Piwakawaka Mini Te Mära Reo ~ The Language Garden
*Renga [Proto-Polynesian, from Proto Eastern Oceanic *Renga, *Rerenga, "prepared turmeric"]




Arthropodium cirratum (Anthericaceae)
also Tetragonia tetragoniodes (Aizoaceae) [Muturenga; *kökihi]

Other inherited names: Mäikaika (A. cirratum -- see separate page)


Looking at the rengarenga, it is not hard to see why it would have been a good candidate to receive the name which had been bestowed in other parts of Polynesia on the plant from which turmeric was obtained. Both are small, attractive herbs with fleshy stems and rhizomes or tubers respectively which had medicinal and culinary uses. They thus have a kind of family resemblance, although they are not especially closely related botanically -- the tropical renga is a member of the ginger family (Zingiberaceae) while the rengarenga is almost a lily. Until quite recently the genus Arthropodium was placed in the lily family (Liliaceae), but botanists now are divided as to its most appropriate classification - some place it in a family known as Laxmanniaceae, while others place the members of this proposed genus in a larger family known as Antheriaceae, which is where we can leave it for now. The rengarenga stems grow much closer together than the more individualistic tropical renga.

This compact form of growth as well as the value of the tubers as a famine food has provided a metaphor for several Maori sayings. Two sayings recording responses to the decimation of a trib in warfare and its determination to regain lost ground

Me ai ki te hua o te rengarenga, me whakapakari ki te hua o te kawariki
We must propagate like the fruit of the rengarenga and mature like the fruit of the kawariki. [M&G 1916]


Me tupu i a wiwi, i a wawa, turia i te wera, piri ki te rito o te rengarenga, waiho me whakapakari ki te hua o te kawariki"
Grow them [men] like the rushes and sedges, established in heat, close-packed as the shoots of the rengarenga, mature like the fruit of the kawariki. [M&G 1089]

Mead and Groves interpret kawariki in this context as the ranunculus, "the seeds of which mature before release". This may be so, but I think that the kawariki referred to is Coprosma grandifolia, which has a profusion of seed-bearing berries with both reproductive and nutritious functions!

Probably the best known proverbial allusion to the rengarenga is the King Tawhiao's statement of his determination to rebuild his land even in the absence of external help, making use of the simplest and most fundamental of resources and principles:

Mäku anö töku nei whare e hanga: ko ngä poupou o roto he mähoe, he patatë ko te tahuhu he hïnau. Me whakatupu ki te hua o te rengarenga, me whakapakari ki te hua o te kawariki.
I myself shall build my house, the ridge-pole will be of hïnau and the supporting posts of mähoe and patatë. [My people] will be raised on rengarenga and nurtured on the fruit of the kawariki.

The mähoe (Melycitus ramiflorus), patatë (Schleffera digitata), and hïnau (Elaeocarpus dentatus) were trees that would be used for building only the most temporary emergency shelter, and the fruits of the rengarenga and kawariki (Coprosma) would normally be emergency rations rather than staple foods.

Arthropodium cirratum in flower.

PPN: *Ingoa Binomial (class)

Tongan: Enga (Prepared root of Curcuma longa [Zingiberaceae])
Niuean: Ega ("Rosy, overripe".)
Samoan: Lega (Prepared root of C. longa).
Tahitian: Re'a (Zingiber zerumbet; C. longa)
Marquesan: 'Eka, 'Ena (C. longa)
Hawaiian: Lena (C. longa - plant; also "Yellow"); 'olena (C. longa)
Tuamotuan: Renga (C. longa)
Rarotongan: Renga (C. longa)

Rengarenga (Arthropodium) roots and rhizomes

Young lena (Curcuma) plants, Limahuli Botanical Garden, Kaua'i, Hawai'i

This role as a supplementary food especially in times of want may explain why the kökihi (Tetragonia spp.) are also sometimes referred to as rengarenga -- that is about the limit of their resemblance!

The rengarenga (Arthropodium) was also admired for the beauty of its flowers, and the only mention of rengarenga in Ngä Möteatea, is a poignant likening of the death of a warrior to the plucking of a rengarenga flower.

Tangohia i te rei
He whiri, he kato taua
Ki te hua o te rengarenga.
The noble one has been taken
In the tumult, plucked from the warriors ranks,
Like the flower of the rengarenga
["He tangi mö Kaha-wai / A lament for Kaha-Wai, NM 255, Vol. 3, pp. 358-9]


Further information: There is an excellent article by the late Graham Harris, "The significance of rengarenga Arthropodium cirratum to Maori" available on the Royal NZ Institute of Horticulture's website (it was originally published in the Journal of the RNZIH, Vol. 1, No 2, June 1996, pp. 19-21). There is also a brief article (with an excellent photograph of the rhizome) on the Maori medicinal uses of Arthropodium cirratum on the University of Auckland's Biological Sciences website .

Photographs: The photograph of the rengarenga in flower is taken from the "Moosey's Country Garden" website; that of the rengarena root is in the Graham Harris article mentioned above.

Hue flower

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