uru was without doubt the fruit most typical of the pre-European
Cook's voyage, its fame spread rapidly to all the English colonies and
many planters saw in this tree a providential means of feeding their
slaves at a very low cost. The famous adventure of the mutineers of
the Bounty was indelibly linked with the breadfruit plants Bligh had been
charged to transport from Tahiti to the West Indies.
The name maiore is also in common use. It
comes from the era when the king's name was so tapu it could not be
pronounced. One of the great chiefs chose "uru" as his
title and they had to find a new word to describe the breadfruit-tree.
If conditions are favorable, a single tree will
produce fruit three times a year for about fifty years. The healers
used to use the latex from the bark to plaster fractures, sprains and
rheumatism and they still do so today. In early times, this glue was
used for capturing birds. But most of all, the bark of the young
branches was destined to be made into very light-colored tapa (see page
65) and the trunk to be hollowed into small single canoes.
Thanks to certain food conserving processes, the
fruit could prevent famine, or allow Polynesians to undertake long
voyages. In this case, two kinds of mash were prepared: the poipoi
where the uru was cooked in the ahimaa, and the mahi where fragments of
pulp were cooked after they had been left to ferment in a trench covered
with leaves and soil.
The Coconut Palm
It is only in relatively
recent times that this tree has dominated Tahitian scenery, since people
only began planting it systematically about a century ago. Before
this, there were more breadfruit-trees than coconut palms in populated
Today, gracefully curved over the white sand, it
reminds us of holidays. But for the Polynesians it was an
all-purpose tree which they planted throughout the islands.
Every part of the haari, from the highest
palm-frond to the farthest root was used either treated, or in its natural
state, for daily living.
The developing nut and the heart of the young
sprouts are the edible parts of the coconut palm. The heart, which
is very tender, can be eaten as a salad, and the nut supplies water and
the famous coconut milk. The latter is obtained after squeezing the
grated pulp. The palm-fronds, once woven, make mats, roofing-tiles,
hats, sun-shades and baskets. The ni’au, or secondary ribs, are
used for making skewers and brooms. The husk covering the nut, whose
fiber can be plaited or twisted into rope, was used by early Polynesians
for binding all manner of things together. Even today, this husk
provides a very fine vegetable ochre used for all kinds of decoration.
The trunk is still used occasionally as a building material and the bark
and roots become ingredients of traditional medicine. Finally, the
dried flesh produces oil once it has been squeezed. This product is
important in the fabrication of monoi, perfumes and some soaps. It
takes twenty coconuts to produce three liters of oil.
more general information
on French Polynesia, go to: