*Kiekie [Proto Nuclear Polynesian, from Proto Malayo Polynesian *kiray]


Freycinetia banksii (Pandanaceae)



From Proto Malayo Polynesian *KiRay Pandanus species used in making fine mats (Pandanaceae); through
Proto Oceanic: *KiRe Costal Pandanus, probably Pandanus tectorius,
Proto Oceanic *KiRekiRe, Pandanus species (Pandanaceae),
Proto Polynesian: *Kie Pandanus, species used in making fine mats, and
Proto Nuclear Polynesian: *Kiekie Freycenetia species (Pandanaceae).

Kiekie (Freycinetia banksii) on a Kohekohe tree,
Te Matuku Scenic Reserve, Auckland (Photo: Kahuroa)

Kiekie, showing inflorescence/fruit with tāwhara.
Photo: (c) Wayne Bennett, NZPCN

Samoan: 'ie'ie (three species of Freycinetia, Pandanaceae, also known as salasala, siganopa, & tuāfaga)
Tahitian: 'ie'ie (Freycinetia demissa, & F. victoriperrea, Pandanaceae)
Hawaiian: 'ie'ie (Freycinetia arborea, Pandanaceae)
East Futuna: Kiekie (Freycinetia storckii, Pandanaceae)
Rarotongan: Kiekie (Freycinetia wilderi, Pandanaceae)

pēia, a rough cloak made of kiekie leaves (and an alternative name for the plant);
akakiekie, the roots of the kiekie;
tāwhara, the edible flower bracts;
tarapapa, a Ngai Tahu word for the flower of the kiekie;
kohune male flower bracts of the kiekie (cf. hune, pappus of raupō seeds, from PPN *fune "breadfruit flower or core);
ureure reduplication of ure, PPN *ule, "penis" (Proto Oceanic *ule; possibly from Proto Western Pacific *ulay "worm"),
tēure, tīrori, pīrori, pātangatanga, all terms for the fruit of the kiekie (some at least probably dialect variants).
Note: See the 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 kiekie is the sole representative of the Pandanus family in Aotearoa. It is a scrambling and climbing plant with slender leaves up to a metre and a half long, useful for weaving, aerial roots which furnished material for lashing and binding, and producing a highly esteemed edible summer-ripening fruit.

Carefully prepared, the leaf of the kiekie was the superior counterpart to the harakeke (flax) leaf for several kinds of weaving, especially the making of fine, soft mats -- as for example when the composer of the Oriori mō Ta-Maunga-o-te-Rangi sighs:

Taku kore rawa nei ki te rau kiekie
Taku noho tonu nei ki te rau harakeke.
Devoid am I of the kiekie leaf;
Content must I be with the flax leaf. [NM Vol 3, No. 209, pp. 42-3, ll. 4-5]
Not that the harakeke need be too much of a let-down. Carefully dressed flax fibre also produced high-quality garments. However the leaf of the kiekie was certainly associated with wealth and leisure, while the flower bracts provided a luxury food item. This is reflected in the proverb:
Rukuruku Hunā, horahora Pāpakanui (M&G 2181)

Mead and Grove interpret this as meaning literally "Gather up Hunā, spread out Pāpakanui", and metaphorically "Wrap up your fine garments of flax from Hunā, don your rough capes of kiekie from Pāpakanui", that is, choose clothing suitable for the occasion. They note that the Hunā region was noted for fine flax, whereas Pāpakanui was noted for the kiekie. However Kopu Erueti, in his notes on a Whakatohea patere, Nga Mōteatea No. 221, relates this proverb to food and leisure rather than clothing, and kiekie rather than flax, in a comment on the line:

He kai nui tonu māhau ko te rau o Huna.
Your big meal of course would have been the leaves of Huna. [NM 221, line 16, pp. 130-31]

"Te rau o Huna -- the leaf of Huna" was the "leaf" of the tāwhara, the flower-bract of the kiekie, a delicious item of food obtained there. Kopu Erueti quotes the proverb about Hunā and Pāpakanui, which Pei Te Hurinui Jones translates as "Many dive in at Huna and many lie about at Papakanui".

According to the notes to the poem, there was a lake at Huna where the kiekie grew (NM 221, note 16, pp. 134-5).

The word tāwhara, as well as denoting the edible, fleshy leaf-like bracts at the base of the fruit, means "sweet to the taste"; Elsdon Best (Forest Lore, p. 55) describes the flower and fruit, both sharing this quality, as "two luxuries for the Maori" which the kiekie provided. He quotes the proverb:

He whā tāwhara ki wā, he kiko tāmure ki tai
The tāwhara leaf on land, the flesh of the snapper offshore,
which encapsulates two of the most desirable food resources. Meade and Grove comment in relation to another version of this whakatauakī (substituting uta "inland" for ) that "these products of land and sea symbolise and abundance of food". Elsdon Best also notes that the Māori protected the edible parts of the kiekie from rats, which are indordinately fond of the tāwhara. This indeed is still the case, and probably accounts for the absence of any sign of the tāwhara around many ripening fruits one may encounter in the bush!

Without bleaching and softening the kiekie could indeed be used for rough capes, and Alan Clarke in The Great Sacred Forest of Tāne says that the leaves were used for "course mats, belts, baskets, floor mats or sleeping mats, and hut panels" (p. 208). He notes also (p.204) that the split roots were used to bind pūtorino (a bugle-like musical instrument) made of fine-grained tanekaha wood, split, hollowed, and rejoined. However, Murdoch Riley points out (Herbal, p. 206) that in some places kiekie was a tapu plant and not used for food baskets or floor mats. It was the preferred plant for use in tukutuku work, and the roots were made into fish traps and also sandals. According to research by Cheri van Schravendijk (see bibliography) the traditional method of harvesting kiekie leaves, wrenching them by hand, leaves considerably more biomass for regeneration and is much less destructive to the plant than more thorough harvesting using loppers.

When growing on the water's edge, the plants produce unusual roots, several feet long and branching repeatedly, with spongy or corky whitish rings. (See Moore and Edgar, Flora Vol. 2, p.98.) However, the kiekie is essentially a forest-dweller, and according to tradition fled to the forest while its erstwhile companion the harakeke (flax) took refuge in the water during a struggle between Tāne and Tangaroa -- there is a brief summary of this story on the page for aka (the generic name for vines).

References and further reading: There is further information about the kiekie on the NZPCA web site, and also in a Landcare (Manaaki Whenua) research information sheet, as well as in the sources quoted above and other works on the NZ Flora (including a highly informative thesis on the kiekie by Cheri Johanna van Schravendijk -- see the bibliography for publication details).

Photographs: The picture of the kiekie on a kohekohe tree (Dysoxylum spectabile) is by "Kahuroa", on the German Wikipedia website. The others are by Wayne Bennett and Jeremy Rolfe of the NZ Plant Conservation Network.

Kiekie, showing developing fruit (ureure)
Photo: (c) Wayne Bennett, NZPCN
Kiekie on Tawhairaunui (Nothofagus truncata)
Maidstone Park, Upper Hutt. Photo: (c) Jeremy Rolfe, NZPCN.

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