Find out how this whakataukī relating to kahikātoa – or mānuka tree – relates to young tamariki.
He iti, he iti kahikātoa
Though little, it is still a mānuka tree
This particular whakataukī relates to the mānuka tree or kahikātoa. Common throughout Aotearoa, mānuka are found growing in varied habitats. Amazingly tolerant, they can survive rugged conditions and can grow on dry hillsides, wetlands and in river gravels. Mature trees can endure droughts, frosts, being water-logged and strong winds.
Iwi Māori used the hard, red wood for building houses, weapons, paddles and digging implements, and for spears to catch birds. Water containers were made from the mānuka bark. The sweet smelling mānuka flowers continue to offer an important source of pollen and nectar for insects like bees, moths and beetles, and for geckos.
Captain Cook referred to the mānuka as the ‘tea tree’ because in the absence of tea in Aotearoa during his time, the green leaves of the mānuka were used as a substitute.
Mānuka is sturdy, useful and attractive. From many perspectives it is an important native of Aotearoa.
Whakatauākī and whakataukī
Both whakatauākī and whakataukī are proverbs or significant sayings that give some insight into a traditional Māori world. They have been described as ‘expressions of thought’ and are often formulaic, sometimes cryptic using metaphor, and are often used by speakers within whaikōrero.
Their meanings differ in terms of whether the identity of the originator is known (whakatauākī) or not (whakataukī).
They may be tribal sayings specific to a particular ancestor, hapū or iwi. Wording in certain whakataukī can sometimes vary from iwi to iwi – however, usually the core messages appear to remain the same.
In more modern times they may be used as a way to open a gathering, bring people together, establish the purpose or set the tone of a hui.
Little and strong
He iti, he iti kahikātoa – Though little, it is still a mānuka tree. This whakataukī seems to give a message that ‘size isn’t everything’. Although the mānuka can be a smaller tree in comparison to other natives, it’s noted for the strength and toughness of its wood.
This saying may be applied to a small group, a person or organisation who through strength and determination prevail (Brougham & Reed, 1975).
The theme continues with these other similar whakataukī and whakatauākī:
- ‘He iti te toki e rite ana ki te tangata.’
‘Though the stone-axe be small, it is equal to the man’ (for example, in clearing the forest)
- ‘He iti hoki te mokoroa, nāna i kakati te kahikatea.’
‘Although the grub is but little, yet it gnaws through the big white pine tree.’
- ‘Iti te kōpara kai — tarerere ana i te puhi o te kahika.’
‘Though the bird may be small, it will swing on the top of the kahika tree.’ (To those who are energetic and aspiring to leadership.)
- ‘Iti te matakahi pangaia atu ki roto kite tōtara pākaru rikiriki.’
‘The wedge may be small, but it will split the log into pieces.’
- ‘He iti kahikātoa pākaru rikiriki te tōtara.’
‘The little red mānuka can reduce the tōtara to small pieces.’ (The small tree provided material for wedges which were used to split tōtara.) (Best, 1977, p. 107.)
- Nui pūwhāwhā; iti kahikātoa
‘Big but partly decayed; tiny but red mānuka’ (Smith, 1889).
All of these proverbs affirm the idea that determination, strength or skills are not determined purely by size. A small person, despite their size, can have many attributes and abilities.
When we relate these sayings to young children, we are reminding ourselves that although they may be small in stature, they are neither useless nor helpless. With the right opportunities, encouragement and guidance they may surprise us with what they can achieve.
It is important to remember, however, that our young mānuka needs continued nurturing and supervision from whānau. They will continue to learn by doing, and are motivated by wanting to understand the world around them, which at times can put them at risk. Therefore, gentle guidance, clear limits and a sense that they’re a valued member of their whānau will see the little tree blossom and grow in strength and confidence.
- E. Best: Forest lore of the Maori. Government printer, Wellington, 1977, p. 107.
- T. H. Smith. On Maori proverbs. Transactions and proceedings of the Royal Society of New Zealand, 1 January 1889.
- A. E. Brougham & A. W. Reed: Maori proverbs. A. H. & A. W. Reed, Wellington, 1975.
- Tiaki Hikawera Mitira: Takitimu. Reed Publishing, Wellington, 1972. Appendix B: Whakatauaki or proverbial sayings. Accessed online from Victoria University of Wellington Library: http://nzetc.victoria.ac.nz/tm/scholarly/tei-MitTaki-t1-back-d1-d3.html(external link)
- Rev. R. Taylor(external link): Te ika a Maui, or New Zealand and its inhabitants. Wertheim and Macintosh, London, 1855. Chapter IX: Wakatauki, or proverbs. Accessed online from Victoria University of Wellington Library: http://nzetc.victoria.ac.nz/tm/scholarly/tei-TayTeik-t1-body-d1-d9.html(external link)