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Reviving Māori Plant Knowledge

1 August 2018

Reviving Māori Plant Knowledge

The new book Treasures of Tāne: Plants of Ngāi Tahu by Rob Tipa aims to make available traditional and historical knowledge about South Island native plants. This book brings together a wealth of knowledge, some of which is not readily available or was thought to be lost.

'Surprisingly, historical cultural information is still available but is often locked up in reference libraries where it is not easily accessible or digestible for casual readers,' says Rob. 'The aim of this book is to sift through historical reference to find out how our Pākehā and Māori forebears grew, harvested, processed, refined or used the common native plants growing all around us.'

The stories of the more than fifty plants covered in the book describe the features and uses of each plant, and they uncover some surprising uses too. Horopito (pepper tree), for example, is a natural painkiller when the leaves are soaked in hot water. Long before modern science, Māori used the horopito plant for a wide range of internal and external remedies.

According to the author, scientists are in many cases just now discovering the active ingredients in many traditional Māori rōngoa (medicines) that have been used to successfully treat illnesses for centuries. The book explores these Māori medicinal successes, as well as the multitude of foods, fibres and building materials that native plants provided.

Another example is rimurapa (bull kelp), described as having the texture of leather, the airtight seal of plastic and the strength of industrial rubber. Rob’s research reveals that Ngāi Tahu effectively wrapped and sealed their mutton bird harvest and preserved it in pōha (kelp bags) for up to two years without it deteriorating – centuries before anyone ever heard of refrigeration.

Rob hopes that this book will help people see beyond the bush and into each plant’s potential. He also says that writing this book has been a tangible way to reconnect with his Ngāi Tahu heritage. For ten years, he researched the native plants and wrote a series of articles originally published in Te Karaka under the title 'He Aitaka a Tāne'. Now, the knowledge he gained has been brought together into this book, making it available to a wider audience.

Easy to read, intriguing and entertaining, this book will prove indispensable for anyone interested in the treasures of native plant life.

Rob Tipa (Ngāi Tahu, Ngāti Kahungunu) is a freelance journalist with more than forty years’ experience as a reporter and editor with metropolitan, community and farming publications. For over twenty years he and his partner have restored their own property with native plants and grow a variety of chemical-free fruits and vegetables. The book will be launched on 7 August at the University Book Shop in Dunedin.


Publication details
Treasures of Tāne: Plants of Ngāi Tahu
Rob Tipa
Published by Huia Publishers
RRP $50.00

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