*Futu [Proto Polynesian]


Ascarina lucida (Chloranthaceae)


From Proto Austronesian *Butun, Barringtonia asiatica (Lechythidaceae); through
Proto Oceanic: *Putu(n), Barringtonia asiatica, and
Proto Polynesian: *Futu, Barringtonia asiatica.

Hutu (Ascarina lucida)
Branch with developing inflorescence

Hutu flower
Hutu (Ascarina lucida)

Tongan, Niuean, Samoan: Futu (Barringtonia asiatica , Lechythidaceae)
Tahitian, Marquesan, Tuamotu: Hutu (Barringtonia asiatica)
Rarotongan: 'utu (Barringtonia asiatica)

Pohutukawa, Hutukawa (Metrodideros excelsa, Myrtaceae)
Note: See the other linked page (highlighted at the top of this page) for more information about the ancestral names, their modern descendents, and the plants they denote.


The (New Zealand) Hutu
The Hutu in Traditional Māori Life

Why the early Polynesians called the tree known botanically as Ascarina lucida "hutu" is something of a mystery. Almost everywhere in the Austronesian world direct reflexes of the ancient word *butun refer to the tree Barringtonia asiatica -- which does not seem to have much in common with the tree known as hutu in Aotearoa. The New Zealand tree is much smaller (growing to about 6m, compared with 15m for its namesake), the leaves are serrated rather than smooth, the flowers small and insignificant rather than large and showy, and it is a lowland forest tree rather than a tree of swamps and the shoreline. Perhaps the way the flower-stalks emerge from the branches, the fragrance of the tree itself being reminiscent of the fragrant flowers of the Barringtonia, or the purple twigs echoing the ends of the stamens of the Barringtonia flowers reminded the early explorers of the Tahitian hutu -- or some other quality quite unconnected with these! (The "other" hutu, the pōhutukawa (see the link above), does share some of these qualities, with flowers which are a little more like those of the Barringtonia - at least at a distance, along with a love of the seaside.)

(New Zealand) Hutu

The hutu is an attractive small tree with bright green, serrated leaves and distinctive purple twigs. It grows to about 6 metres high and is found in lowland forests south of about Rotorua and Otorohanga. There is a good, illustrated description of it on the Auckland University Botany Department's website -- see the link at the bottom of this page. The photographs illustrating these notes have been taken from that source.

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Back to The (New Zealand) Hutu
The Hutu in traditional Māori life.

The Hutu in Traditional Māori Life

Although it is a very attractive tree, the hutu does not seem to have received much attention from Māori composers of songs, poems and proverbs. However Murdoch Riley quotes a passage from John White's 1861 Lectures on Maori Customs and Superstitions, in which the hutu is mentioned, along with karamū and ake, as a tree whose branches could be used in a special ceremony after the birth of a child:

The priests ... took a branch of karamū, ake or hutu: one of them parted the branch, and while tying one half around the child's waist, the other priest repeated this incantation, called a tūpana (which is not the baptism, but is intended to take the tapu from the mother and the settlement, as well as to give the child strength)...
[Quoted in M. Riley, Maori Healing and Herbal, p. 156.]

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(New Zealand) Hutu
The Hutu in Traditional Māori Life

References and further reading:There is an excellent illustrated account of the hutu on the University of Auckland's website. There is further information in Murdoch Riley's Herbal and the other books on New Zealand trees listed in the bibliography.

Photographs: From University of Auckland School of Biological Sciences (see link above).

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