When I was a youngster growing up in Muriwai… everyone was still using the old rua-kumara system to store their potato and kumara crops through winter… so simple a child could do it… and I should know… I wa...s that child. As a family we would all help at harvest time. My dad and uncles would be turning the potato and kumara out with shovels… but before that my older brothers and cousins would clear away the vegetation… stacking it to one side as we had use for it all later.
Then my dad and uncle dug out the crop. The rest of us got busy releasing all the potato and kumara from the soil and stacking them in rows. As the men unearthed the crop we quickly filtered through the soil to find everything. Row after row was turned over and just as quickly the crop was cleaned and stacked for sorting. As we neared the end of the picking… my mum would start to sort the crop into piles of different sizes and/or varieties. After we finished the picking… everyone joined in the sorting.
My mum gave instructions on size and layout… she designated piles and defined grades… all those who could follow her instructions were welcome to stay… those too young or too stupid to follow instructions were unceremoniously ejected from the garden… eventually the piles became more formal. Usually each pile was about 8 to 10 feet long and 3 to 4 feet wide at the base. The kumara were stacked along the bottom then another layer was placed on top of those but just slightly narrower.
The stacking continues… and as the pile grows higher and higher it also gets narrower and narrower. By the time the pile reaches about 3-4 feet high they tapper almost to a point. It is important to stack the pile properly and once the stack is packed solid… the men begin covering the whole pile with soil. They used at least 6 inches of soil to cover every part of the crop. The soil is packed down real tight all over and a trench is dug round the pile that drops below the bottom level of our stack insuring any water drains away quickly.
Finally the vegetation is generously draped over the piles… It is important to cover the piles with plenty of green material. The sides of the rua-kumara are fairly steep and packed solid with soil. The green material draped across the top will eventually dry and almost fuse together to create a waterproof roof… like a poor mans thatch to help keep the pile dry through winter. Kept in tact a rua-kumara storage pit can store food for over a year.
Not exactly the most sophisticated storage system ever… but it was dirt cheap... MAURIORA
WARREN POHATU CREATIVE: ONLINE IWI 2013