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A walk through time
A quick tour of the garden as it was in 2010, pausing twelve times so that you can see one name at each major stage in sequence of the Austronesian migration from Taiwan through the Philippines and the North-eastern coast of New Guinea through the Pacific and south to Aotearoa. [Please note: The photographs and information on this page and those linked to it relate to the garden as it was in 2009-10. Since then our limited resources have meant that a Darwinian approach to management has had to be the order of the day; some plants and areas of the garden have thrived under this regime and others have not.]
Plantlife Fragment

This walk starts at the gate, if you want to travel from the past to the present, through about 6,000 years of Austronesian linguistic history, starting with Proto-Austronesian (Stage 1) and ending with the period just before the separation of contact between the Polynesian speech communities in Aotearoa and Rarotonga for several centuries about 700 years ago, with another tree to illustrate a case of mistaken identity, and two more to represent the "Aotearoa" stage of word creation (13, about 1400-1769 AD) and the annexation of words from other languages by Māori since then.

Since the garden was not planted to reveal the evolution of Māori plant names systematically, the choice of examples is serendipitous -- these just happen to be the ones that had been placed somewhat randomly either by us or the birds at convenient spots to enable this virtual tardis to take you from the gate to the river by a northerly route and back by a southerly route (or vice versa), stopping to look at a plant from each era in the correct temporal sequence without any backtracking.

Each page is linked to the pages with specific information about the plant chosen, both its earlier sources with their modern forms in other Polynesian languages, and the contemporary Māori word. They are also linked to the preceeding and following pages, so you don't need to constantly come back to this one if you want to do the journey in one hit. Just decide where you want to start by clicking on the appropriate stage number on the aerial photograph opposite, or on the heading of your choice below. You can come back to this page at any time by clicking on the tui icon (a detail from a painting by James Benton) at the bottom of each "time travel" page:

Later, as we finish preparing the appropriate pages, we will do walks for four main stages of historical ethnobotanical discovery encompassing all the names represented here from each era (Wallacea, Near Oceania, Remote Oceania, East Polynesia), and perhaps another one, devoted to "modern" (i.e., post 1400 AD) names.

Stage 1 - Proto-Austronesian
Leaving Taiwan, at least 5,000 years ago. (There is only one plant name inherited from this stage, which came into Proto-Polynesian as *fara; originally propbably denoting pandanus species, its modern cognates in Māori are plants with sheaving leaves, like harakeke, whara, and wharawhara.)

Stage 2 - Malayo Polynesian
You are in Greater Wallacea - island Southeast Asia east of the extended "Wallace Line" (if you're lost now, don't worry - there is a map!), with an amazing array of plants and animals.Our representative for this phase is the, a word covering species of Cordyline in general (as it seems to have throughout its history), and in this part of the garden manifested as the tī kōuka, Cordyline australis.

Stage 3 - Oceanic
You have now definitely left Wallacea and entered the Australia / New Guinea region, but there are already a lot of people here, so you have sailed further and settled, for a while, somewhere in or near the Bismarck Archipelago. The plant name representing this stage is kahikaatoa, Leptospermum scoparium (a.k.a. mänuka) which incorporates the Proto Oceanic word *kapika, inherited by Proto Polynesian as *kafika and Mäori as kahika.

Stage 4 - Eastern Oceanic
This period marks the arrival of the Austronesians at the end of the known world. Up till that time, the islands of the Central and South Pacific to the west of what are now known as the Solomon Islands had never been visited by human beings. The plant name from this era is miro (Proto-Polynesian *milo), designating a species of Thespesia in most Oceanic languages, but in Mäori (and Rapanui) applied to other, equally graceful and useful trees.

Stage 5 - Proto Central Pacific
We are now in real Star-Trek territory, getting further into the unknown and beginning to lose contact with the old world that had been home for millennia just a few centuries previously. For those who would become Polynesians, this sojourn in the vicinity of Fiji was relatively brief, but long enough for some new names to develop, of which poroporo (Proto Polynesian *polo) represents this stage on our current journey.

Stage 6 - East Fiji / Western Polynesia
Some of the Austronesians who settled near or in Fiji have now moved on to further new worlds in Tonga and Samoa, but for a while remain in contact with people in their most recent homeland and maintain a common language. Mānuka, incorporating the older word *nuka, is our representative of this stage.

Stage 7 - Polynesia
The everyday links with Fiji have now been cut and over the next 500 years or so -- the longest interlude for quite some time, a common language develops in the Tonga / Fiji area, and large numbers of new words, still common to most Polynesian languages, arise. The plant name symbolizing this era for our walk is māmāngi, from Proto Polynesian *mamangi.

Stage 8 - Nuclear Polynesia
Another few centuries have gone by, and the Polynesians living in and around Samoa have developed their own distinctive language separately from that which has developed in Tonga and Niue. Some are poised on the brink of another great adventure. A plant name from this era is kauri, from Proto Nuclear Polynesian *kauli.

Stage 9 - Eastern Polynesia
Another great era of long distance voyaging and discovery starts, culminating in the establishment of contact with South America and the introduction of the hue, the gourd Lagenaria siceraria, its new Eastern Polynesian name a recycling and appropriation of an older word, *fue. Another, equally important food plant, the kumara, was also introduced to Eastern Polynesia from South America, during this era, but possibly on a different expedition -- at any rate, the kumara seems to have been taken to Rapanui several centuries after it was first cultivated in Tahiti and the Marquesas (Cf. R.C. Green 2005).

Stage 10 - Central Eastern Polynesia
The distances are huge, and regular contact with the people who settled Rapanui is lost, leading to a divergence of their language from a new common language uniting, for the time, Tahiti, the Tuamotus and the Marquesas. Tōtara is the plant name representative of this era.

Stage 11 - Tahitic
This is in effect the last stage in the development of modern Mäori within tropical Polynesia, although there will be an influence through links with the Cook Islands for a while after direct contact with Tahiti is lost. For now though, around the end of the first millennium AD, distinctive languages have developed in the Marquesas and Hawaii, and a last great push outwards from Tahiti into the fast receding unknown is about to take place. Our plant name representing this era is tawhiwhi, from an original ProtoTahitic word *tafifi.

Stage 12 - Rarotonga / Aotearoa, and afterwards
After contact with Tahiti faded, some closer links seem to have been maintained for a while with Rarotonga, so there are a number of words shared exclusively by Cook Island and New Zealand Māori. A plant name from this stage of the development of both languages is pōhutukawa, probably from an original word *pōhutukava. And as we walk back to base we can take a quick look at the pre-modern karaka, modern koromiko and post-modern ōriwa (olive).

Time Travel Walk Map

Time Travel Walk Map

Sources of Information.

The information in these pages has come from a variety of sources, including those listed in the general and specific biographies on the acknowledgements page for the website as a whole.

In addition to the dictionaries and botanical works listed in the acknowledgements pages, the following works have been consulted specially in preparing this page and the twelve directly linked to it, along with others which are explicitly mentioned on the relevant pages, including this one.

M. Ross, A. Pawley & M. Osmond (eds.) The Lexicon of Proto Oceanic, 3: Plants (Canberra: Pacific Linguistics, 2008).
P. V. Kirch, On the Road of the Winds (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000).

R. Blust, The Austronesian Languages (Canberra: Pacific Linguistics, 2009).
B. Biggs & R. Clarke The Pollex Database (Held at the University of Auckland)
P. V. Kirch and R. C. Green, Hawaiki, Ancestral Polynesia (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2001).


The maps which have been used to illustrate the geographical location of the various stages in the evolution of Polynesian languages have been drawn from these sources:

Stages 1, 3 and 4: Portions of Oceania map from of www.theodora.com/maps, used with permission (the same map is reproduced on www.geographyguy.com);

Stage 2 (Wallace Line): from Eastern Kentucky University bird biogeography page;

Stages 4B and 11: from www.pacifican.com;

Stage 5: CIA map from www.commons.wikimedia.org;

Stages 6 and 10: from UNESCO map of the Pacific reproduced on www.unesco.org:

Stages 7 and 12: from commons.wikimedia.org

Stage 8: from www.mappery.com;

Stage 9: from www.boattest.com

Stage 12 also contains a diagram generated by a search on WolframAlpha

The map showing the dispersal of the Austronesian languages is reproduced from the ECAI Austronesia Project , and is based on the Atlas historique des migrations by Michel Jan, Gérard Chaliand, & Jean-Pierre Rageau, Edition Seuil, 1999.

Austronesian Dispersal C Cage
Map of the dispersal of Austronesian languages (from the ECAI Austronesia Project). Dates preceded by a minus sign (-) are BC/BCE, those preceded by a plus (+) are AD/CE. Naturally, all dates are estimates and subject to debate.

Reference: R.C. Green, "Sweet potato transfers in Polynesian prehistory", in The Sweet Potato in Oceania: a reappraisal, C. Ballard et al., eds, Oceania Monograph No. 56, University of Sydney, 2005, pp. 43-62.

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