Aotearoa's national vegetable
The Māori connection to the kūmara is peppered throughout our history. The kūmara is in our kōrero (narratives), our whakapapa (genealogies) our pakiwaitara (legends) and our waiata tawhito (songs of old). Our tribal narratives relating to the arrival of the kūmara from Hawaiiki here to Aotearoa vary from iwi to iwi, including its mythical whakapapa (genealogy).
It is said that his brothers scolded him for failing to feed his whanau so Rongo-maui ascended to the Heavens to ask his brother Whanui (celestial guardian of the kumara) for kūmara to take back to his whanau. Whanui would not consent so Rongo-maui hid and secured some kūmara by stealth. Rongo-maui returned and gave the seed to his wife Pani-tinaku who gave birth to the kumara at the sacred waters of Monariki.
The act of taking the kumara by stealth, was, for mankind the origin of theft.
Whakapapa Source: Mere Roberts and Brad Haami.
Matuatonga (our sacred deity) arrived from Hawaiiki on Te Arawa waka and taken to its resting place on Mokoia Island originally called Te Motu-tapu-a-Tinirau. Our people believed that Matuatonga had supernatural powers. This power could perhaps be described as the celestial link of the kumara to its humble spiritual beginnings. Mokoia Island was tapu (sacred) with the presence of Matuatonga which is still there today. Kūmara grew really well on Mokoia, which is attributable to the powers of Matuatonga. Before each planting ceremony tohunga (scholar) took their seed-kūmara to the island and touched Matuatonga, thereby gaining its mana (power).
Te Taiao (the environment) on Mokoia Island was ideal for growing kūmara. East facing exposed the kumara to all day sun including the island as a natural shelter-belt from the harsh westerlies. The thermal heat provided for growing kūmara all year round. Its volcanic soil was an ideal medium and the sand at the lake’s edge would have been great for growing tipu, and the water of course was pristine, unlike today.
Te Kete Rokiroki a Whakaotirangi
The secure basket of Whakaotirangi
This whakatauki refers to our ancestress tupuna, Whakaotirangi who was tasked with keeping the kumara secure as Te Arawa waka journeyed here to Aotearoa sometime around 1300AD.
On arrival at Maketu, Whakaotirangi disembarked and planted the first tipu putting in place a tradition of growing kūmara in the Bay of Plenty and Rotorua.
Kāore to kūmara he kōrero mō tōna ake reka
The kūmara never speaks of its own sweetness
Ko te wai te toto o te whenua
Ko te whenua te toto o te tangata
As water is the blood of the land
So the land is the blood of humanity
In 2017 students at Rotorua Boys High joined Kai Rotorua at Te Puea Orchards planting 14 variety of kūmara tipu (seed) including the hutihuti, taputini, rekarawa, paraparapara, matakauri, mahina, romanawa, maiko red, maiko gold, Hawaiian Blue, Owairaka Red, paukena, honey red and candy.
The hutihuti and taputini are two original varieties that came on Te Arawa waka. The above kūmara seed were obtained from a number of sources including organic growers Joseph and Catherine Land and their whanau at Whirinaki in the Hokianga, Koanga Institute in the far North and Te Parapara Gardens at Kirikiriroa.
It was Rotorua Boys High School’s foray into planting kūmara and they have returned each year along with John Paul College and Western Heights High School.
Kūmara seed are planted in tapapa (seed beds) at Ohinemutu in a thermal environment. It is about 2 months before the tipu (seedlings) are ready to harvest at which time they are placed in water to harden before planting either at the end of October or early in November after the frost.
Preparation of the maara kūmara (plantation) is completed in the lead up to September which begins with 'broadcasting' green cover crops, oats and blue lupin seed. At about 1m the oats and lupin are turned back into the soil before applying organic fertiliser. 50m rows are prepared before the next rainfall then polythene is laid over each row. This provides a number of advantages. It locks in the moisture after the rain. It creates an artificial heated environment for the kūmara, and is a great weed suppressant. Another great advantage is we have never had to apply water. Finally, weed matting is placed between the rows providing another benefit being the kūmara vines cannot take root ensuring the parent isn’t competing for nutrients.
Kai Rotorua embraces the Maramataka (the Māori lunar calendar) as a tool for the following purposes:• Growing and harvesting kūmara.
We also use the Maramataka to help work around dates set by a third party or dates that are set without consulting the Maramataka.
Among many of its attributes the Maramataka is an instrument that measures high, medium and low energy levels allowing us to respond accordingly.