*Tala-qa-Moa [Proto Polynesian]

Taramoa, Tātara-a-moa

Rubus australis. R. cissoides & R. schmidelioides "Bush lawyer" (Rosaceae)



From Proto Polynesian *Tara-qa-moa, Caesalpinia sp., esp. C. bonduc (Caesalpinaceae)

Taramoa 1
Tātarāmoa, Rubus cissoides
Western Hills, Lower Hutt, NZ (c) Jeremy Rolfe, NZPCN

Taramoa 2
Tātarāmoa, Rubus australis, on Nothofagus truncata
Upper Hutt, NZ (c) Jeremy Rolfe, NZPCN

Tongan: talatala'āmoa (Caesalpinia bonduc, Caesalpinaceae)
Niuean: talamoa (Caesalpinia major, Caesalpinaceae; Achyranthes aspera "Devil's horsewhip", Amaranthaceae)
West Futuna: taramoa, " bramble"
Hawaiian: ['ākala (Rubus hawaiensis & R. macraei, Rosaceae); kākalaioa (Caesalpinia bonduc, Caesalpinaceae)]
Tahitian: tataraamoa (Caesalpinia bonduc,Caesalpinaceae)
Rarotongan: tātarāmoa (Caesalpinia major, Caesalpinaceae)

Tōtara, the Tahitian name for a puffer fish, is the name given in Aotearoa to a tree (Podocarpus totara) with spine-like leaves. Like taramoa and the alternative forms listed below, this name also incorporates the Proto-Polynesian root *tara, "spike, spine, sharp protruberance".

Akatātaramoa, a generic name for all Aotearoa native Rubus species, the "bush lawyers", stressing their vine-like attributes.
Tātaramoa-turuhunga, another alternative generic name, in reference to the abundance of fruit the plants produce in due season, which are highly palatable to birds and appreciated too by people. "Turuhunga" is a term applied to a plant, especially a tree, with fruit on which birds will feast until they get very fat.
Taraheke, tātaraheke, alternative names for Rubus australis and R. cissoides.

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Introductory section
Tātara-a-Moa in poetry and proverbs
Tātara-a-Moa in Biblical translations
References, credits and gallery
These plants get their Māori names from the spur-like thorns which adorn the leaves as well as the stems, and provide secure ancorages against whatever object they are clumbing up or over. The name tātarāmoa (tātara-a-moa) refers to the spurs (tara) on the feet of roosters. After arrival in Aotearoa the Polynesian settlers bestowed the name "moa" on the giant birds of the genus Diornis which roamed the forests and grasslands, quite a contrast to the domestic fowls they had left behind or eaten on the voyage out, but which are remembered again in this plant name. As can be imagined, tātarāmoa are not at all friendly to travellers. With the advent of European settlers and their own thorny plants, the scope of this word has been extended to mean "brambles" in general, as well as other plants with sharp spines such as gorse (Ulex europaeus).

ZillaThere are varying reports about taste of the fruit (some people find it generally a little on the tart side), but it is certainly edible, and was made into jam by the early European settlers. There is a recipe in Andrew Crowe's Field Guide. The stems of the vine yield a liquid which is very pleasant to drink. Most species flourish best within the shelter of a forest habitat; in the open, Rubus cissoides assumes the form of a tangled mass of brambles with the leaves reduced to bare midribs, and does not flower. In a favourable environment it will produce large panicles of heavily scented flowers, as in the illustration on the left, and abundant fruit (hence the epiphet turuhunga). The species differ from each other in habit, although they are all well-equipped with hooked spikes to provide secure anchorage; it is these which are responsible for the English name for the plants -- "bush lawyers". R. parvus does not climb, forming instead an impressive but well-spiked ground cover, R. australis is a vigorous climber from the outset with the largest leaves and most profuse flowering habit; R. schimelioides doesn't become a serious climber until the final adult stage, but R. cissoides is superbly equipped for climbing from the outset, with its multi-spiked leaves and well as stems. The juvenile form of R. squarrosus is like the exposed form of R. cissoides -- a tangled mass of prickly stems with bare midribs for leaves. The leaves reappear when the forest canopy is reached and the plant matures. Rubus cissoides has the stoutest stems of all the Aotearoan species, up to 10 cm or more in diameter.

Rubus schimelioides and R. cissoides have red hooks; those of R. squarrosus are yellow. In addition to being annoying as well as painful if your skin comes directly into contact with them, these hooks may also be dangerous. According to Alan Clark (The Great Sacred forest of Tāne, p. 183), "several people have died from contact with its grim barbs, perhaps because they were alergic to it". Medicinally, its leaves and stems seem to have featured in remedies for a variety of ills, from upset stomachs to toothaches.

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Tātara-a-Moa in poetry and proverbs
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Tātara-a-Moa in poetry and proverbs.

The theme of tātarāmoa as representative of formidable obstacles is echoed in poetry and proverbs. In "He tangi mō Te Karae" (NM #89), a lament by the Ngati Ruanui chief Tarawha for the death of his son, Te Karae, in a battle with the Taranaki iwi around the turn of the 18th Century, the tātarāmoa symbolizes the obstacles that prevented the father's avenging his son's death. According to the notes accompanying the song, there is another plant reference in the verse quoted, the matuku, a club moss (Lycopodium sp.), symbolic of danger when pointed to by a rainbow.

Moe mai, e tama, te moenga mātao;
Kia moe atu au te moenga i āhuru.
E kore e puta atu,
I runga te tūturihunga,
I roto te tātarāmoa,
Ngā heihei o Matuku.
[Sleep on, O son, on a cold couch;
Whilst I do lie on a couch so warm.
Unable, alas, to come to your aid
Because of crouching hostile foes,
Among the prickly thickets,
And the entangling shrubs of Matuku.
] NM #89, Vol 1, pp. 404-5.

The notes to this song, explaining the translation "the entangling shrubs of Matuku", state that the line refers to "an inferior plant", i.e. the Lycopodium, club moss, species known as "matuku", and goes on to say:
After rain has passed by and and the rainbow has appeared by the margin of swampy land, it indicates the place where it will be found growing. It is a sign that there are difficulties and dangers in the way. (NM Vol 1, pp. 406-407)

This is an interesting take on the ambiguity of the word "matuku", which also denotes an avian denizen of the swamp, the bittern (Botaurus poiciloptilus). These birds are known as "ngā heihei o Matuku-tangotango", (the hens of Matuku-tangotango, the demonic being who killed Wahieroa's father, and is later snared and killed by Wahieroa's son, the culture hero Rata, whereupon he turned into a bittern). This too is a metaphor for well-concealed enemies lying in wait. Combined with the "prickly thickets" of tātarāmoa, the difficulties would be insuperable.

The proverbial reference in the compilation by Hirini Moko Mead and Neil Grove is indirect, but underlines the association of tātarāmoa with other obstructions to easy passage which reappears also in Biblical translations:

Ngā taero o Kupe, e, ngā rōrī o te whare o Uenuku.
[The obstructions which Kupe found were the knots which Uenuku used to fasten his door.] (M&G #2043, p. 329.)
The explorer Kupe found his way barred by the kareao (supplejack) liana (Ripogonum scandens), when he entered the bush in Aotearoa. However the samples he took back to Hawaiki proved useful to Uenuku in securing his house against intruders. So what has been an obstacle to one person may become an advantage to another. Mead and Grove go on to note that today, the phrase "ngā taero o Kupe"
... is understood to refer to the supplejacks (kareao), brambles or bush lawyer (tātarāmoa), spear grass (tūmatakuru), and stinging nettles (ongaonga) which made overland travel so difficult when Kupe arrived. They are now understood to symbolise mental difficulties and obstructions. (Ibid.)
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Tātara-a-Moa in Biblical translations
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Tātara-a-Moa in Biblical translations.

We find many examples of similar symbolic use of tātarāmoa in Te Paipera Tapu, frequently in association with the names of most of the other plants which blocked Kupe's way (only the kareao is unmentioned, probably because it is devoid of prickles!). In Biblical translations, tātarāmoa occurs as the equivalent for seven of the 11 Hebrew names for "thorns and thistles" identified by Michael Zohary in his Plants of the Bible, alternating with tūmatakuru in four of them. Where "thorns and thistles" are paired, tātarāmoa and tūmatakuru often take the role of their Hebrew and translated English equivalents, as for example (in relation to Adam and Eve after their expulsion from Eden), conveying equally well the image of irksome and formidable physical, spiritual and psychological obstacles:
He tataramoa ano hoki, he tumtakuru ana e whakatupuake ai mau; a ka kai koe i te otaota o te parae. (Kenehi 3:18)
Thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. (Genesis 3:18 NRSV)
Zilla Tātarāmoa is an appropriate rendition for the spiny zilla, Zilla spinosa (Brassicaceae), pictured on the left, which may be the plant referred to by the Hebrew word silon in Ezekiel 28:24:
Kahore hoki he tataramoa ngau a muri ake ki te whare o Iharaira, kahore he tumatakuru whakamaemae a te hunga katoa i tetahi taha o ratou, i tetahi taha, a te hunga ra i whakahawea ki a ratou ....
The House of Israel shall no longer find a pricking brier or a piercing thorn among all their neighbors who have treated them with contempt ....
SarcopoteriumTātarāmoa also translates sir, the thorny burnett, Sarcopoterium spinosum (right). This shrub has tangled branches and toothed leaflets, excellent for secure hedging. It is also used as a fuel for cooking and heating lime kilns.
Mo reira tenei ahau te tutaki nei i tou ara ki te tataramoa, te hanga nei i te taiepa e kore ai ia e kite i ona ara. (PT Hohea 2:6)
Therefore I will hedge her way with thorns, and I will build a wall against her so that she cannot find her paths. (NRSV)
ZillaAlthough the burnet may in fact have been the plant from which Christ's crown of thorns was plaited, this has been attributed to the "Christ-thorn" plant, Ziziphus spina-christi (Rhamnaceae), atad in Hebrew, which is mentioned in both the Old and New Testaments, and illustrated on the left. This shrub is a close relative of the equally spiny jujube, Ziziphus jujube, the fruit tree which is the source of the Chinese "red dates". (Taraheke, in the first example, is a synonym for tātarāmoa, and occurs in Te Paipera Tapu only in the parable of the trees in the Book of Judges, from which the quoted passage is taken.)
Nā ka mea ngā rākau katoa ki te taraheke, Haere mai hei kingi mō mātou. (PT Kaiwhakariterite 9:14)
So all the trees said to the bramble, "You come and reign over us." (NRSV Judges 9:14)

A nā ka oti tētahi karauna tatarāmoa te whiri, ka pōtaea ki tōna matenga, me te kākaho ki tōna ringa matau .... PT Matiu:27:29
And after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on his head. They put a reed in his right hand .... (NRSV, Matthew 27:29)
This sequence of plant names in the next example is particularly interesting for two reasons. Firstly, the Māori text includes four original Māori plant names (tātaramoa, kauri, tūmatakuru, and ramarama), and secondly, although in Te Paipera Tapu references to the Middle-Eastern nettles, Urtica pilulifera and U. urens, are usually translated by their Aotearoan equivalent, ongaonga, because several Hebrew words refer to these plants, they have varied translations in English which may also occasionally be reflected in the Māori translations, as in the example which follows. Here tātarāmoa does duty for English "thorn", which in this case is na'atzutz in the Hebrew text, a word thought to be a synonym for atad, and thus also to refer to the Christ Thorn.
He tataramoa i mua, ka puta ake he kauri; he tumatakuru i mua, ka puta ake he ramarama .... (PT Ihaia 55:13)
Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle .... (NRSV Isaiah 55:13)
E tupu ae le perosi e sui a'i le laau tuitui; e tupu le atasi e sui a'i le ogogo .... (TP Isaia 55:13)
It is interesting to compare the Māori translation with the Samoan. Whereas the Māori uses the names of indigenous plants to represent their Middle Eastern counterparts, the Samoan translation is closer literally to the Hebrew. It translates the Hebrew word for "nettle" with the Samoan cognate of Māori ongaonga, which does indeed refer to plants closely related to their Palestinian counterparts. However the Samoan text also adapts two of the Hebrew plant names: "perosi" for Hebrew berosh (Maori kauri), and "atasi" for Hebrew hadas (Māori ramarama, a shrub which is a member of the myrtle family), while the Christ Thorn is, as with English, indicated by a general term, la'au tuitui "thorny plant". To the immediate hearer, the Māori text probably conveys the spirit of the original more clearly, whereas the Samoan text concentrates on the detail, which requires some additional knowledge of Middle Eastern flora to fully comprehend.

There are four sets of species sometimes translated by tātarāmoa, and at other times by tūmatakuru. There is a lot of semantic overlap in many of the Biblical names -- the particular species designated can often be identified only through knowledge of the environment in which the plant referred to is likely to have been growing, and the era in which the particular passage of scripture was written. Often the plant names are simply symbolic -- of obstacles and misfortunes, in the case of these thorny plants. The four sets of plants with names translated occasionally by tātarāmoa are:

Syrian_Thistle(1) Three species of thistles collectively called barkarim -- the Syrian thistle, Notobasis syriaca (pictured on the right), the globe thistle (Echinops viscosus),  and the Holy Thistle, Silybum marianum, all members of the daisy family, Asteraceae, a.k.a. the Compositae. One or all of these may be the "thorns" referred to in the English version of this verse:

Na ka mea a Kiriona, mo reira kia homai e Ihowa a Tepa raua ko Taramuna ki toku ringa, ka haehaea e ahau o koutou kikokiko ki nga tataramoa o te koraha, ki te tumatakuru. (Kaiwhakariterite 8:7)
Gideon replied, 'Well then, when the Lord has given Zebah and Zalmunna into my hands, I shall trample your flesh on the thorns of the wilderness, and on briers.' (NRSV Judges 8:7)

Solanum-Detail(2) The Grey Nightshade, Solanum incanum (Solanaceae; Hebrew hedek, photograph on left), another thorny hedge plant used to keep out stray animals and unauthorized fruit pickers. This word occurs twice in the Bible, in the quoted passage, and in the Book of Micah.

Ko te ara o te tangata mangere, ano he taiepa tataramoa; he ara nui ia to te tangata tika. (PT Whakatauaki 15:19)
The way of the lazy is overgrown with thorns, but the path of the upright is a level highway. (NRSV Proverbs 15:19)
Sarcopoterium(3) The golden thistles, Scolymus maculatus and S. hispanicus (Compositae). These are very spiny noxious weeds, which occur in wheat fields (S. maculatus), or abandoned and untended places (S. hispanicus, pictured on the right), as in this extract from the Book of Job:
Ki te mea i kainga e ahau ona hua, he mea kihai i utua, a naku ranei ona ariki i mate ai, na, kia riro pu te witi i te tataramoa, te parei i te taro kino. (PT Hopa 31:39-40)
If I have eaten its yield without payment, and caused the death of its owners: let thorns grow instead of wheat, and foul weeds instead of barley. (NRSV)
(4) The close relative of the tātāramoa itself, the Middle-Eastern bramble, Rubus sanctus, indicated according to Michael Zohary by tzinim or tzininim in Hebrew, and illustrated in the gallery below. This twining multi-branched bush is complete with hooked prickles all over the stem and branches. It also features in the Book of Proverbs:
He tataramoa, he mahanga kei te ara o te whanoke; ko te tangata ia e tiaki ana i tona wairua, ka matara atu i ena. (PT Whakatauaki 22:5)
Thorns and snares are in the way of the perverse; the cautious will keep far from them. (NRSV)

Tātarāmoa thus stands in for a considerable variety of thorny plants in Biblical translations, but conveys well the overall impression intended by the text, an excellent example of a name with a specific referent being used for a more general purpose.

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References and further reading: Publication details for the works mentioned in the text, viz.: Laing & Blackwell's Plants of New Zealand, L. Cockayne's New Zealand Plants and their Story, Dawson and Lucas' Nature Guide to the New Zealand Forest, Alan Clarke's The Great Sacred Forest of Tāne, and Michael Zohary's Plants of the Bible, along with general works on New Zealand plants and trees, will be found in the bibliography.

Photographs: There are profiles and photographs of all the Rubus species on the NZ Plant Conservation Network web site. We are grateful to the NZPCN members Jeremy Rolfe, John Barkla, Mike Thorsen, and Peter de Lange, for permission to use their photographs for this page. The photograph of Rubus cissoides in the text is also by Jeremy Rolfe. The inset photographs in the Biblical section are from the Wikipedia Commons and Wikispecies sites and are used under creative commons licences (they may be reproduced non-commercially but the photographer must be acknowledged): "Davidbena", Zizyphus spina-christi (detail); "Rickp", Sarcopoterium spinosum (detail); Philipp Weigell, Solanum incanum (detail); Hans Hillewaert, Notobasis syriaca (detail); Paolo Bertinetto, Scolymus hispanicus (detail). The photo of Zilla spinosa (detail) is from the Flora of Qatar website. The photograph of Rubus sanctus in the gallery below is by "Eitan f", also on the Wikispecies web site.

Tātarāmoa, Rubus cissoides, in fruit
Photograph: (c) Peter de Lange, NZPCN
Tātarāmoa, Rubus schmidelioides v. schmidelioides
Photograph: (c) Peter de Lange, NZPCN
Tātarāmoa, Rubus parvus
Photograph: (c) Mike Thorsen, NZPCN
Tātarāmoa, Rubus squarrosus
Photograph: (c) Mike Thorsen, NZPCN
Tātarāmoa, Rubus schmidelioides v. subpauperatus
Photograph: (c) John Barkla, NZPCN
Tātarāmoa (Biblical), Rubus sanctus
Israel. Photograph: (cc-2) "Eitan f", Wikispecies

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