Story: Fire and agriculture

Elsdon Best's notes

This excerpt from Elsdon Best’s ‘Maori notebook’ describes traditional agricultural practice, including burning. He observed that mānuka scrub was cut and laid in a thick layer over a field where kūmara was to be planted. Near planting time the scrub was set alight so that a layer of charcoal and ashes was left covering the ground. A thin layer of cut mānuka was then spread over the ashes to stop the valuable fertiliser from blowing away in the wind.

Best included a version of the English translation of his notes in his book Maori agriculture:

Treatment of the field is now considered; if it is situated in open land then manuka brush or second growth is cut and spread over the field, beginning at the head of the field and working towards the remu. It is left lying there, and when it is known that the kumara planting time is near, it is then set fire to, and a layer of charcoal and ashes covers the earth. It is not kindled on a windy day, lest the kota [residue of burned brush] be blown away to other parts, but during a gentle breeze; it is then set fire to. When burned off, then the ground is again covered with manuka, lest the wind blow the kota away; this is but a thin layer. This process is for one matua [loam], but was not employed for one paraumu or one haruru. [The first layer of brush, for burning, was laid in thick overlapping rows.]

(Elsdon Best, Maori agriculture. Wellington: Government Printer, 1976 [originally published 1925], p. 164)

Using this item

Alexander Turnbull Library, Elsdon Best Collection
Reference: qMS-0197

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How to cite this page:

Robert Peden, 'Fire and agriculture - Fire and Māori agriculture', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 9 May 2021)

Story by Robert Peden, published 24 Nov 2008