Male tree: karaka used by Matatua Māori
Female tree: kōtukutuku Thinner bark resembles fuchsia, hence the name.
Bark of male tree: tuanui. Thick, peels off in long strips. It is the only kind valued. Matatua term. (Best).
Sapwood: taitea (generic term).
Lighter coloured wood: komako. Soon becomes light and dry.
Fishing and hunting
Preferred tree for canoe making.
"The wood of this noble pine is red, hard, and durable, but brittle; it is preferred for canoes, and it is not unusual to see them more than seventy feet long, with a width of five or six feet, formed from a single log" (Taylor 1855)
Used for ornamental carved work of canoe sterns (Colenso 1868a).
In South Westland, the tōtara forests of Maitahi and Makawhio valleys provided ready source of logs for canoe building. Outriggers usually 42 ft long, with 4 ft beam (measured outstretched arms, fingertip to fingertip). Smaller canoe of 30 ft put alongside, lashed together with a sturdy floor. Sails of woven flax. Used oars rather than paddles for long sea voyages down to Piopiotahi (Milford Sound) (Madgwick 1992).
Bark used to cover kelp bags used for preserved muttonbirds, poha-titi (Shortland 1851).
Dry inner bark (rangiura) used to make a scoop or short handled shovel called a koko (Best 1927).
Vessels called papa and patua made of tōtara bark; papa contained preserved birds, patua - water; also used for stone boiling (Best 1902).
Wallace 1989 found 16 bowls, 2 paddles, 4 adze helves, an eel club, a teka made of tōtara among museum artefacts he tested.
Major timber tree. Housing, bridges, fencing, ornamental. Resists rot.(Colenso 1868b). (N.B. Details on colonial timber uses generally not part of this database).
Bark much used as a covering for houses. (Taylor 1855)
Carvings in chiefs" houses (Colenso 1868a).
Used in construction of storehouses (Best 1916).
Timber used for pā stockades - durable, easily worked (Best 1927).
Inner bark boiled with mānuka, liquid kept in bottle for week till becomes sweetish. Used as a febrifuge (Bell 1890).
Infusion of the bitter leaves used by bushmen for stomach troubles (Kirk 1869)
In Urewera, person sits over a small, smouldering fire of tōtara chips for piles ( Best 1905).
See Riley 1994 for information on medicinal uses of related plants elsewhere in the world.
"Ruia taitea. kia tu ko taikaka anake. Shake off the sap-wood, and let the hard heart-wood only stand. In a tōtara tree.. the taitea is the outer, white or sap-wood, which soon decays, and near the centre is the taikaka or hardest wood. Meaning: Let the common people and children stay at home, and the warrioirs only go to fight." (Colenso 1879: 137) Rae tōtara. Forehead as hard as the tōtara wood. Spoken of a liar; and of an unabashed, shameless person. Equivalent to English Brazen-face. (ibid: 146)
In Best 1925: In Waiapu, thin bark used in construction of wooden trumpets, pukaea. Among Ngati-Porou, sometimes used to make gongs - pahu (Tuta Nihoniho). Use of hollow trees as gongs. Famous `sounding tree" at Te Kakau (on old bushtrack from Ruatahuna to Maunga-pohatu, a hollow tōtara called Tōtara-pakopako. Also one near Te Apu, Te Whaiti district. Captured by Whitmore in 1869 to prevent alarm being sounded ( p.301).