*Kofe [Proto Polynesian]

Kohe, Kohekohe

Dysoxylum spectabile (Meliaceae)


Alternative name: Māota (See notes and link below.)

From Proto South Central Pacific *Kofe "bamboo", Schizostachyum glaucifolium (Poaceae) through:
Proto Polynesian *Kofe "root",Schizostachyum glaucifolium (Poaceae) and other bamboos; then
Proto Central Eastern Polynesian *Kofekofe "plants with bamboo-like qualities".)

The reduplicated form kohekohe also denotes the kōhia, Passiflora tetranda. This usage may also come from a Proto Central Eastern Pacific source, cognate with the Fijian and Tikopian terms for the sea daisy, Melanthera biflora (Asteraceae). See the notes about this on the pages for *kofe and kōhia.



Tongan: Kofe (Schizostachyum glaucifolium, "Bamboo", Poaceae)
Niuean: Kofe ("Bamboo nose flute" (older meaning); general term for musical instruments)
Samoan: 'ofe (Schizostachyum spp., Bambusa spp.,
"Bamboo [general term]", Poaceae)
Tokelauan: Kohe (Schizostachyum glaucifolium and other bamboo species, Poaceae)
Marquesan: Kohe (Bamboo species, Poaceae); Kohekohe (Centosteca lappacea, Poaceae)
Hawaiian: 'ohe (Schizostachyum glaucifolium and other bamboo species, Poaceae; also Isachne distichophylla (Poaceae), Joinvillea sacendens (Joinvilleaceae), Tetraplasandra hawaiensis (Araliaceae);
'ohe'ohe (Tetraplasandra gymnocarpa & T. kavaiensis, Araliaceae; Coix lacryma-jobi "Job's tears", Poaceae)
Tahitian: 'ohe, 'ofe (Schizostachyum glaucifolium & Bambusa arundinacea, "bamboo", Poaceae) 'ohe'ohe, 'ofe'ofe (Centosteca lappacea, Poaceae)
Tuamotuan: Kohe (Bamboo species, Poaceae)
Rarotongan: Ko'e (Bambusa vulgaris "Common bamboo ", Poaceae); Ko'eko'e (various large-leaved grasses, Poaceae)

Māota is an alternative name for the kohekohe, Dysoxylum spectabile (Meliaceae).
The kōhia, Passiflora tetranda, is also sometimes referred to as kohe; this is probably a variant of its more common name, or a reflex of a homonym in Proto Polynesian (possibly both), rather than a reflex of the Proto Polynesian word *kofe denoting bamboo.
Kohepi, Kohepu, the flowers of Dysoxylum spectabile.
Kohepiro, Scandia rosifolia (Apiaceae)
Koheriki, Scandia rosifolia (Apiaceae), Melicope ternata (Rutaceae)

There are also a number of Māori words which derive from terms connected with the cultivation and use of bamboo in tropical Polynesia and the earlier Austronesian homelands. These (and their whakapapa) are listed in the section on heritage names referencing bamboo, below.

Watch this space! This is a page still very much under construction, but which contains the essential linguistic and botanical information, and to which both text and pictures will be added progressively as soon as time permits. See the "News" for February 2016 for more information.

The primary referent of the Proto-Polynesian term from which these words are derived was a species of bamboo, Schizostachyum glaucifolium, carried by the Polynesians to most of the islands settled from Tonga and Samoa. The reduplicated root, denoting resemblance to the kohe, came to be referred to various straight-stemmed grasses and other plants with bamboo-like qualities in many languages, and in Māori reflexes of both the root and the reduplicated term were used to designate the tree Dysoxylum spectabile, with its straight stems and pulvini, thickenings at the base of the leaves reminiscent of the bases of bamboo fronds.


Apart from *kofe, the general word for bamboo itself in tropical Polynesia, at least 5 ancient bamboo-related words made it all the way to Aotearoa. A few others did not, among them Proto Austronesian *kawayan, reflected in several Formosan and many Philippine languages as the general word for all bamboo species. Another proto-Austronesian word, *betung "bamboo of very large diameter, probably Dendrocalamus spp." was also present in Proto-Oceanic, but, as far as we can tell, did not reach Polynesia. A few other words appeared at later stages of the development of Austronesian languages in "near Oceania", but do not seem to have reached Polynesia.

Professor Robert Blust, in the Proto-Austronesian lexical database, identifies three other bamboo-related terms that have Proto-Austronesian roots, which got as far as Fiji or Tonga, although they do not have Māori cognates: Proto-Austronesian *tulani, "bamboo nose flute", and *bubu "conical bamboo basket trap for fish"; along with Proto Malayo-Polynesian *bitung "species of bamboo". These, with their Proto-Polynesian and earlier antecedents, and their forms and meanings in some other contemporary Austronesian languages, are featured on the page for the Proto-Polynesian reflex, kofe. Those that did survive the journey to Aotearoa are:

Proto-Malayo-Polynesian *kasaw, "rafter; diagonal bamboo poles to which thatch panels are attached"
Proto-Oceanic *kaso "rafter"
Proto-Polynesian *kaho "rafter; (possibly) purlins"
Reflexes in some modern languages:
Ilokano (Philippines): kasaw "layer of nipa leaves used in thatching"
Tausug (Philippines): kasaw "a purlin for a roof; horizontal cross-piece for a roof "
Fijian: i kaso "cross-beam fastening together the outrigger and hull of a canoe "
Samoan: 'aso "thatch rafter"
Niuean: kaho "light rafter in a thatched house "
Hawaiian: 'aho "thatch purlin and rafter"
Tuamotu: kaho "rafter"
Maori: kaho "batten laid horizontally on the rafters to carry the several layers of thatch for the house; of these battens, the uppermost was considered sacred". The word kākaho "the culm of the tussock grass Chionochloa conspicua and the toetoe (Austroderia spp.)" may also ultimately be derived from the Proto-Polynesian word *kaho.

Proto Malayo-Polynesian *pa(n)tar "shelf; bed frame of wooden or bamboo laths "
Proto Oceanic *pataR "shelf"
Proto Polynesian *fata "shelf, platform"
Reflexes in some modern languages:
Tagalog (Philippines): pantal-an "wooden or bamboo pier "
Fijian: vata "shelf, loft, platform; bed in a corner of a native house "
Samoan: fata "trestle, bamboo shelf, stretcher"
Hawaiian: haka "shelf, perch, platform"
Maori: whata "elevated stage for storing food and other purposes" .

Proto Malayo-Polynesian *teken "downward pressure; bamboo punting pole "
Proto Oceanic *tokon "bamboo punting pole; to pole a boat in shallow water "
Proto Polynesian *toko "pole for punting a canoe; to pole, punt"
(Also) Proto Nuclear Polynesian: *tokotoko "walking stick"
Reflexes in some modern languages:
Ilokano (Philippines): tekken "bamboo pole used to propel a boat; very thin person"
Tausug (Philippines): tukun "pole used to propel a small boat in shallow water "
Fijian: doko "the poles with which boats are propelled "
Tongan: toko'i "to pole a boat or canoe; pole for doing this"
Samoan: to'o "punting pole; house post; wife (jocular); to punt "
Hawaiian: ko'o "brace, support, prop; pole to push canoe"
Tahitian: to'o "pole used to manoeuvre a canoe; manoeuvre a canoe with a pole; (also) to'oto'o "walking stick; staff"
Rarotongan: toko "pole or rake used for propelling; propel with a pole; prop up; push by using a pole"
Maori: toko "pole, rod; propel with a pole; push or force to a distance; divorce, separate husband and wife; (also) tokotoko "walking stick". .

Proto Malayo-Polynesian *bukbuk "weevil that infests wood, bamboo and rice; dust produced by the boring of this insect"
Proto Oceanic *pupuk "insect that infests wood and bamboo; the dust produced thereby"
Proto Polynesian *fufu "wood-eating grub "
Reflexes in some modern languages:
Ilokano (Philippines): bokbok "larva of the grain beetle; wood worm; wood borer"
Tagalog (Philippines): bukbok "boll weevil; wood borer "
Old Javanese : bukbuk "kind of termite "
Lau (Fiji): fufu "mason wasp "
Hawaiian: huhu "a wood-boring insect; worm-eaten, rotten"
Maori: huhu "larva of the wood-eating beetle Prionoplus reticulatus "

To these can be added one word of Polynesian origin:

Proto Polynesian *matila "bamboo; bamboo knife; fishing rod "
Reflexes in some modern languages:
Tongan: masila "bonito fishing rod "
Samoan: matila "a short fishing rod "
Niuean: matila "sharp"
Tahitian: matira "part of a fishing rod"
Rarotongan: mātira "fishing rod "
Maori: matira "fishing rod; fish with a rod; a wand used in ceremonies".

Two other Maori words are indirectly related to bamboo terminology. The Proto-Malayo Polynesian term *buku appears originally to have referred to the nodes in bamboo and sugar cane, as well as joints, knuckles and knots in wood or string. Through a series of semantic changes over the millennia it arrived in Aotearoa as puku, "swelling, stomach". The other is more recent in origin; Proto Polynesian *kupu denoted a piece or segment, particularly the interval between the nodes of bamboo or sugar cane (modern Samoan 'upu, with those meanings, is a reflex of this word). The other meaning of *kupu, a word or section of speech, reflected with that meaning in Māori as well as other Polynesian languages, may well have originated as a metaphorical extension of the reference to the physical segments of the bamboo culms.


References and further reading: For more information about the tree, see the general works on NZ trees in the bibliography. Also the NZPCN web page for Dysoxylum spectabile, and the profile of the kohekohe on the Tane's Tree Trust web site.

Photographs: Yet to come! (But there is one on the page for Māota, and two on the page for *Kofe - links 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