Story: Oneone – soils

In Māori tradition, the first woman was created from the soil of the earth mother Papatūānuku, and the navigator Kupe returned to Hawaiki extolling the virtues of New Zealand soils. Māori gardeners named at least 30 types of soil, and developed methods to improve drainage for their kūmara gardens.

Story by Basil Keane
Main image: Hineahuone, the first woman

Story summary

All images & media in this story

Soil types

Oneone means soil. Māori gardeners had at least 30 names for types of soil, including:

  • one-pū – sand
  • one-nui – rich soil made of clay, sand and organic matter
  • one-matua – loam.

Growing food

Māori preferred light, sandy soil for growing kūmara (sweet potato). Sometimes they added sand or gravel to improve drainage.

Taro was grown in damp soil.

Weeds and ash were spread on the soil as fertiliser.

Using clay

Red ochre, found in clay, was baked in a fire and mixed with shark oil. It was painted on chiefs’ faces and bodies, or on carved houses or canoes.

Taioma was a white paint made by burning clay and mixing it with oil.

Uku was a white or bluish clay, used like soap.

Creation stories

In Māori tradition, Papatūānuku was the earth mother. The god Tāne formed the first human from soil – in some stories this was a woman called Hineahuone, in others a man called Tiki-āhua.

Canoe stories

Early Māori explorers who arrived on canoes from Polynesia were interested in the soils of their new home:

  • The great navigator Kupe went back to Hawaiki and told of the sweet-scented and rich soils of New Zealand.
  • Turi, captain of the Aotea canoe, decided to settle at Pātea after smelling its fertile soil.
  • The sons of Whātonga from the Kurahaupō canoe decided to move to Matiu island in Wellington Harbour because the soil was good and the island was easy to defend.

Soil symbolism

Sacred soil or sand was sometimes buried or put in an important place – such as under the altar of a church.

When a baby is born, its placenta (whenua in Māori) is buried in the earth (also called whenua).

A person dying on enemy land after a battle sometimes called for some soil from their home to weep over.

How to cite this page:

Basil Keane, 'Oneone – soils', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 14 July 2024)

Story by Basil Keane, published 24 November 2008