*Talo [Proto Polynesian] / Taro
*Pongi / Pongi & *Takataka / Takatakapō
Colocasia esculenta (Araceae) .
through PROTO OCEANIC *talos
[See below for etymologies and reflexes of *Pongi and *Takataka]

Proto Polynesian: *Talo
Tongan: Taro (Colocasia esculenta, Araceae). The word also has been adopted by Tongan from Samoan and other languages in the form of Talo, with qualifiers, to refer to other members of the aroid family, as with Talo hina, Xanthosoma sagittifolium, Talo lauila and Talo mangamea, Alocasia macrorrhizos.
Niuean, Samoan : Talo (Colocasia esculenta, Araceae).
Marquesan: Ta'o (Colocasia esculenta, Araceae).
Hawaiian: Kalo (Colocasia esculenta, Araceae).
Rapanui, Tahitian, Tuamotuan: Taro (Colocasia esculenta, Araceae).
Rarotongan: Taro (Colocasia esculenta, Araceae); Taro taruā (Xanthostemma sagittifolium (araceae).
Maori: Taro (Colocasia esculenta, Araceae).

As with Tongan, the word taro is used in Tokelau, Niue, Rarotonga and some other Polynesian languages, usually in combination with other terms, to denote also the more recently introduced aroid Xanthosoma sagittifolium. (More information about this in the discussion below.)

Taro from abandoned Te Kawerau settlement
near Auckland (Te Māra Reo)
Mana uliuli var. of taro,
Limahuli National Botanical Garden, Kaua'i, Hawai'i

Arborlan Tagbanwa (Philippines): Talis (Colocasia esculenta, Araceae).
Tomemboan Minhasa (Sulawesi, Indonesia): Tale (Colocasia esculenta, Araceae).
Javanese (Indonesia): Tales (Colocasia esculenta, Araceae).
Marovo (Solomon Islands):
Talo (Colocasia esculenta, Araceae).
Fijian: Dalo (Colocasia esculenta, Araceae).

Maori: Pehu (a premium variety of harakeke; also varieties of kumara and taro, and a ball made of mashed taro).
From PROTO TAHITIC *Pehu, a variety of Taro.
Cognates in other Polynesian languages:
Tahitian: Pehu (a variety of Taro);
Tupuaki (Austral Islands): Pehu (a Taro variety).

Maori: takatakapō (variety of Taro, Colocasia esculenta)
From PROTO CENTRAL PACIFIC: *takataka (Smilax vitiensis [Smilaceae]" )
through PROTO POLYNESIAN: *takataka ("A kind of grass [or grass-like plant]" )
Cognates in other Polynesian languages:
Tongan: takataka (Fimbristylis autumnalis [Cyperaceae])
Samoan: ta'ata'a (Eleusine sp. [Gramineae])

Maori: Pongi (a dark variety of Colocasia esculenta; also a dark variety of Ipomoea batatas [kumara])
From PROTO POLYNESIAN: *pongi (a dark variety of Colocasia esculenta [Araceae])
Cognates in other Polynesian languages:
Niuean: Pongi (Colocasia esculenta variety)
Marquesan: Poki (a red variety of C. esculenta)
Hawaiian: Poni (purple varieties of C. esculenta, Ipomoea batatas [kumara] and Dioscorea alata [yam])

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Introductory section
Arrival in Aotearoa
Varieties of taro
Metaphorical and poetical references to taro
Taro in Te Paipera Tapu
Gallery and Further Information

Taro was an important staple food plant in Austronesia generally, although the reflexes of the Proto Malayo-Polynesian word reconstructed as *tales have fared better in some Indonesian languages rather than Philippine languages, and Eastern (rather than Western) Oceanic languages, than in the others, where they have been supplanted by local variants. Javanese has tales, for example, but Tagalog has gabi Nonetheless, the plant was an important staple food throughout the Philippines until the arrival of rice (probably between the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries AD). The famous and spectacular rice terraces of the northern Philippines probably were developed from taro ponds after rice was introduced in that region about 400 years ago.

The Proto-Oceanic form, *talos, is strongly reflected in all Polynesian languages. There are numerous cultivated varieties of taro, and many of these were carried throughout Polynesia and new ones selected and propagated over the centuries. Each established variety has its own name; the term *talo and its modern reflexes denote the species in general.

The plant was brought to Aotearoa by the Polynesian settlers, and was widely cultivated. It required less care than the kumara, but was not as highly esteemed as that staple. In part that may have been because it simply didn't taste as good, as growing conditions in most districts would have been much less favourable than in the tropics, or perhaps varied in quality for other reasons. One of the scientists at the University of Hawaii's plant research centre in Kaua'i, which was responsible for saving many Hawaiian kalo (taro) varieties from extinction, told me that many years ago they had sampled two traditional Maori varieties which they had been given to add to their collection, and found them quite unpalatable no matter how they cooked them.

While there were were recommented days for planting (Elsdon Best notes these as the 17th, 18th and 28th (Orongonui) days of the lunar cycle -- The Maori, Vol. 2, p. 392), and recommended methods, such as protecting from wind with brush screens (a procedure also adopted for kumara), neither the planting nor the harvest seems to have been attended by special rituals.

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Arrival in Aotearoa
Varieties of taro
Metaphorical and poetical references to taro
Taro in Te Paipera Tapu
Gallery and Further Information

Arrival in Aotearoa. Nonetheless, as noted in the next sections, the taro has a significant symbolic role in metaphor, proverbs, and Biblical translation. It was an important staple food in those places where it would grow, and is mentioned in several of the narratives of the early settlement of Aotearoa.

Quite clearly, it was one of the "canoe plants", and its arrival and careful cultivation here, along with the hue (calabash gourd), uwhi (yam) and kūmara, provides strong evidence for the deliberate settlement of Aotearoa as part of the Polynesian expansion eastward in the early centuries of the second Milennium.

Tainui traditions tell us that the taro was carried here by Hoturoa's sister Marama. When the Tainui canoe, captained by Hoturoa, arrived at Kawhia after visiting other points along the northern coast of Aotearoa, Hoturoa established a Whare Wānanga (School of Higher Learning), while his wife, Whakaotirangi, established the gardens. Disaffection arose when Hoturoa took a second wife, and Whakaotirangi with her sons left for the neighboring harbour, Aotea, where she established a flourishing kumara garden (which later Hoturoa came both to greatly admire, and bless with the appropriate pure rites to ensure its protection and success). No mention is made of the taro in this second phase of the gardening narrative, but it is said that the same taro brought by Hoturoa continues to flourish at Kawhia to the present day.

Further east, around the same time, a canoe named Nukutere arrived in the Bay of Plenty from Taranaki, bringing taro and karaka (Corynocarpus laevigata) seedlings, said to be from Hawaiki but probably from Te Taitokerau (since karaka is endemic to that region, and taro was established there at the beginning of Polynesian settlement). It is highly likely in fact that taro was part of the food and agricultural supplies brought to Aotearoa on all the major voyaging canoes whose crews and passengers were involved in the settlement of Aotearoa, and became established wherever conditions were favourable. It still survives unattended close to streams and rivers and other moist, frost-free environments in Taitokerau and other parts of the northern North Island.

Until the nineteenth century, however, it was probably cultivated in places where it could be suitably protected from the elements in coastal areas at least throughout the North Island and also in the northern South Island. Writing about his adventures in 1840, for example, Ensign Best found a Māori-grown variety of taro that he was given by his hosts somewhere in the Marlborough Sounds far more palatable than my Hawaiian friends:

The Natives were glad to see us & regaled us with Taro (a kind of luscious slimy root more like the Jerusalem Artichoke than any other vegetable) and potatoes. (The Journal of Ensign Best, 1837-1843, ed. N.M. Taylor, Wellington, Government Printer, 1966, p. 256)
They also supplied him and his shipmates with pigs and wekas. Taro were also taken on board by whalers calling in for supplies in the Bay of Islands in the 1830s, with varying reports as to their quality compared with those acquired elsewhere.

Traditionally, according to Elsdon Best, taro were planted in holes, termed whāwhārua, some deep and others shallow. Elsdon Best says that the deeper ones were termed ipurangi, a word that Williams (Dictionary, p. 79) says refers to the shallower pits, which Best calls pārua kōau -- a phrase also designating a pāua shell that was particularly deep, which gives us an idea of the way these holes were shaped. Williams refers to the deeper pits as whakarua kawau, perhaps because they were shaped like mini versions of a hole where a kawau (cormorant) might dive for fish. These planting holes were spaced about 60 cm apart. Gravel was placed in each pit, along with four taro roots.

Recent archaeological evidence shows that taro cultivation was indeed contemporaneous with the initial settlement of Aotearoa, as Māori tradition asserts. Intensive investigation of sites on Ahuahu (Great Mercury Island) by researchers from the University of Auckland and the Auckland War Memorial Museum has shown that taro and other leafy greens were cultivated extensively there in the fifteenth century. Pollen grains of both Polynesian taro and puha have been found in garden sites like He Waitetoke Mire (illustrated on left). It is interesting to note that the climate was warm enough then for taro to flower, probably regularly, which would have helped in the production of new strains, later reproduced mainly vegetatively. It seems that, contrary to what has been generally supposed by scholars, taro was the main staple crop cultivated initially, and was only overtaken in this respect by kumara in the sixteenth century.

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Varieties of taro
Metaphorical and poetical references to taro
Taro in Te Paipera Tapu
Gallery and Further Information

Varieties of taro. It seems that, as with the kumara, most of the old varieties of taro were replaced by new, better flavoured or stronger-growing ones in the course of the vigorous international trade in which the Māori engaged in the 1830s. However, many of the names were recorded, possibly two of which have cognates elsewhere in Polynesia. Only one of those, pongi, denotes a variety of taro in the other languages. The other, takatakapō (or takataka-a-pō), seems very doubtfully linked with the Proto Polynesian *takataka, but may be nonetheless as although the Samoan and Tongan cognates denote grass-like plants, the Fijian cognate denotes a climber with a fleshy root. A close relative of the Fijian plant was given the name uhi "yam" (among others) in Hawaii, probably because its roots were eaten as a famine food (Wagner et al., Handbook, p.1610). It is just possible that a memory of this type of plant and its earlier name was carried to Aotearoa and transferred to a taro variety.

As noted in the previous section, in Aotearoa the taro roots were planted in gravel four to a hole (some holes were deep and others shallow), in rows two feet apart. They were not specially irrigated. In Hawaii, the plants intended for food are usually grown on mounds in special fields flooded with water which is diverted from a nearby stream or river and allowed to flow through them during the growing season. Ornamental varieties are grown as garden plants.

In Aotearoa cultivation of the taro declined markedly after the adoption of the potato, although some plants continued to grow wild in favourable situations, and a few families continued to cultivate them for their personal use. Peter Matthews notes that extensive taro plantations were in evidence in Northland and the East Coast of New Zealand in the early nineteenth century. It was also cultivated traditionally elsewhere in the North Island, and possibly also in some favourable environments in the South Island (On the Trail of the Taro, pp. 62-72). The government re-introduced taro to help avert starvation in Maori communities after World War I -- a Chinese variety was shipped to New Zealand via San Francisco, and widely grown in the North for some years, before once more being replaced by other crops. I was very disappointed to find out, when talking to a taro expert from Japan a few years ago, that the "Māori" taro I had been growing was in fact this Chinese variety.

In addition to the taro cultivated for eating, there are a large number of widely cultivated ornamental varieties, often with red or purple leaves and stems. Taro rarely flowers in Aotearoa, but occasionally produces flowers very similar to those of the arum lily, to whch it is related. The photograph on the left is of an ornamental variety in flower in the Landsendt Garden, Oratia, Auckland in February 2019.

There is a taro-like plant from South America which was among the "galleon plants" brought into the Pacific by Spanish and Portugese navigators. This is Xanthosoma sagittifolium, found throught the Philippines and much of Southeast Asia, as well as the tropical Pacific Islands, in the form of green and purple cultivars. Both of these are illustrated in the gallery on this page. Neither of these are true taro, but they are loosely referred to by this word, usually followed by a descriptive term, in Tongan and some other Polynesian languages. One Tongan term is talo hina; others (some denoting different cultivars) are taro futuna, taro tea, taro kula and taro tofua. In East Futuna and Niue it is talo fiti, in Mele (Vanuatu) taro fījī, and in East Uvea talo fisi (all meaning "Fijian taro", where "Fijian" is probably a synonym for "exotic" or "foreign", as with talo palagi in Tokelau). Like Colocasia esculenta, the Xanthosoma cultivars have edible leaves and tubers.

Because the taro was such an important plant, distinctive varieties were cultivated and named, and there was a special vocabulary for parts of the plant. The latter included these terms:

whā or raupaka - the leaf
whāwhā - the petiole (leaf-stalk)
ngāue - dark edges to the sheathing stalk

Apart from the heritage names mentioned above (pongi and takatakapö), there are about 30 other varietal names listed in the Williams Dictionary. A few of these are presented with additional information:

akarewa - purplish variety
kākātarahae - large variety with red leaf stalks
kinakina - "an inferior variety" - maybe one of those sent to Hawaii?
kōareare - a variety with running roots (also the name of a small tree, Pseudopanax edgerleyi)
kohuorangi - a small red variety (also kohurangi, kokohurangi, kohuhurangi, kohukohurangi)
makatiti - variety with pale green leaves
hoia - a large-leaved variety (I was told many years ago that this variety was so named because it was brought to New Zealand by soldiers [hōia] returning from the First World War.)

The others mentioned by Williams are: awanga (also the name of the southwest wind, and a variety of harakeke); hanina; haukopa; whakahekerangi; kauere (also the name of the tree Vitex lucens [puriri] and a plant and seaweed used for scenting oils); mamaku (also the name of the tree fern Cyathea medullaris); maori (also a kumara and a [post-1769] potato variety); makatiti ~ matatiti; paeangaanga; pātai; pehu (also a name for varieties of kumara and harakeke); pōtango (also a harakeke variety); tanae; tautaumahei; whakatauare; tokotokohau; turitaka; upokotiketike; wairuaārangi.

The gallery below shows taro ponds, fields, and plants in various locations in Hawai'i, the Philippines, Samoa, and Te Māra Reo, including pictures of cultivars of the taro-like aroid Xanthosoma sagittifolium. Can you spot the difference between the structure of the leaves of the true taro (Colocasia) and the South American "taro" (Xanthosoma)? It's an easy way to tell them apart. (The answer is in the "News" for February 2016.)

The varieties of taro grown in New Zealand now have come mostly from China, Japan and India. Our "Woodhill" taro may well be one of these. However, a Niuean cutivar has recently become very popular; if this is indeed one of the pre-contact taro varieties, it will be from the same genetic stock as the taro first brought to Aotearoa around the twelth century AD. We also have a variety of taro from Cyprus, from plants grown at Putiki marae, Whanganui, thanks to the Greek Cypriot proprietor of the best fish and chip shop in Wanganui, who gave the plants to the marae some years ago. There are notes about cooking this Middle-Eastern cultivar in the "News" for January/February 2020.

Other taro-like plants, often referred to generically as "taro", but with distinctive names in the countries where they are cultivated, are the giant swamp taro Cyrtosperma merkusii (Araceae), and another taro-like aroid, Alocasia macrorrhizos, both of which are "canoe plants", carried into and through Polynesia from elsewhere in Oceania in the early stages of settlement.

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Metaphorical and poetical references to taro
Taro in Te Paipera Tapu
Gallery and Further Information

Metaphorical and poetic references to taro. Williams' Dictionary notes the expression "Kei ranga noa te taro a Kea" (Don't try to harvest the taro of Kea) as an injunction against attempting the impossible. Taro a Kea is the name of a rock near Kahutara Point (Table Cape), Mahia peninsula. The expression, with this meaning, appears in a Ngati Kahungunu tangi, Ngā Mōteatea #107:

Kei ranga noa rā te taro a Kea,ē,
I Taiporutu rā;
I te tai whakakī nā Whiringatau, ē,
Pokipoki whakararo, ī.
[No need to harvest the taro of Kea
Out yonder at Taiporea;
With the flood tide of Whiringatau,
Entirely submerging all, alas
(NM 107:15-18)
According to the notes to the poem, Kea is said to have been a god (or symbol of a god) brought on the Takitimu canoe, Taiporutu is a place in the Mahia district, and Whiringatau is said to have been the leader on board the Papahuakina canoe which landed at Nukutaurua, also near Mahia. Williams also notes the expression taro puia nui "many (or large) clumped taro" as a metaphor for a family with many scions.

In Ngā Mōteatea #149, "He tangi mō Tupoki", by Te Maropounamu of Ngati Tama, taro is also used to indicate persons of note:

Ko Kahutuatini hei utu mō aku taro
I ngaua iho nei, ē ī.
[Kahutuatini shall be the payment for my exalted ones,
(The loss) of whom gnaws on within.
] (NM #149: 53-54.
Kahutuatini was a chief of the opposing Ngati Maniapoto force, killed by Maene, a slave of the composer, Te Maropounamu. In another poem, however, taro is presented as something of lesser account. Hara of Tuhoe, in He waiata whakautu taunu (A rejoinder to a disparaging remark), ranks taro and yam as foods of minor importance when compared with fatty meat, in response to her being accused of being stingy with food.
He aha te kai mauratia e ahau?
He uhi, he taro.
Ka taka te piko o te whakairo.
Ko te kai onamata, he hinu rā,
He mīmiha, he pakake rā.
Ko te kai o te tipua, he wai rama,
He nanua pounamu kai te moana rā.
[What food was it I withheld?
'Twas only the uhi and the taro.
For these the exquisite carving is defamed.
The tasty food of ancient times was game fat,
With the mīmiha and whale meat.
The food of the demon is rum,
and the glistening morsel from the sea
]. (NM #247:7-13)
The notes by Elsdon Best explain "mīmiha" as whale, and "a black bituminous substance thrown up on the seashore" (the same definitions are given in Williams' dictionary), and the "glistening morsel" as the fatty portions of a fish known as "Hine-wehe". The song itself was composed after contact with foreigners (the reference to rum), but while both taro and yam (uhi) were still being cultivated. Although the phrase "nanua pounamu" does indeed normally refer to the red moki (Cheilodactylus spectabilis, Cheilodactylidae), the pairing with "te kai o te tipua" perhaps implies that the "glistening morsel" is the bottle in which the rum has been transported over the sea, rather than an esteemed deep-sea fish.

Taro is also well represented among the proverbial sayings recorded in Mead and Groves' collection, Ngā Pēpeha a ngā Tīpuna. Some are admonitions like that referring to te taro a Kea, quoted above. For example:

Maua tō pehu māngaro
[Take up your mealy taro] M&G 1784
a saying for one who had unwittingly slain a relative -- "swallow your bitter pill" -- accept that what's done is done. "Pehu" refers to a ball of mashed taro, rather like a form of the Hawaiian poi. Similarly:
Kaua e horehorea te kiri o te taro
[Do not peal the skin of the taro] M&G 1175
that is, don't investigate too closely -- some things are better left alone. An aspect of proper behaviour during a time of mourning is encapsulated in the injunction:
Kia heke te kawakawa i te rae o te tangata ka kai ai ia i te taro.
[When the greenery is shed from one's forehead, taro may be eaten] M&G 1283
In other words, complete the ceremonies of mourning first, before tucking in to the food.

Other whakatauākī refer, obliquely or directly, to the importance of taro as a food source. For example, taro are sometimes referred to as:

Nga kai tatau a Whaitiri
[The counted food of Whatiri] M&G 2007
Taro supplies were limited and taro was a special food, so women would count the guests before bringing out the taro from storage, so as to be hospitable but not wasteful of a precious resource. Whaitiri, the thunder goddess, after her return to the heavens from her life with her mortal husband was eventually encountered by the hero Tawhaki as he ascended to the celestial spheres; he found her in the form of a blind woman carefully counting out taro for her granddaughters -- hence the reference to taro as "ngā kai tatau a Whaitiri".

The value of taro is emphasised in the saying:
Whakaoho koe i a au, ko te kai a Whaitiri tō kai
[If you awaken me let it be for the food of Whaitiri] M& G 2650
Another poetical name for the taro was te rau o Mauri "the leaf of Mauri", (M&G 2421) for reasons as yet unelucidated by Te Māra Reo. The resilience of the plant is captured in the proverb:
He puia taro nui, he ngata taniwha rau, e kore e ngaro
[A cluster of flourishing taro, a hundred voracious slugs; they will not be destroyed] M&G 657
In other words, a large tribe, or a large group of people committed to a common purpose, will not easily be thwarted.
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Taro in Te Paipera Tapu
Gallery and Further Information

Taro in Te Paipera Tapu.

The word "taro" appears over 400 times in Te Paipera Tapu, the Māori translation of the Bible, almost entirely where English translations refer to bread. In the Biblical translations quoted here, in addition to an English translation taken from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) along with the text from the 1958 edition of Te Paipera Tapu (PT), we have reproduced the same passages from a recent Samoan translation (TP) for comparison (for bibliographic details see the references at the end of this page). This is to illustrate the difference between the approach of the Māori translators compared with those translating the Bible into most other Polynesian languages, and in this case also of most standard English translations. Where the Māori translation generally employs the word that refers to a root crop which traditionally served as a staple food, the other translations either explicitly refer to a non-traditional grain-based baked product, or use a general term for food or eating that covers such a product. In cases like this the Samoan translation often substitutes the Samoan adaptation of a Greek or Hebrew word for an object for which there is no indigenous word (as do those in some other Polynesian languages). This is occasionally done in Māori translations, but the Māori translators often favour words for objects that will be familiar to Māori speakers as substitutes for precise, literal equivalents, or adaptations of the original term or its surrogate in another language. The equivalent English, Māori and Samoan words or phrases in the examples below are highlighted in bold type. The Māori text is sandwiched between the English and Samoan to make comparisons easier. Macrons, and also hamzas in Samoan, are used only where they are present in the publications from which the quotations are taken. In later versions of this page we may add macrons to the Māori text.

Many of these usages of the word taro are metaphorical, as illustrated by the examples below:

NRSV: By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread ... (Genesis 3:19)
PT: Ma te werawera o to mata e kai ai koe i te taro ...
TP: E te ‘ai foi au mea e ‘ai ma le afo o ou mata ... ["things to eat", sometimes a synonym for bread]
NRSV: You have fed them with the bread of tears, and given them tears to drink in full measure. (Psalm 80:5)
PT: Kua whangaia mai e koe he roimata hei taro ma ratou, he nui hoki te mehua roimata kua homai nei e koe kia inumia e ratou.
TP: Ua e fafagaina i lato i loimata e fai ma mea e ‘ai ...
NRSV: Send out your bread upon the waters, for after many days you will get it back. (Ecclesiastes 11:1)
PT: Maka tau taro ki te mata o nga wai; kia maha hoki nga ra ka kitea ano e koe.
TP: Ina lafo ia lau mea e ‘ai i luga o le vai; auā a mavae aso e tele e te toe maua.
NRSV: Give us this day our daily bread. (Matthew 6:11)
PT: Homai ki a matou aianei he taro ma matou mo tenei ra.
TP: Ia e foai mai ia te i matou i le aso nei a matou mea e ‘ai e tatau ma le aso.
NRSV: Jesus answered him, ‘It is written, “One does not live by bread alone”’. (Luke 4:4)
PT: Ka whakahoki a Ihu ki a ia, ka mea, Kua oti te tuhituhi, E kore e ora te tangata i te taro kau.
TP: Ona tali atu lea o Iesu ia te ia “Ua tusia, E le na mea e ‘ai, e ola ai le tagata”.
NRSV: Jesus said to them “I am the bread of life ...”. (John 6:35)
PT: Ka mea a Ihu ki a ratou, Ko ahau te taro o te ora ....
TP: ... “O a’u nei le areto o le ola ...” [areto is the Samoan adaptation of the Greek word ‘aretos, "bread"]
However, in other contexts the bread may be unequivocally just that in the original text, a loaf baked from grain, but like the taro, a staple food for the people in the narrative:
NRSV: He said to his daughters, “Where is he? Why did you leave the man? Invite him to break bread. (Exodus 2:20)
PT: Na ka mea ia ki ana tamahine, A kei hea ia? He aha taua tangata i whakarerea ai e koutou? Karangatia ki te kai taro.
TP: ... Ina vaalau lava ia te ia, ina ia ‘ai sina ana mea. [Literally, "to have a little to eat"]
NRSV: Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them .... (Luke 22:19)
PT: Na ka mau ia ki te taro, ka mutu te whakawhetai, ka hoatu e ia ki a ratou ...
TP: Ona tago ai lea o ia i le areto, ua faafetai, ua tofitofi, ma avatu ia te i latou ...
Even when the "bread" is clearly not taro as a root crop it is represented by this plant name in the Māori translation:
NRSV: Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread. (Luke 24:35)
PT: Na ka korerotia e raua nga meatanga i te ara, to raua mohiotanga hoki ki a ia i te whatwhatinga o te taro.
TP: ... ina o tofitofi le areto.
NRSV: With your thanksgiving sacrifice of well-being you shall bring your offering with cakes of leavened bread. (Leviticus 7:13)
PT: Me tapae ano e ia, hei tapiri mo nga keke, etahi taro rewana, i runga ano i te patunga whakawhetai o ana whakahere mo te pai.
TP: Na te avatua e faapāpā areto ua faafefeteina faatasi me ma lana taulaga; atoa ma le taulaga faaneenee o lana taulaga faafetai.
Taro also appears in the Māori translation where some of the more modern English translations substitute "food":
NRSV: Command the Israelites, and say to them: My offering, the food for my offerings by fire, my pleasing odour, you shall take care to offer me at its appointed time. (Numbers 28:2)
PT: Whakahaua nga tama o Iharaira, mea atu ki a ratou, Kia mau ki taku whakahere, ki taku taro mo aku whakahere ahi, hei kakara reka ki ahau, kia tapaea mai ki ahau i tona wa ano.
TP ... O le taulaga ia te au, o a’u mea e 'ai mo taulaga ia te au e fai i le afi, o le mea manogi lelei ia te au ....
Similarly, where English refers to "loaves" of bread:
NRSV: His disciples replied, 'How can one feed these people with bread here in the desert?'
PT: Na ka whakahokia e ana akonga ki a ia, Me aha e te tangata ka makona ai enei i te taro i konei, i te koraha?
TP: Ona tali mai lea o ona soo ia te ia, "Maifea e mafai ai se tasi ona fafaga te i latou i areto i lenei vao?"

NRSV: He asked them, 'How many loaves do your have? They said, 'Seven'.
PT: Ka ui ia ki a ratou, E hia a koutou taro? Ka mea ratou, E whitu.
TP: Ona fesili atu lea o ia ia te i latou, "Pe fea ia ni a outou areto"? Ona latou fai mai lea, "E fitu."

NRSV: Then he ordered the crowd to sit down on the ground, and he took the seven loaves, and after giving thanks he broke them and gave them to his disciples to distribute .... (Mark 8:4-6)
PT: Na ka mea ia ki te mano kia noho ki te whenua: a ka mau ki nga taro e whitu, ka whakawhetai, ka whawhati, a hoata ana e ia ki nga akonga kia kia whakatakatoria ki mua i a ratou....
TP: Ona fetalai atu lea o ia i le motu o tagata ia latou taooto i lalo; ona tago lea o ia i areto e fitu, ua faafetai, ua tofitofi, ma avane i ona soo, latou te laulauina atu ....
This same usage is employed in phrases for such as "barley loaves" (John 6:9,13), taro pare (Samoan areto karite - Greek krithe, "barley"), and "grain crushed for bread" (Isaiah 28:28), "bread corn" in the King James version), witi hei taro (literally "wheat to become taro"; Samoan saito from Greek sitos "grain, corn"). There are times when the ordinary word for bread or flour adapted from English, paraoa, makes its appearance,
NRSV: When you present a grain offering baked in the oven, it shall be of choice flour: unleavened cakes mixed with oil .... (Leviticus 2:4)
PT: A, ki te kawea e koe he whakahere totokore i tunua ki te oumu, hei nga keke paraoa, hei nga mea rewanakore, me konatunatu ki te hinu ....
TP: Pe a e avatu foi se taulaga i mea e 'ai ua tao i le umu, ia fai ni potoi areto lelei e le faafefetenia, ua palua foi ma le uu ....
However, in the guise of unleavened bread, taro once more makes its appearance.
NRSV: Therefore let us celebrate the festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. (1 Corinthians 5:8)
PT: Na kia kai tatou i te hakari, auaka te rewana tawhito, auaka hoki te rewana o te mauahara, o te kino, engari hei te taro rewanakore o te tinihangakore, o te pono.
TP: O lenei, aua tatou te faia le tausamiga ma le mea fafefete tuai, o le loto leaga ma le amio leaga; a ia faia ma le mea e le fafefeteina, o le loto lelei ma te faamaoni.

In the Māori translations of scripture, taro has thus been given the literal meaning of "bread", as well as being used in contexts where "bread" is employed in a metaphorical or symbolic sense. Outside this particular religious context, however, in everyday spoken and written Māori taro refers exclusively to the root crop and plant brought originally from Hawaiki, while the word paraoa, adapted from English, signifies flour and the bread baked using this. In Samoan, areto is a word reserved for scriptural and liturgical use; everyday bread is falaoa, or falaoa vela ("cooked flour"). The way the word taro is employed in Biblical texts however indicates how vital this plant was for Māori well-being in the early years of contact with missionaries and Biblical scholars, despite the much greater attention paid to its companion canoe plant, the kumara.

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Gallery and Further Information


Kalo (Taro) ponds, Hanalei Valley, Kaua'í, Hawai'i
Mangahawea Bay, Moturua Island, Ipipiri / Bay of Islands,
probably the site of some of the earliest taro cultivations in Aotearoa.
(Photo: Peter de Graaf / Northern Advocate)
Newly planted lo'i (taro pond), before flooding. Polynesian Cultural Center,
Laie, Oahu, Hawaii. (Photo: (c) Lono Logan)
Kalo (Taro) pond, Hanalei Valley, Kauai, Hawaii
Cultivated Taro, Hanalei Valley, Kauai'i
(The water in the pond is actually flowing and thus oxygenated)
Wild "Taro" (Xanthosoma sagittifolium), Tupi, South Cotabato,
Mindanao, Philippines
"Taro" (Xanthosoma sagittifolium) cultivated on roadside,
Banaue, Mountain Province, Luzon, Philippines
"Canoe Plants" - Kalo (Taro), Kï (Tï), 'ohe (Kohe - Bamboo)
& Mai'a (Maika - Banana), Lyon Arboretum, Honolulu
Taro cultivated in ponds, Baguio, Philippines
Taro ponds
Taro ponds showing water flow, Limahuli, Kaua'i, Hawai'i
Taro growing in home garden, Vailele, Samoa
Taro sellers with produce opposite main bus station, Apia, Samoa, 2014
Taro hoia, Te Māra Reo
Giant (Samoan ?) Taro, Te Māra Reo
Ornamental taro, Wahiawa, Honolulu
Wild taro
Wild taro, Nu'uanu Stream, Honolulu

Further information : There is a wealth of information about Taro, in Aotearoa and internationally, in Peter Mathews' book On the Trail of Taro (Osaka: National Museum of Ethnology, 2014). An earlier article him, "Nga Taro o Aotearoa" in the Journal of the Polynesian Society (Vol. 94, No 3, 1985, pp. 253-272) is also available on-line. There was a Hawaiian account of the origin of taro on the "earthfoot" website, which underlined the importance of this plant in Hawaiian culture. However when we last checked the link, neither it nor the site itself were accessible. Hawaiian researchers John Cho and colleagues wrote a very interesting account of "Hawaiian Kalo, Past and Future" in the journal Sustainable Agriculture (February 2007). Te Ara / The Encyclopedia of New Zealand has a web page with some further references to the kumara in pre-19th century Maori life. Some traditional accounts of the introduction of taro can be found in Tainui, by Leslie G. Kelly, pp. 63-4; Edward Shortland's Traditions and Superstitions of the New Zealanders, p. 3; and Percy Smith's History and Traditions of the Taranaki Coast, pp. 63, 142-3; Elsdon Best has a highly informative section on the cultivation of taro, including a comprehensive list of varietal names, in his Maori Agriculture, pp. 233-243 (publication details of all these works, and the others mentioned below, will be found in the bibliography). Recent research on Ahuahu, which provides further evidence that taro was cultivated widely by the first Polynesian settlers of Aotearoa, has been presented in reports of the extensive archaeological investigations on Ahuahu (Great Mercury Island), reported in the 9 April 2019 edition of the Auckland University News, and an article by Mathew Prebble et al., Early Tropical Crop Production in marginal subtropical and temperate Polynesia, PNAS Vol 116, No 18, April 30, 2019. The evidence for early cultivation of taro in the Auckland region is explored in a discussion paper by Justin Maxwell & Karen Greig, prepared for Auckland Council Heritage Unit, December 2016. Moturua Island, one of the earliest known sites of Polynesian settlement (and probably also taro cultivation) in Aotearoa, is featured in an article by Peter de Graaf in the Northern Advocate, 8 November 2009,"Tuia 250 fleet calls in at NZ's earliest inhabited site".

The replacement of taro by rice as a staple in the Philippines is discussed in the publications by Stephen Acabado and associates, also listed in the bibliography. There is also a comprehensive discussion of the literary evidence for the introduction of taro into the Mediterranean from Asia, including the shift in meaning of the Greek word kolokasia (or kolokasion) from indicating the edible rhizome of the sacred lotus (Nelumbo mucifera, also an introduction from Asia) to referring more commonly, then exclusively to the taro (now known botanically as Colocasia esculenta) from around the fourth century A.D, in a recent paper by Ilaria Maria Grimaldi and colleagues, including Peter Matthews. Two other items in the bibliography are Peter Matthews' account of "Written records of Taro in the Eastern Mediterranean" (2006), and a paper by Tetsuo Mikami and Sakio Tsutsui on taro cultivation in Japan. These places are at opposite ends of the earth, but taro has been cultivated there for three millennia.

Taro plantations and mangroves perform similar functions in trapping fine sediments and thus mitigating the effects of erosion on waterways and shorelines (see the paper by Shirley Koshiba and others in the bibliography). In New Zealand, Aroon Parshotam has also done important research on the growing and uses of taro. Further useful information can also be found in the University of Hawai'is College of Tropical Agriculture's background paper on taro research. Full publication details are in the bibliography.

Photographs: The photo of Mangahawea Bay is by Peter de Graaf, a reporter for the Northern Advocate (see link to article, above); the newly-planted Hawaiian taro were photographed by Lono Logan, a Hawaiian friend of Te Māra reo and taro expert; we are grateful for their permission to reproduce these pictures. The photo of He Waitetoke Mire is from the University of Auckland News, 9 April 2019 (see URL above). Others are by R.B., Te Māra Reo.
Biblical Texts: In the Biblical citations, the English texts have been taken from the 1989 New Revised Standard Version as presented in the Poverty and Justice Bible, 2015, the Maori Text from Te Paipera Tapu, 1958 Edition, and the Samoan text from O Le Tusi Paia, 1969 edition. Full publication details are in the bibliography.

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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