*Tawa [Proto Polynesian]


Planchonella costata (Sapotaceae)


Alternative names: Pou, Orewa, Kōkōtai, originated in Aotearoa

Possibly from Proto Eastern Malayo Polynesian *Tawan Pometia pinnata (Sapindaceae); through
Proto Polynesian: *Tawa Pometia pinnata; + Pou.

Tongan, Niuean, Samoan, Rarotongan : Tava (Pometia pinnata, "Island lychee", Sapindaceae)
Tuamotuan: Tava (Pandanus sp., Pandanaceae)

Note: See the other linked pages (highlighted at the top of this page and in the text below) for more information about the ancestral names, their modern descendents, and the plants they denote.


Murdoch Riley (Herbal, p. 450) notes a legend that this tree was brought by the first settlers from tropical Polynesia as canoe skids because of its toughness and durability. If that were so, then its name was either lost on the way, or transferred to a look-alike on arrival! Its Polynesian counterparts carry a name derived from Proto-Polynesian *kalaka, which in Māori has been given to another tree, the karaka, Corynocarpus laevigatus, that is quite similar in appearance to the tawapou, and the karakariki ("little karaka"), which has similar fruit and also the milky sap characteristic of the various Planchonella species. If the name is a compound of tawa (a tree name) and pou (pole or trunk) -- tawa-a-pou, pole-like tawa, it may be a reference to the rough bark and erect trunk like that of the tropical tawa (Pometia pinnata), or, equally plausibly, as conjectured by Tony Foster (Plant Heritage, p. 155), Tawa a Pou, Pou's tawa, after the ancestor Pou who arrived in Doubtless Bay on the waka Mamaru, which may well have used Planchonella rollers, but that is pure speculation. The names tawa and tawāpou may in fact be quite unrelated, but we have included tawāpou here because Planchonellas are an important Polynesian tree, the trees do have a legendary as well as real-world connection with Hawaiki, and their tropical Polynesian name, kalaka, is certainly reflected in the New Zealand flora!

In New Zealand tawāpou is a coastal tree, growing up to 15 m. tall, rather rare, and confined to frost-free areas from North Cape to Manukau Harbour on the West and Tolaga Bay on the East Coast of the North Island. Its glossy bright green leaves and red fruit make it very conspicuous, like the karaka with similar leaves and orange fruit. The tawāpou however has very attractive elongated seeds which were carefully dried and made into necklaces for important people. Tony Foster notes that the French explorer Lt. Crozet recorded in his journal in 1772 seeing women wearing such necklaces. The flesh of the berry is greatly esteemed by the native pigeon, the kereru, and Murdoch Riley reports that a lotion prepared from boiling the pulp was used as a lotion for relieving sprains and bruises. A decoction of the fruit was also thought to lower blood pressure.

References and further reading: The full details of Murdoch Riley's and Tony Foster's books are in the bibliography

. See also the page on Planchonella costata on the NZ Plant Conservation Network's site.

Photographs: Watch this space -- meanwhile, go to the NZPCN site, linked 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