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jeudi 31 janvier 2013

Te mape,


The Polynesian chestnut tree

“Te mape” (Polynesian chestnut) is one of the most amazing of all trees filling the forests of Polynesia.

Walking through the wetlands of the high islands, the favorite places of this tree, who isn’t marveled at its majestic dimensions and convolutions as strange as beautiful of its trunk?

But beyond its undeniable beauty, this Tahitian chestnut was, and still is, a main and natural wealth of the Polynesian islands. Discover.

“Te mape”, the strange Lord of our forests
If, we inventory ten Tahitian chestnut varieties in French Polynesia, two of them dominate: mape and mape piropiro. The inocarpus fagifer - its scientific name - or mape in tahitian, is native to Southeast Asia. It probably reached the Polynesian islands with the first migrations of peopling at the beginning of the Christian era. Polynesians, peerless mariners but also excellent horticulturist, used to carry with them many plants for growing at their endpoint. Whereas hymenaea courbaril or mape piropiro native to Amazonia, was introduced much later in Polynesia.

The forest of mape at the botanical garden of Tahitii
Flourishing chiefly near streams and in the bottoms of valleys growing in clusters, the mape has remarkable features. It’s one of the few trees in the rainforest which has a smooth and clean trunk whose bark is mildew-free. Over the first seven to eight years of growth, it stands straight and smooth, without any bump on its trunk producing white coarse texture wood.

Its twigs, tidy, mainly use to palings and tool handles (axes, picks, etc.). For the rest, its wood is particularly suited to the manufacture of charcoal which was its head aim.

When we practice an incision on a young mape trunk, a first colorless sap runs. Air drying it turns beautiful ruby-red, blood color reminiscent. Oldest trees juice is tinted and when we hurt we almost see the blood spurting out of a human body. For this reason this liquid is called "Toto Mape" (mape blood).

At the base of the tree a sticky orange resin turns into amber through a chemical process that has been going on for millions of years.

At eight or nine years old, the mape underwent a major transformation: around its trunk, thus right and smooth, irregular outcrops from the branches to the roots join by place form recesses in others. These outcrops are shifting, in turn, year after year, divide and merge, sparing spaces with strange arches in the wood. Gradually, the buttresses can recede several meters away from the trunk entwine around it, sometimes to more than two meters high. When the tree is near the water, these protrusions may extend to the bed of the river and on land, form natural shelters used by goats and wild pigs.

Old mape are covered with bumps and bulges on which are wrapped bird-nest ferns (asplenium nidus), gracious epiphytes hanging like ribbons, or even araifaa or mave, another variety of epiphytes, hung in long clusters with small red berries.

Slender and ahead, the mape standing in water
In June and July, the ends of the branches are overlaid by amber leaves that become creamy white before moving gradually to dark green. Therefore the trees are enfolded in August and September, small white flowers fluffy bunches with very pleasant fragrance, sharp sweet, lacing the undergrowth.

After the flower, the fruit springs naturally. When ripe, called mape pa'ari, it can be yellow, brown or light green. Tasty and very nutritious fruit it may be eaten either braised or steamed. Polynesians, who like its undeniably hot chestnut flavor, used to eat it as a sweetmeat. Today, it is sold burning on roadside. We noted that if the fruit of mape piropiro is also edible and tasty, its nauseating smell made it heir of this name of piropiro, meaning "stinky" in Tahitian. When the ripe fruit falls from the tree then, called mami, it is sturdier than when we pick it on the tree for consumption. On the ground, the skin dries out and the fruit begins to germinate, so its name ro'a. At both stages of its evolution, properly cooked, the mape is still good to eat if it has been properly roasted.

The “mape” and traditional uses
Large flat surfaces linking buttresses to the trunk played a foremost role in the Polynesian people’s history. Drumming them with a stick of hard wood or a stone, we obtain a modular percussion sound that carries far into the forest and to the sea. It allowed them to communicate from valley to valley and transmit urgent information. For example warn of an attack by a neighboring tribe. Perhaps it’s just the forebear of Polynesian percussions.

The best known medicinal utilization from mape is a ra'au Tahiti (traditional remedy) for curing the fish bite and fighting the inflammation that results. The nohu (or stone fish) sting is extremely painful and dreadful. In this case, the juice of the green fruit of mape is mixed with the sap of atae bark (erythrina indica) by chewing. The resulting paste is applied as a poultice on the bite and the inflammation quickly disappears.

Fabulous strolls of mape roots
In traditional society, the mape was used as a natural dye. It’s possible to obtain the following colors: black, blue, dark green, light green, dark purple, purple violet, purple carmine, red brown. These dyes were used in the decoration of tapa, clothing and some ritual objects.
  
The “mape” and the legend
In traditional Polynesian culture, the mape was portrayed as follows: all mape stem from humans. The fruits come from human kidneys, organs also called mape or rata. The amazing red sap is the blood. Nose and nostrils, meanwhile, find themselves in the strange contortions of the trunk.

In 1840, the high priests Tamera and Mo'a transmitted their vision of mape: "It is the Tree. The piping plover and the bird of the paradise will nest in its twigs and feed on its flowers along the river.”


Here is what is told on the lands of Paea (west coast of Tahiti): Aiti tane, from the district of Mata'oae was clear-sighted. One day he wondered a mape at the bottom of a valley, he exclaimed: "Aue tera vahine i te aroha e!" (How pitiful is this woman!). Seeing no one close to the tree, his friends asked him what he meant and he replied: "In the hollow of this tree I see a woman crying, holding twins in her arms!" Shortly after, returning to the village, they heard that a woman of the district had just died giving birth to stillborn twins. They concluded what Aiti saw this woman lamenting the premature death of her children.


An article of Julien Gué
Translated from French by Vanaa Teriitehau


Copyright Julien Gué. Ask for the authorization of the author before any reproduction of the text or the images on the Internet or in the traditional press.

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