PROTO-POLYNESIAN ETYMOLOGIES
*Manapau [Proto Polynesian] ~ Manapau
A tree species, probably Mammea glauca, (Clusiaceae).
This name probably originated in Samoa, but may be ultimately derived from Proto East Central Pacific *Pau (see link and notes, below).

Proto Polynesian: *Manapau
REFLEXES IN SOME POLYNESIAN LANGUAGES:
Samoan: Manapau (Mammea glauca, Clusiaceae; occasionally also refers to the Pau, Manilkara samoensis, Sapotaceae)
Rennellese: Manapau (Achranthes aspera, Amaranthaceae, and Urena lobata, Malvaceae)
Maori: Manapau, a tree mentioned in traditional narratives (see below)

Tapa-Samoa
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Tapa-Samoa
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RELATED WORDS
Proto-Polynesian: Pau (A hardwood tree, possibly a species of Planchonella (Pouteria), Sapotaceae).


The tree name Manapau appears now to be found in only three Polynesian languages, as noted in the "reflexes" box; the Pollex database also cites a reference to Elsdon Best's reporting it as present in Niuean, which he does on p. 24 of Forest Lore of the Maori, but there are no further details. In Samoa it refers to a rather rare tree (Mammea glauca), and also sometimes to an even rarer tree, the pau (Manilkara samoensis), which is not surprising, because "manapau" can be interpreted as "like a pau", ultimately derived from a combination of Proto Oceanic *mala "resemble" and Proto East Central Polynesian *pau (from Proto Oceanic *bau, a general name for hardwoods).

There is a description of the tropical and Māori pau on the page devoted to that name, but it is quite likely that Manilkara samoensis is also the tree referred to as manapau in Māori tradition. The Māui myth in which the tree features could well incorporate a residual memory of this tree, as the Manilkara species are a group of important food trees, especially for birds. Māui-ti'it'i is well known in Samoan tradition, and the story of Maui and the manapau fits in well with the Samoan landscape.

In his search for his parents, Maui transforms himself into a pigeon. Eventually, he locates them, but, as usual, does not reveal his identity without some trickery to start with. It is recorded this way in Polynesian Mythology, the English Version of Sir George Grey's compilation Nga Mahi a Nga Tupuna (pp. 18-19) :

At last he saw a party of people coming along under a grove of trees, they were manapau trees [The manapau was a species of tree peculiar to the country from whence the people came, where the priests say it was known by that name], and flying on, he perched upon the top of one of these trees, under which the people had seated themselves; and when he saw his mother lying down on the grass by the side of her husband, he guessed at once who they were, and he thought, “Ah! there sit my father and mother right under me;” and he soon heard their names, as they were called to by their friends who were sitting with them; then the pigeon hopped down, and perched on another spray a little lower, and it pecked off one of the berries of the tree and dropped it gently down, and hit the father with it on the forehead; and some of the party said, “Was it a bird that threw that down?” but the father said, “Oh no, it was only a berry that fell by chance.”

Then the pigeon again pecked off some of the berries from the tree, and threw them down with all its force, and struck both father and mother, so that he really hurt them; then they cried out, and the whole party jumped up and looked into the tree, and as the pigeon began to coo, they soon found out from the noise, where it was sitting amongst the leaves and branches, and the whole of them, the chiefs and common people alike, caught up stones to pelt the pigeon with, but they threw for a very long time without hitting it; at last the father tried to throw up at it; ah, he struck it, but Maui had himself contrived that he should be struck by the stone which his father threw; for, but by his own choice, no one could have hit him; he was struck exactly upon his left leg, and down he fell, and as he lay fluttering and struggling upon the ground, they all ran to catch him, but lo, the pigeon had turned into a man.

After considerable shock and confusion to the travelling party, the mystery was solved:

Then his mother asked Maui, who was sitting near her, “Where do you come from? from the westward?” and he answered, “No.” “From the north-east then?” “No.” “From the south-east then?” “No.” “From the south then?” “No.” “Was it the wind which blows upon me, which brought you here to me then?” When she asked this, he opened his mouth and answered, “Yes.” And she cried out, “Oh, this then is indeed my child;” and she said, “Are you Maui-taha?” He answered, “No.” Then said she, “Are you Maui-tikitiki-o-Taranga?” and he answered, “Yes.” And she cried aloud, “This is indeed my child. By the winds and storms and wave-uplifting gales he was fashioned and became a human being; welcome, oh my child, welcome; by you shall hereafter be climbed the threshold of the house of your great ancestor Hine-nui-te-po, and death shall henceforth have no power over man.”

Unfortunately, things did not turn out quite as planned, but that has nothing to do with tree names, so we will return the contemporary manapau!

Mammea glauca is endemic to Samoa, sparingly distributed in costal and lowland forests; there is a closely related species in Tonga and elsewhere in the Western Pacific (M. odorata). It is a forest tree, growing to about 12 metres high. It has a strong, red heartwood.

Achranthes aspera, one of the plants known as manapau in Rennell and Bellona is an invasive introduced weed with some medicinal properties, so has acquired its Polynesian name quite recently. The other species known as manapau in Rennellese, Urena lobata, is another widespread tropical annual weed, native to the islands of the Caribbean and introduced into the Pacific and Asia by voyagers in the 18th and 19th Centuries. Whether the name for these herbs replaced an earlier tree name, or its resemblance to the Māori and Samoan names is simply coincidental is an open question -- the Rennellese plants certainly bear little if any resemblance to their namesakes in the two other languages.

Sunset-Tiapapata
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Kauri+Text
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Further information : (See Bibliography).
Photographs: (Te Māra Reo, RB.)

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