Piwakawaka Mini Te Mära Reo ~ The Language Garden
Zingiber zerumbet [Zingiberaceae], wild red ginger, a "canoe plant" brought from the Oceanic homeland and carried to most Polynesian settlements.


This is the name given to the wild red ginger, Zingiber zerumbet, in Rarotonga. Elsewhere in Polynesia it is known by a reflex of an earlier Proto Nuclear Polynesian word, *kavapui (or possibly *kavapusi). The new name, *köpï, was adopted in Aotearoa for the ripe berries of the karaka (Corynocarpus laevigata) after they had been soaked in water as part of the treatment to remove the toxin, when the pulp would have been reminiscent of the flowering stems of the Zingiber, which turn deep red as they mature. In some districts and the Chatham Islands the whole tree is known as köpï.

The ginger was carried throughout Polynesia by its first explorers, but either did not reach Aotearoa or quickly failed to thrive here. Wagner et al. note that:

The fragrant sudsy fluid from the inflorescence of this plant was used by the early Hawaiians as a shampoo, the powdered rhizome for scenting kapa [tapa], and the leaves were used to flavour meat. In addition, th ashes of the leaves were used medicinally. (Manual, p. 1264)

The plant was used in similar ways in Tahiti and the Cook Islands. In Rarotonga the word köpï now refers to all introduced gingers. In Aotearoa it refers only to Corynocarpus fruits and trees.

There is further information about the New Zealand köpï / karaka on the linked page.

The Cook Islands biodiversity database has information and photographs about the Rarotongan köpï, both the original wild ginger and recent introduced related species which have also been given this name.


ZingiberZingiber zerumbet: köpï (Rarotonga)
'awapuhi (Hawaii)

Reflexes [Former name - *kava-pui]:
Samoan: 'avapui (Zingiber zerumbet [Zingiberaceae])
Tahitian: Avapuhi (Z. zerumbet)
Marquesan: Kavapui (Z. zerumbet)
Hawaiian: 'awapuhi (Z. zerumbet)
Reflexes [New name - köpï]:
Rarotongan: Köpï (Zingiber zerumbet)
Maori: Köpï (Corynocarpus laevigata processed fruit &/or tree)

Karaka fruitCorynocarpus laevigata fruit: köpï (Aotearoa)


Source of photographs: Zingiber zerumbet: Forest and Ken Starr, Hawaii. Karaka fruits: http://www.kererudiscovery.org.nz.


Hue flower

Te Mära Reo, c/o Benton Family Trust, "Tumanako", RD 1, Taupiri, Waikato 3791, Aotearoa / New Zealand
Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 New Zealand License.