Piwakawaka Mini Te Mära Reo ~ The Language Garden
Curcuma longa (Turmeric, especially the powdered root), Zingiberaceae.
From Proto Eastern Oceanic *renga ~ *rengwa, *rerengwa, "yellow material; prepared turmeric"


This word seems to have referred originally to yellow materials, especially turmeric, the powdered root of a cultivated plant of the ginger family, Curcuma longa, which was carried throughout the tropical Pacific by Austronesian explorers. In Samoa and Tonga the plant itself is known as ango, but in Eastern Polynesia reflexes of *renga seems to have included the plant as well. Throughout Polynesia words derived from *renga also generally denote the colour yellow, and also the yolk of an egg.

In Samoa the main use of tumeric is a yellow dye (lega) made from the root. In Hawaii, yellow colouring extracted from young roots was also used for a dye for tapa, but the plant had medicinal uses and religious significance as well. Isabella Abbott (Lä'au Hawai'i) notes that salt water in which the underground stem of the 'olena had been stirred was sprinkled 'on people, places and objects" in purification ceremonies (p. 116). Medicinally, strained juice from mature roots was used to treat earache and some nasal problems (p.101).

If the turmeric plant was carried to Aotearoa, it failed to thrive here, but the name was transferred to a local herb with tuberous roots which also had medicinal properties (see link opposite).

Tongan: Enga (Prepared root of Curcuma longa [Zingiberaceae])
Niuean: Ega ("Rosy, overripe".)
Samoan: Lega (Prepared root of C. longa).
Tahitian: Re'a (Zingiber zerumbet; C. longa)
Marquesan: 'Eka, 'Ena (C. longa)
Hawaiian: Lena (C. longa - plant; also "Yellow"); 'olena (C. longa)
Tuamotuan: Renga (C. longa)
Rarotongan: Renga (C. longa)
Maori: Rengarenga (Arthropodium cirrhatum [Anthericaceae]; also Tetragonia tetragonioides [Aizoaceae] - Rengamutu)

N Rata
Turmeric (powdered dried tuber of Curcuma longa)

N Rata
Lena (Curcuma longa) University of Hawaii

N Rata
Interior of tuber of Curcuma longa

Photographs: Taken in the ethnobotanical garden, University of Hawaii, Mänoa (R.B.) [Stem pulled out and tuber severed with permission!!]

Hue flower

Te Mära Reo, c/o Benton Family Trust, "Tumanako", RD 1, Taupiri, Waikato 3791, Aotearoa / New Zealand
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