Traditional knowledge systems and crops : case studies on the introduction of kūmara (Ipomoea batatas) and taewa Māori (Solanum tuberosum) to Aotearoa/New Zealand : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirement for the degree of Master of AgriScience in Horticultural Science at Massey University, Manawatū, New Zealand
Kūmara (Ipomoea batatas) and taewa Māori, or Māori potato (Solanum tuberosum), are arguably the most important Māori traditional crops. Over many centuries, Māori have developed a very intimate relationship to kūmara, and later with taewa, in order to ensure the survival of their people. There are extensive examples of traditional knowledge aligned to kūmara and taewa that strengthen the relationship to the people and acknowledge that relationship as central to the human and crop dispersal from different locations, eventually to Aotearoa / New Zealand.
This project looked at the diverse knowledge systems that exist relative to the relationship of Māori to these two food crops; kūmara and taewa. A mixed methodology was applied and information gained from diverse sources including scientific publications, literature in Spanish and English, and Andean, Pacific and Māori traditional knowledge.
The evidence on the introduction of kūmara to Aotearoa/New Zealand by Māori is indisputable. Mātauranga Māori confirms the association of kūmara as important cargo for the tribes involved, even detailing the purpose for some of the voyages. Less conclusive is the earlier introduction of kūmara to the Pacific from South America. In the case of taewa, both traditional Māori knowledge and early literature confirm the potato as an introduction during the first decade of recorded European contact.
The aim of this thesis was to look to various knowledge sources and determine what can contribute to a discussion around the early introduction of key food crops to Aotearoa / New Zealand and also to understand the most important factors affecting each crop’s mode of introduction, assisted or not.
Various key factors which clearly define the Māori relationship to these foods have been identified. These include: the conduit the crops provided in determining and continuing a relationship between cultures across the South Pacific and including the South American continent and cultures; the contribution of scientific knowledge from western science including oceanography, ethnography, ethnobotany and horticulture generally; the perceived importance of these crops as witnessed at the time of European contact, by both the Spanish and Portuguese in the wider Pacific region, and subsequently the British, French, and other peoples including their missionary cohorts in Aotearoa / New Zealand, and; the extended value of these crops to the endurance of Māori culture (physically, socially and spiritually). Both crops retain an importance to Māori society which is beyond doubt.