Just ran across this news item about a dude in New Zealand who lives in “Mamaki eco-village.” The story reports than mamaki means “spirit of the fertilizing waters.” This is the first time I’ve thought about the word standing for something other than a spineless nettle plant known for its healing properties and as the basis of an especially good tea.
Now I wonder if mamaki has a similar meaning in the Hawaiian language. More to come…
Mamaki’s scientific name is Pipturus albidus.
- Pipturus is derived from the Greek pipto, to fall, and oura, tail, in reference to the caducous stigma—a specific part of the plant. Think simply “tail that drops.”
- Albidis is Latin for white.
There is a town named Mamaki in Indonesia.
Mamaki is an important female deity in Buddhism. Beyond that, things get murky. She is usually associated with the color blue, but also yellow. A site hawking Buddhist statues does a good job of marketing her as the embodiment of the water element and its purity. That lines up nicely with thinking of our eco-village friends in New Zealand. On the other hand a more mundane site insinuates that mamaki means greedy. It will definitely require someone more familiar with the Buddhist deity tradition before attempting to associate mythological significance to our beloved tea plant. 🙂
And all the above seems to be putting too much meaning into the unique Hawaiian language. The word “mamaki” is a derivative of “mamake.” According to the Hawaiian Dictionary “mamake” is a reduplication of the word “make” which means “to die, of several; to wilt, wither, of plants.”
Now that doesn’t sound too complimentary. However, having spent lots of time with thousands of mamaki plants during Hawaii’s dry season, I think the name is simply a description of the plant’s behavior in dry conditions. Its shallow roots weave their way just under the ground cover so its large succulent and soft leaves quickly wilt with lack of water. But they perk right up with the first rain.