Piwakawaka Mini Te Mära Reo ~ The Language Garden
PROTO-EASTERN-POLYNESIAN ETYMOLOGIES
*Toromiro
Thespesia polulnea [and its aesthetic and physical properties]
Partly from PROTO POLYNESIAN *Milo

This is a fascinating word. In Tahitian and Maori its modern reflexes refer to the same tree as those of the older form *milo, to which it is obviously related, but in both Rapanui and Rarotonga they refer to what seem to be quite different trees. However, there are links between these divergent meanings. In Tahitian, and probably also in Maori (I haven't come across any examples of the use of the word toromiro apart from the minimalist entry in the Williams dictionary) toromiro refers to a special aspect of the miro, its sacred quality. In Rapanui and Rarotonga the newer word refers to leguminous trees. The Rapanui one at least has many of the qualities attributed to the "original" *milo (Thespesia polulnea) - a beautiful tree, with greyish bark, and a very hard, beautifully-grained wood, qualities which link all these trees to the New Zealand miro, belonging to a very different family but also aesthetically, culturally and practically highly significant.

There is a useful early comment on the Tahitian amae (toromiro) tree in the journal of James Morrison, the Boatswain's mate of the Bounty, published under the title "Account of the Island of Tahiti & the Customs of the Island", and held in the Australian National Library:

Amai — this is a hard Close Wood of a reddish Collour which they also used in Building their Canoes, making Ax & adze handles &c. — with this tree they Generally plant their Morai’s [marae] or places of Worship, & the leaves of this tree are always used in religious rites.

Botanically, the relationship between the plants referred to as toromiro in Tahitian and Maori is quite distant (see the page for *milo for information about that), but the Rapanui and Rarotongan plants given that name are all members of the same family (Fabaceae -- the pea family), although they belong to different genera.

Miro branchlets
Sophora toromiro (Rapanui)

Rapanui: Toromiro (Sophora toromiro)
Tahitian: Toromiro (T. populnea as a sacred tree)
Marquesan: -
Hawaiian: -
Tuamotuan: -
Rarotongan: Toromiro (Leucaena forsteri & Schleinitzia insularum) Maori: Toromiro (Prumnopitys ferruginea)

Related Words: miro, *milo

Synonyms: In Maori - Miro; in Tahitian - Amae

Milo Honolulu
Thespesia populnea (Honolulu)

Miro branchlets
Prumnopitys ferruginea (Te Mära Reo)

Miro branchlets
Thespesia populnea detail (Honolulu)

Miro branchlets
Prumnopitys ferruginea branch (Te Te Mära Reo)

There is more information on these trees in the entries for *milo, miro, and toromiro - links at the top of this page. The drawing of Sophora toromiro is from the website of the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew.
 

Hue flower

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