~koromutu (with top cut off and used as a lid)
kotimutu (with small end cut so as to form a bottle)
pähaka (calabash of medium size)
päpapa-koura ("crayfish shell" - calabash & bowl made from a slice of calabash)
tahä ~ tahë (with a narrow mouth)
takawai ~ wai (used as a water bottle)

Calabash parts and accoutrements:

hörere (wooden mouthpiece attached to a calabash)
ngutu (rim of a vessel, mouthpiece of calabash)
matua (body of a calabash, to which the paewae was fixed)
paewae (the wooden mouthpiece for a calabash, "often handsomely carved")
titi (the wooden collar or mouthpiece for the calabash)
tuki (carved wooden mouthpiece for a calabash, pükaea or pütara)

Dishes and other artefacts made from parts of calabashes:

hakehake (a small vessell made by cutting a gourd
pararaha (a shallow dish made by slicing a gourd)
ipu pararaki (a dish made by cutting a slice of a skull or gourd)
porotiti ~ porotïtiti (a small top made from a piece of a gourd with a peg inserted in it)
pötaka hue (a top made from a small or medium sized gourd by cutting holes in the side to remove the seeds, then inserting a stake through the stalk end and out through the emiemi; when it is spun the air whirling through the holes makes a loud humming sound)

Other calabash-related terms:

rüruru tahä (a bundle of calabashes tied together for carrying; also a metaphor for loud thunder)


Hue - taha

PEP: *Hue Lagenaria siceraria (Cucurbitaceae)
Mäori Reflex: Hue (Lagenaria siceraria [Cucurbitaceae])

Rapanui: hue (Lagenaria siceraria)
Tahitian: hue (L. siceraria)
Marquesan: Cognate (Binomial)
Hawaiian: hue (L. siceraria - fruit); pöhue (L. siceraria - vine)
Tuamotuan: hue (L. siceraria - fruit); pöhue (L. siceraria - vine; also Convolvulus sp.)
Rarotongan: 'ue (L. siceraria)

Note: See the discussion in the pages for the Proto-Polynesian and Proto Eastern Polynesian uses of *hue and *pöhue, and the Proto Polynesian word *fue.

Hue - taha

Hue - taha

Hue - taha

Hue - taha

Hue - taha

Hue - taha
The emiemi - the point where the remains of the flower adheres to the bottom of the gourd


Pü-të-hue is a personification of the gourd and the tutelary deity associated with this plant, who was invoked also for the protection and welbeing of seedling and young cultivated plants generally. Margaret Orbel (Illustrated Encyclopedia, p. 145) notes that according to the Ngäti Awa people she was the last born of the children on Täne and Hine-rauämoa. Täne was the child of Rangi and Papa who organized the separation of his parents and thus enabled the world to emerge from the primal darkness. He was the overall god of the forest.

During the quarrels among the children of Rangi and Papa Pü-të-hue, Rongo (associated with the kümara) and Haumia (associated with fernroot and other uncultivated food plants) worked together to try to maintain peace -- they are the quiet, peaceable beings. Some accounts have Tangaroa (god of the ocean) as the husband of Pü-të-hue, others have Täwhirimätea (god of the wind) -- either would have been a suitable accomplice in the transport of the hue from South America via Tahiti to Aotearoa.


The hue was an extremely valuable plant in Aotearoa for the seven centuries following the arrival of Polynesian settlers, as it was the only convenient vessel for storing and transporting water and other liquids, and also provided the ideal containers for storing preserved foods (the alternative was to make food containers from the inner bark of the tötara tree, Podocarpus totara, which took a lot more effort to fabricate). The planting, cultivation and harvesting of hue therefore was surrounded by protocols and ceremonies. Williams dictionary has an extract from a karakia chanted when hue seeds were planted, to ensure that the resultant crop would thrive:

Whänaua kia tini
Whänaua kia mano
Whänaua kia rea
[Be brought forth as many
Be brought forth as a multitude
Be brought forth innumerably]

The importance of the hue in Mäori life.

The hue was an extremely important plant for the Polynesian settlers of Aotearoa, as it provided an irreplacable source of storage containers for water and preserved foods. The art of making pottery (which would have been possible in Aotearoa) had been forgotten centuries earlier, when pottery had been replaced by wooden containers and gourds in Samoa and Tonga, because these were much more practical and easier to make for Polynesian cuisine. The young fruit of the hue were also a good supplementary food when in season. Planting and cultivation of the hue were attended with ritual and great care was taken to protect and nurture the growing plants. New Zealand growing conditions were much more difficult than in tropical Polynesia, and the young plants in particular needed protection from adverse weather early in the growing season.

There is a poignant oriori (lullaby) to a gourd in the Ngata's collection of traditional songs and chants, composed by a woman who was unable to conceive, and, dreaming of the child she would have liked to raise, composed her song while holding a hue in her arms. It ends:

Nö te hika anö te aituä
He hue te tamaiti oriori, ë!
[It was in the begetting where (I) failed
Thus 'tis to a hue child (I sing) a lullaby.]

NM V. 3, 219, pp. 112-3.]

The runners of the gourd (käwei, käwai) were a metaphor for lines of descent, and also models of determination and persistence, as in this proverb, which Mead and Grove interpret as an exhortation to follow a course of action once it is commenced:

Ka rere te hue mataati
'The first shoot of the gourd stretches out' (M&G # 1109)

The calabashes made from the dried fruits also provided a metaphor for both the unruliness and innovative capacity of young people:

He tamariki wäwähi tahä
'Children who break the calabashes' (M&G #714)

Source of photographs: All the photographs of the hue plants and fruits are from Te Mära Reo, except for that of the fully-open hue flower, which looks as if it is from our garden but was taken by Ken and Kim Starr in Hawaii -- http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Starr_070308-5274_Lagenaria_siceraria.jpg


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.