Piwakawaka Mini Te Mära Reo ~ The Language Garden

Great Circle Rarotonga-Whangarei

The great circle route from Rarotonga to Taitokerau, depicted on the AlfaWolfram map above, was the second half in the exploration of Aotearoa by voyagers from Tahiti and possibly also the Marquesas, plotted on the map (oriented to the northeast) below.


The road to Aotearoa

Even with Rarotonga as a home base, the journey to Aotearoa is an epic one. The Kermadec Islands, used as a staging post, were 2,000 kilometres southwest, and the mainland of Aotearoa another 1,000 kilometres further on. At least Aotearoa was a reasonably large target, although in the distance to be travelled only a small error in the angle of approach (let alone problems with wind and currents) would make it easy to miss; the Kermadecs are mere specks in a vast area of open sea.

We can mimic the three thousand kilometres from Rarotonga as we walk the hundred metres or so back to our starting point. The korimako bushes are less than 10 metres from the Pohutukawa, to your left as you head away from that site.
Carry on straight ahead; the path veers to the right past a corrall,

straightens out again past several olive trees,

and then shifts slightly to the left with a side path going off to the right.

Take the left fork; a few metres on the path comes out at what is, right now, anyway, an open, park-like area,

wwwwwww and as you follow it on a leftward curve,

you'll see in the distance the that maked stage two of the journey.

Instead of heading in that direction, head diagonally across to the right, about 25 metres ...

... through the trees and bamboo, towards the mound with the variegated harakeke, just visible in the centre of the photograph above.

A little to the left (north) of that, you'll come across a group of three very young karaka trees (two of which are just visible (see the white tags!) in the picture, that symbolize the two-way traffic from Aotearoa to the Kermadecs.

The furthest one is close to a wide pathway that will take you the last 25 metres to the polygonal garden with the assortment of whara, where you began the journey.

From here, you can wander around either the garden or the website as the spirit moves you, and as space and time permit. As is noted in the column to the right, there is a lot more to see and find out about than the sample of plants and names that this tour has singled out for attention. And of course there is a lot more work for us to try to do, both in the garden and on the website! As the proverb says,

Ka rere te hue mataati
The first shoot of the gourd stretches forth.

After you have looked through the material in the column opposite, you can continue your virtual journey through time, or return to base, as you wish, by clicking on the appropriate link below.

To return to the Time Travel home page,
click here (or on the icon below).

To go back in time to Stage 11,
click here!


"Time travel walk" - Stage 12

Proto Rarotongan / Mäori (about 800 years ago)

The closest substantial land mass to Aotearoa is New Caledonia (Noumea, for example, is 1675 km from Whangarei), and Viti Levu and Tongatapu are closer than Australia and a good thousand kilometres closer than Rarotonga. Yet Aotearoa was not settled from any of these neighbouring land masses -- the Australians were not long distance sailors, and the winds and currents militated against the Austronesians directly to the north. It was left therefore to distant Tahiti and its offshoot Rarotonga to launch the expeditions which brought a Polynesian language here, and an accompanying store of plant names, along with a few plants (notably the yam, kumara, hue, and paper mulberry) for good measure.

Because there are a few words uniquely shared by Rarotongan and New Zealand Maori, it seems that at least some of those who visited and settled in Aotearoa arrived here after a language or dialect distinct from that spoken in Tahiti proper had developed in Rarotonga. One of the words which seems to have originated at this time is the plant name pohutukawa, and this is the plant which symbolizes this stage on our linguistic time travel walk.


This is the largest of the pöhutukawa trees in the garden, and has flowered profusely. Tender growth on this and some of the others was damaged by a series of unusually frosty nights in July 2009, but the mature growth was unaffected and the trees continue to grow strongly.

The links below will take you to the pages about the plant and the name.

*Pofutukava (Proto Rarotongan/Maori form)

Pohutukawa (Modern Mäori)

Both pages have links to other names incorporating the older embedded root word hutu.

Of course, the story does not end with the last settler to leave from Rarotonga or Tahiti eight hundred years or so ago. In a way, it was just beginning -- as the East Polynesian settlers became Southern Polynesians, the Mäori of Aotearoa and the Moriori of Rekohu, they supplemented or replaced the plant names they brought with them with hundreds of new ones, retaining over the ensuing centuries however over a hundred from their ancestral heritage.

There are many of these new names among the alternative ones for some of the plants we have visited on this journey, but we can select one with only a post-arrival name to represent this stage as we leave the Cook Islands and the notional pöfutukava behind. If you keep heading east (the direction in which you walked to get to the tawhiwhi and the pöhutukawa), you will quickly encounter several slightly wild-looking shrubs of the hebe family. These are koromiko, very useful medicinally (an infusion of their leaves is an excellent remedy for diarrhoea). This native plant is one of those with a home-grown name.


A very interesting variant of this naming process is tied into the bestowing of an old name on a new tree, and overlooking the species that originally had that name for long enough to need to invent a new one for it. This is what happened to the karaka, in many ways a look-alike of its namesake, the karaka of the Tuamotus and Rarotonga and the qalaka of Fiji. Some Mäori traditions name the karaka as a plant brought along with the kumara, uhi and hue from Hawaiiki. In this case, however, it is the name that came from Hawaiiki, and the tree (known to botanists as Corynocarpus laevigatus) was probably dispersed from around the Bay of Islands.

This tree, the new karaka, became a very important Maori food source (after the poisonous glycoside karakin was removed from the kernel by heat treatment) and was carried throughout Aotearoa and also to the Chatham Islands. It was probably also carried to the Kermadec Islands, where stands of it are found. Likewise, it is dispersed around Te Mära Reo, and there is a cluster of three young karaka planted specially to the east of the pathway on which you are walking now (there's a photo of one of them on the linked page, and you can see two of them vaguely in the second to last photograph in the "directions" series to the left).

The original Oceanic / Polynesian "karaka", the tree Planchonella (a.k.a. Pouteria) costata (not yet in the garden), was also growing in more or less the same habitats, but seems to have been overlooked initially and later given the new name tawapou. However, another tree which had smaller but equally conspicuous fruits, and and abundance of milky sap like the Pouterias (although free of the unpalatable latex in the latter), was apparently noticed early in the piece, and given the name karakariki, "little kalaka". You may remember that you passed a young karakariki on your journey from the eastern edge of Near Oceania (Stage 4) to the western edge of Remote Oceania (Stage 5).

You can read more about the *kalaka and its namesakes on these linked pages:

*Kalaka (Proto Polynesian form)

Karaka (Modern Mäori)

Karakariki (Modern Mäori)

As you walk further along the route illustrated in the left-hand column, you'll also encounter a fourteenth stage in the development of the Mäori language -- the incorporation of new words from other languages after the rest of the world finally caught up with the southernmost Polynesians and stayed long enough to swap ideas and plants in the late eighteenth century. The olive tree can represent this stage; you will have walked past many of these already, and there are few along the path you are taking now. These were and are called öriwa, one of many additions to the Mäori lexicon as the plants themselves were added to Mäori gardens, or made known through the translation of religious and secular texts.

Leaves and branches of the Öriwa (European olive).

And that is the end of the formal journey, but of course it has focused on only a small selection of the plants in the garden. Apart from the trees, there are ferns, like Blechnum procerum (piupiu - a Proto Central Pacific name),


a variety of shrubs, like the hebes (koromiko, a "stage 13" name, but among them providing a welcome splash of colour the whole year round),


and climbers, like the pua wänanga, Clematis paniculata, whose Mäori name dates back to Proto Oceanic times.


As well as the plants, a growing number of birds are making Te Mära Reo their seasonal or permanent home. One of the most welcome of these is the tui. For some years several pairs have come here when the kowhai, harakeke and Australian warratah are in flower, and at least one pair has nested here.





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.