It may be based on the sound of the kiwi’s call, or it may be derived from the Polynesian name, kivi, used for the bristle-thighed curlew. This large brown wader has a long decurved bill that makes it superficially resemble a kiwi.
Several kiwi have specific Maori names. Little spotted kiwi are known as kiwi pukupuku. Great spotted kiwi are roroa, or roa. Rowi is now the accepted name for what was formerly known as Okarito brown kiwi. And tokoeka has been adopted as the formal name for the kiwi taxa living in Fiordland and on Stewart Island.
The hidden bird of Tane
Maori hunted kiwi for meat, skin and feathers, using dogs/kuri and traps, but did so sparingly and with great ceremony – special chants and rituals took place before a kiwi hunt began.
This is because kiwi are under the special protection of Tane Mahuta, god of the forest. The bird’s ceremonial name is te manu huna a Tane – the hidden bird of Tane.
To cook them, birds were preserved in their fat and steamed in a hangi/earth oven.
Treasured cloaks – kahu-kiwi
Maori used kiwi feathers for chiefly ceremonial cloaks – kahu-kiwi. These are made of a flax fabric with the feather shafts woven securely into the flax. Usually feathers are sewn on with the fluffy underside of the feather facing outwards. Sometimes whole kiwi skins are sewn together to make cloaks, with the feathers still attached.
Kahu-kiwi are nearly always named and are great taonga/treasures usually reserved for chiefs. They carry the wairua/spirit of the birds themselves. At significant times – deaths, marriages and other great events – a kahu-kiwi is drawn over the shoulders as a privileged symbol of chieftainship and high birth.
Today, the tradition of kahu-kiwi is continued using feathers gathered from kiwi that die naturally or through road accidents or predation.
Today Maori no longer hunt kiwi and many are actively involved as kaitiaki/guardians, protecting and restoring kiwi populations in their rohe (territory). One such project is managed by the Lake Waikaremoana Hapu Ecological Trust.