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Ipomoea batatas. Kūmara.

Name document

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KŪMARAkūmerakumala (Solander recorded Ipomoea batata in 1769 - "culta". Name recorded as "kumala") 

Honorific names:
Kakau : The kūmara's own proper and special name. See traditions recorded in Colenso 1881
Rongo-marae-roa : (Turei 1912)

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Important root crop. Cultivated. Many references elsewhere in database. Brought to New Zealand by the Māori.

Details on cultivation, harvesting, storage and varieties (Appendix A) in Colenso 1880,Colenso 1868b.

In Best 1925, pages 99-227, section on the kūmara and its cultivation. Best discusses traditions, varieties, cultivation techniques, harvesting, storage. Very detailed. Reviews accounts of earlier authors.

Kao: Dried, immature kūmara."The roots taken away from the kūmara before it grew to full size were sometimes dried, and were then called kao. They were scraped and dried in the sun on a taka or tuwharo, being turned every day, and covered over every night to prevent their getting wet with dew. When dry, they were put into baskets and eaten as they were without cooking. They were very sweet, and were eaten at any time during the day, or on a journey'.(Makereti 1938 )

Dried, cooked kūmara used as provisions on long sea voyages (Te Rangi Hiroa 1949)

Cultivation described in Taylor 1855 ; Servant 1973.

Nicholas 1817 described plantations of kūmara "neatly cultivated" on his travels.

Planting methods, rituals discussed in Makereti 1938. (Arawa traditions). Only ashes used for fertiliser, no manure. The kūmara cultivation sites of Arawa tribe are listed in detail.

Kūmara taken to Chatham Islands by Kahu, but did not grow. (Te Rangi Hiroa 1949).

Kūmara (and maize) cultivated in the neighbourhood of Banks Peninsula (Shortland 1851).

Grown in South Westland. Growing at Makawhio as late as 1900 along with the Polynesian taro and several varieties of potato. Small areas of bush close to the settlements were cut and burnt to provide ideal growing conditions for kūmara, taro and potatoes (Madgwick 1992).

"They say the kumara did not flourish farther south than Banks Peninsula, but a northern opinion that they must have subsisted mainly on fern-root and fish did not meet with the approval of one old Maori, who told me that by the system of kaihaukai they could exchange titi (mutonbirds) and other things for kumara from Canterbury, and even get taro and hue from the North Island." (Beattie 1920)

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Pu-kirikiri was a basket used for holding seed kūmara for planting. Large toiki (long round kete) made of supplejack used to store seed kūmara when placed in storehouse. (Best 1899).

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Whole plant boiled. Liquor used for low fever. Lotion for skin disease. (Goldie 1904; Brett's Guide 1883; White 1887)

Storage proteins in kūmara act as proteinase inhibitors, may have other anti-cancer properties. Tubers contain anti-coagulant coumarins. (Cambie, Ferguson 2003)

For extensive section on related pharmacology and chemistry see Brooker, Cambie and Cooper 1987.

See Riley 1994 for information on medicinal uses of related plants elsewhere in the world.

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"Honoa te pito ora ki to pito mate. Join the living end to the weak one.

Used sometimes for raising a weak or impoverished chief or tribe, by alliance or marriage with a stronger one. An illusion is here made to the ends of the kūmara... in planting, they make use of the sprouting end of the root as seed, and so, sometimes, place two such ends in one little hillock to make sure of plants."

"Honoa te pito mata ki te pito maoa. Eat together (lit., join) the underdone end with the nicely-cooked end (of the sweet potatoes, understood)." (Colenso 1879: 132)

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Pourangahua goes from Turanga to Hawaiki to obtain kūmara. See Best 1898, p.634.

Story of introduction of kūmara to New Zealand in Horouta canoe in Turei 1912. Kūmara must not be mixed up with, lie alongside fernroot "or there will be trouble" (Turei, ibid).

See also White 1887; Vol III for section on relationship between kūmara and fernroot. "kūmara is the food to be eaten in times of quietness and peace. The fernroot is food for times of commotion and war, and is the only food a warparty can rely on while marauding in the country of an enemy (Ngati Porou sources). Traditions also on introduction of kūmara from Hawaiki.

White 1887; Vol IV. White outlines tribal disputes regarding the introduction of kūmara to New Zealand. In north, doors of kūmara stores always turned to the north, for fear spirits travelling from the south should enter and thereby tapu the kūmara and make them unfit for food ( Smith 1904, 56).

Arawa traditions outlined in Makereti 1938. Kūmara produced by Whanui, the star Vega, introduced to earth by Rongonui-maui and his wife Pani-tinikau. Whanui sent the caterpillar pest, aruhe. Matuatonga - the Arawa kumara god. Time to lift the kūmara when Whanui appeared as the morning star (April).

Ngati Kahungunu tradition related in White 1887; Vol III. The kūmara of Hinekauirangi flourished as she had all the knowledge of cultivation techniques, and was guided in her operations by the blossoming of the kōwhai, but the bulbs set by her relations at Papaka .. did not grow because those people were ignorant of the knowledge required. There were various sorts of kūmara brought over in the Horouta. One was Pohue-waha-roe; another Koiwi; these are now seen growing on the cliffs of the sea-coast near the East Cape.

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Search kumara cultivar for descriptions and references to individual varieties.

Andersen 1926: 695 lists some 75 names for cultivated varieties of kūmara.

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28 May 2007
1 July 2020
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