History & Culture
In Māori tradition, Kiekie and Harakeke are regarded as long lost brothers. Harakeke left home to live with Wainui – the mother of waters – while Kiekie stayed with Tāne – the Lord of the forest – piggy-backing on his shoulders wherever he went. Today, this is where you will most commonly find Kiekie, suspended among the canopy of our mightiest trees. Where there are no suitable trees to climb, Kiekie becomes an impassable mass of tangled roots; a bane to bushmen and trampers around the country.
Kiekie was a significant food source for Māori, both the large fleshy flower bracts and the fruit can be eaten providing harvests twice a year. The flower petals were made into juice, jelly or eaten as is. They have been described as one of our finest native foods, with the taste of a ripe pear or pineapple and the aroma of vanilla. In some areas of the country these flowers were fermented to produce an alcoholic liquor.
The fruit too was regarded as a delicacy, and early Pākehā settlers made it into a jelly which tasted like preserved strawberries. Unfortunately, possums and rats have also developed a taste for Kiekie and it is now difficult to find the flowers or fruits outside of pest-controlled sanctuaries. The bountiful harvest that kiekie once provided, became a metaphor for living in an ideal environment overflowing with natural resources as expressed in the whakatauki:
“He wha tawhara ki uta, He kiko tamure ki tai”
“The flowering bracts of the kiekie on the land; the flesh of the snapper in the sea”
This is also reflected in the naming of places around the country, for instance Tawharanui on Auckland’s east coast literally means “the abundant flowers of the kiekie vine”, while Maungakiekie (One Tree Hill) translates as “Mountain of Kiekie”.
The meaning of the word kiekie is most probably linked to the words kiekie and ‘ie’ie which in the pacific islands are also used to describe closely related plants in the Freycinetia genus.
As well as being an important food source, Kiekie was incredibly useful plant, being put to work at all sorts of different tasks. The sword-like leaves were weaved to make clothing, kites, mats, belts, baskets, hats and tukutuku. For iwi living in heavily forested areas such as Tuhoe it was the primary weaving material, and was preferable to Harakeke for some uses as it is more durable under water. Weaving kiekie cloaks was known as “making a saddleback nest” as the birds were often found nesting in the kiekie leaves. The aerial roots that sprout from the main growing vine provided another useful construction material, and were used to lash canoes together, make sails and create traps for fish and eels.