*Renga [Proto-Polynesian, from Proto Eastern Oceanic *Renga, *Rerenga, "prepared turmeric"]



Arthropodium cirratum (Anthericaceae)
also Tetragonia tetragoniodes (Aizoaceae) [*kōkihi]

From Proto Eastern Oceanic *renga ~ *rengwa, *rerengwa, yellow material; prepared turmeric", through:
Proto Malayo-Polynesian *renga, Curcuma longa (Zingiberaceae), Turmeric, especially the powdered root.

zzzArthropodium cirrhatum - Rengarenga
(Close-up of flower; Photo (c) Jesse Bythell, NZPCN)
Arthropodiun cirrhatum - Rengarenga in flower
Phormium tenax - wharanui, harakeke in background.
(Photo: "Mooseys Country Garden" website)

Tongan: Enga (Prepared root of Curcuma longa [Zingiberaceae])
Niuean: Ega ("Rosy, overripe".)
Samoan: Lega (Prepared root of C. longa).
Tahitian: Re'a (Zingiber zerumbet; Curcuma longa)
Marquesan: 'Eka, 'Ena (C. longa)
Hawaiian: Lena (C. longa - plant; also "Yellow"); 'olena (C. longa)
Tuamotuan: Renga (C. longa)
Rarotongan: Renga (C. longa)

Māikaika (Arthropodium cirratum -- see separate page)

CaptionLooking at the rengarenga, it is not hard to see why it would have been a good candidate to receive the name which had been bestowed in other parts of Polynesia on the plant from which turmeric was obtained. Both are small, attractive herbs with fleshy stems and rhizomes or tubers respectively which had medicinal and culinary uses. They thus have a kind of family resemblance, although they are not especially closely related botanically -- the tropical renga is a member of the ginger family (Zingiberaceae) while the rengarenga is almost a lily. Until quite recently the genus Arthropodium was placed in the lily family (Liliaceae), but a few years ago botanists were divided as to its most appropriate classification - some place it in a family known as Laxmanniaceae, while others place the members of this proposed genus in a larger family known as Antheriaceae. It now appears to have been transferred to the asparagus family, Asparagaceae, which is where we can leave it for the moment. The rengarenga stems grow much closer together than those of the more individualistic tropical renga (illustrated by the inset of plants in the Limahuli National Botanical Garden, Kauai, Hawai'i).

This compact form of growth as well as the value of the tubers as a famine food has provided a metaphor for several Maori sayings. Two sayings recording responses to the decimation of a trib in warfare and its determination to regain lost ground

Me ai ki te hua o te rengarenga, me whakapakari ki te hua o te kawariki
We must propagate like the fruit of the rengarenga and mature like the fruit of the kawariki. [M&G 1916]


Me tupu i a wiwi, i a wawa, turia i te wera, piri ki te rito o te rengarenga, waiho me whakapakari ki te hua o te kawariki"
Grow them [men] like the rushes and sedges, established in heat, close-packed as the shoots of the rengarenga, mature like the fruit of the kawariki. [M&G 1089]

Mead and Groves interpret kawariki in this context as the ranunculus, "the seeds of which mature before release". This may be so, but I think that the kawariki referred to is Coprosma grandifolia, which has a profusion of seed-bearing berries with both reproductive and nutritious functions!

Probably the best known proverbial allusion to the rengarenga is King Tawhiao's statement of his determination to rebuild his land after the British invasion of the Waikato in the 1860s, even in the absence of external help, making use of the simplest and most fundamental of resources and principles:

Māku anō tōku nei whare e hanga: ko ngā poupou o roto he māhoe, he patatē ko te tahuhu he hīnau. Me whakatupu ki te hua o te rengarenga, me whakapakari ki te hua o te kawariki.
I myself shall build my house, the ridge-pole will be of hīnau and the supporting posts of māhoe and patatē. [My people] will be raised on rengarenga and nurtured on the fruit of the kawariki.

The māhoe (Melycitus ramiflorus), patatē (Schleffera digitata), and hīnau (Elaeocarpus dentatus) were trees that would be used for building only the most temporary emergency shelter, and the fruit of the kawariki (Coprosma) would normally be emergency rations rather than a staple food. The baked roots of the rengarenga however are quite palatable, but it had something of the status of a sacred plant and it was eaten as a special treat rather than as a normal part of the diet. Tawhiao's saying contrasts the nourishing function of the rengarenga with that of the kawariki, a food promoting resilience and survival when things were not going well. The rengarenga was probably cultivated, whereas the kawariki was a wild food. The bases of the leaves of the rengarenga, and possibly also the cooked tubers, were beaten and the pulp used as a poultice for ulcers.

This role as a supplementary food especially in times of want may explain why the kōkihi (Tetragonia spp.) are also sometimes referred to as rengarenga -- that is about the limit of their resemblance!

The rengarenga (Arthropodium) was also admired for the beauty of its flowers, and the only mention of rengarenga in Ngā Mōteatea is a poignant likening of the death of a warrior to the plucking of a rengarenga flower.

Tangohia i te rei
He whiri, he kato taua
Ki te hua o te rengarenga.
The noble one has been taken
In the tumult, plucked from the warriors ranks,
Like the flower of the rengarenga
["He tangi mō Kaha-wai / A lament for Kaha-Wai, NM 255, Vol. 3, pp. 358-9]

Rengarenga in Te Paipera Tapu

References to "lilies" in the English versions of the Old Testament are translations of the Hebrew word shushan, which some scholars regard as a generic term probably including water lilies and tulips; Michael Zohary however is sure that it referred specifically to the Madonna lily, Lilium candidum. In the New Testament, the same English word is used for the Greek krinia, probably Lilium chalcedonium, the "red turkscap". In Te Paipera Tapu the Hebrew and Greek terms respectively are translated by rengarenga.

Ko taku ki a Iharaira ka rite ki te tomairangi; ka rite tona tupu ki to te rengarenga, te totoro o ona pakiaka ka rite ki to Repanona. (Hohea 14:5)
I will be like the dew to Israel; he shall blossom like the lily, he shall strike root like the forests of Lebanon. (Hosea 14:5, NRSV)

He puawai ahau no Harono, he rengarenga no nga awaawa. He rengarenga i roto i nga tataramoa, ko taku aroha nei i waenga i nga tamahine. (Te Waiata a Horomona 2:1-2)
I am a rose of Sharon, a lily of the valleys. As a lily among brambles, so is my love among maidens. (Song of Solomon 2:1-2 NRSV)
Whakaaroa nga rengarenga, to ratou tupu: e kore nei e mahi, e kore e miro; na ko taku tenei ki a koutou, Kihai a Horomona me tona kororia katoa i rite ki tetahi o enei te whai kakahu. (Ruka 12: 27)
Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. (Luke 12:27 NRSV)


References and further reading: There is an excellent article by the late Graham Harris, "The significance of rengarenga Arthropodium cirratum to Maori" available on the Royal NZ Institute of Horticulture's website (it was originally published in the Journal of the RNZIH, Vol. 1, No 2, June 1996, pp. 19-21). There is also a brief article about Arthropodium cirratum with a series of excellent photographs, some at high magnification, of the flowers and other features of the plant, on the University of Auckland's Biological Sciences website . More information about the plant and its uses will be found in Murdoch Riley's Herbal, and other books on New Zealand plants listed in the bibliography.

Photographs: The photograph of the rengarenga in flower is taken from the "Moosey's Country Garden" website; the closeup of the rengarenga flower is by Jesse Bythell of the NZ Plant Conservation Network. The two photographs below are from the Wikipedia Commons collection: that of Lilium chalcedonicum is by Ernst Gügel - Self-photographed, (c) CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1146055; the picture of Lilium candidum was taken by Zachi Evenor - CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=40403586. The photograph of the lena (turmeric) plants is by RB, Te Māra Reo.

Liliun chalcedonicum
Lilium chalcedonicum - Rengarenga (Biblical)
(Native to Southern Europe)
Lilium candidum
Lilium candidum - Rengarenga (Biblical)
(Native to the Near East; photographed on Mt Carmel, Israel)

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