*Kulu [Proto-Polynesian, from Proto Malayo-Polynesian *KuluR]


The name of sheltering fruit tree in Hawaiiki, generally thought to be a memory of the breadfruit, Artocarpus altilis (Moraceae)


Alternative name: Poroporo, from Proto-Polynesian *Poroporo

From Proto Malayo Polynesian *KuluR, Artocarpus altilus (Moraceae); through
Proto Polynesian: *Kulu, Artocarpus altilis .

Samoan: 'ulu (Artocarpus altilis, "Breadfruit", Moraceae)
Marquesan: Ku'uvahake, ku'uvahane (Varieties of Artocarpus altilis)
Hawaiian: 'ulu (Artocarpus altilis)
Tahitian: 'uru (Artocarpus altilis)
Tuamotuan: Kuru (Artocarpus altilis).

Poroporo (Solanum spp., Solanaceae)
Note: See the other linked pages (highlighted at the top of this page) for more information about the ancestral names, their modern descendents, wider connotations and the plants they denote.


Kuru in tradition and classical allusions
Poroporo as a synonym for kuru


In his book The Coming of the Maori, Te Rangi Hiroa writes (p. 39),

Throughout central, western and northern Polynesia, kuru with its dialectal variations is the name of the breadfruit, one of the most important Polynesian foods. If brought to New Zealand with other tropical food plants, it did not survive the climate, and narrators in telling the story of Tamatekapua must have found it increasingly difficult to answer queries regarding the nature of the kuru. There was nothing in the New Zealand flora to which it could be compared and thereby satisfy inquisitive grandchildren, so grandparents substituted the poroporo that they knew for the kuru that they could no longer described. The poroporo displaced the kuru in the popular versions of the story and kuru became an archaic word fortunately preserved in a classical lament.
Fortunately the memory of the kuru as a large, sheltering fruit-bearing tree grown in the ancestral homeland of Tawhiti nui (Tahiti) or Hawaiki (probably originally the Samoan island of Savai'i) was strong enough to ensure the survival of the word in several songs, chants, narratives and even a place name.

Kuru in Tradition and Classical Allusions.

Elsdon Best records several karakia (invocations) including this word in his book Maori Agriculture. One of these, a chant for planting kumara from Waiapu, on the East Coast of the North Island, given to Best by Sir A. T. Ngata, includes the line Ka hua kuru, ka hua manu .... ["the breadfruit will fruit, the birds will be fruitful ...,"] (p. 176). Another, also from the East Coast, lists many fruit-bearing trees:

Homai he tina, homai he marie
Whakatau weweru ki tēnei kō
Hua kuru ki tēnei kō
Hua tai ki tēnei kō
Hua kahika ke tēnei kō
Hua kareao ki tēnei kō
Hua mapou ki tēnei kō
Hua titoki ki tēnei kō
Hua karangu ki tēnei kō
Hua karaka ki tēnei kō
Tēnei te ko ka heke
Tēnei te ko ka ngatoro
Tēnei te kō ka haruru
Penu, Penu, ke kō Penu (p. 182)
The chant begins "Give contentment, give peace; abundantly clothe this kō". (The kō was a digging-stick with a step attached, a bit like a stilt with a sharpened end.) It continues "Fruit of the breadfruit to this kō, Fruit of the sea to this kō", and proceeds to list fruit trees and plants native to Aotearoa whose fecundity will be transferred to the kumara through the ritual: kahikatea (Dacrydium dacrydiodes); kareao (supplejack, Rhipogonum scandens); māpou (Myrsine australis); tītoki (Alectryon excelsum); karangū (Coprosma robusta); karaka (Corynocarpus laevigata). It ends with a rousing climax: "This is the kō that descends; this is the kō that resounds; this is the kō that roars; Penu, Penu, the kō Penu".

Mohi Turei (1913, p.36) tells us that Penu was the name of the first kō brought from Tawhiti (Tahiti) on the waka Horouta. On landing at Ahuahu (thought to be Mercury Island), kumara were planted and another karakia containing a line conveying the fruitfulness of the breadfruit to the garden -- "Kia hua kuru ki tēnei māra" -- was recited over it. James Cowan in his article "The Breadfruit-tree in Mäori Tradition" (p96) mentions a Te Arawa planting chant with the translated text: “Though we have not here the fruit of the kuru (te hua o te kuru), spread out abundant is the produce of the hue [gourd]”. He also quotes (pp. 94-5) a song by Hinewai, a woman of the Ngati Uenuku-kopako tribe, for her grandson Te Arakau. This is the lament referred to by Te Rangihiroa (above). The allusion is to the tree which shaded the house of the priest Uenuku, in Hawaiki, raided by Tama Te Kapua, commander of Te Arawa.

Rakau tapu o Hawaiki,
O tera taha o Tawhiti-nui e,
Ko te kuru-whakamarumaru
O te whare o Uenuku,

Oh, thou wert as the sacred tree
Of far Hawaiki, beyond the isle
Of Great-Tawhiti,
The breadfruit-tree that shaded Uenuku's house.
The kuru also appears in other contexts. In The Lore of the Whare-Wananga, H.T. Whatahoro, notes that one of the quartz pebbles that students were given to swallow at the completion of course in sacred learning was green in colour, and called hua-kuru. The accompanying footnote comments: "The name hua-kuru is interesting; it means 'fruit of the bread-fruit-tree,' and is possibly so called because the stones used in some former habitat bore the appearance of the green bread-fruit". There is also a Wellington place name noted by Elsdon Best in The Land of Tara (Part VI, p.2), Omaru-kai-kuru (Point Jerningham). This appears to be named after "Maru the breadfruit eater", prbably referring to Maru, a somewhat unpleasant contemporary of Uenuku, the owner of the sheltering breadfruit tree, known for his voracious appetite which was not confined to fruit and vegetables.
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Poroporo as a synonym for kuru
Poroporo as a synonym for kuru

The traditional account of the migration to Aotearoa led by Tamatekapua on the Arawa canoe attributes this to the consequences of Tamatekapua and his brother's using stilts (so their footprints would not be evident) to raid a tree in the garden of the powerful chief Uenuku by night, eventually stripping it bare of fruit. The tree is referred to as "te poroporo whakamarumaru o Uenuku" (the sheltering poroporo of Uenuku) in Sir George Grey's Ngā Mahi ā Ngā Tūpuna (p.54). On the surface, this does not seem very likely - in Tahiti and Rarotonga the poro(poro) is a herb rather than a tree, and although the name has been applied to a small tree, Solanum aviculare, in Aotearoa it grows abundantly and there would be no need to raid someone's garden to enjoy the fruit. The mystery fortunately was easily solved by looking at other references to this tree in classical poetry, as noted in the quotation from Te Rangi Hiroa in the introduction, above. Even in classical poetry however the substitution of poroporo for kuru sometimes occurs, as in this example from another Arawa lament:

Haere rā, e Pā mā, i runga i ngā tohu
Tupu Tawa a ō koutou koroua
Auē te poroporo i runga i a Hongi,
E haere wairua ana mai, ē;
I aua iara, kia eke i ō kahu mōtea, ī.

Depart then, o sirs, at the tawa sign
Discounted by your elders.
Alas! the tree that shaded Hongi,
Comes as a spirit,
Portending that you may don the cloak of mourning ....
[NM 5, He tangi mō Te Kuruotemarama, lines 19-23]

Note that the translation uses "tree" to translate "poroporo" in the Māori text. This is explained in Sir Apirana Ngata's explanatory note to line 21: "Poroporo. He rākau. Ko te āhua i whakaritea ki te rākau i tipu ki Hawaiki, i kīa ra 'Ka kite i te poroporo whakamarumaru o Uenuku, ko kainga e rāua' (T. [Nga Mahi a Nga Tupuna] 54). Ko taua rākau he kuru." (Tree. A reference to the exploit recorded in T.54 (Grey's Polynesian Mythology, Maori version); the kuru or bread-fruit." (There is a cross reference to James Cowan's article, quoted above.) There is also another tree reference in these lines. The lament is for one of the victims of Hongi Hika's invasion of Rotorua; it was expected, but an Arawa seer had predicted it would not take place until the tawa (Beilschmiedia tawa) berries dropped and began to germinate. Alas for Te Kuruotemarama and his compatriots, Hongi came precisely when this was starting to happen.

This same allusion, explicitly identifying the tree as a kuru, occurs in a Ngati Porou lament, He Tangi mō Te Waikari:

Ka hinga kai raro
Taku kōhuru tōtara
Ehara i he tangata
Taku kuru hauhunga ....

Now fallen and lies there prone
My once sturdy tōtara sapling
He was no ordinary mortal
My shelter from the bitter cold ....
[NM 139, lines 11-14, emphasis added]

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References and further reading: See references in the text - details are in the bibliography.

Photographs: Watch this space!

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