'I'm always looking for the Hows and the Whys and the Whats,' said Muskrat, 'That is why I speak as I do. You've heard of Muskrat's Much-in-Little, of course?'
'No,' said the child. 'What is it?'
- The Mouse and his Child. Russell Hoban.

Go here to find out more.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

A Pukeko in a Punga Tree

The other day I was wandering along the top of the bank so I took a picture as I thought you might like to see the lovely view I look out upon every day.

Then I noticed some movement in the top of one of the pungas (tree ferns)... that one on the left.  I've drawn an arrow to the big dark blue bird.

About the time I noticed it, it also became aware of me on top of the bank and began to 'chuck chuck' and flick its tail nervously, showing the white flash underneath.

And shortly afterwards it made its clumsy exit:

It was obvious that, with Christmas coming up, it was practicing, as Pukekos assuredly do at this time of year all over New Zealand, for a Christmas production of 'A Pukeko in a Ponga Tree'.

 In 1981 Kingi Ihaka wrote the words to (and Dick Frizzell illustrated) a book / song which has become, at least among some New Zealanders, The New Zealand Christmas Song.

Sung to the tune of 'A Partridge in a Pear Tree', the song goes through a collection of iconic and unique 
New Zealand creatures.  The book is still a steady seller.

A Pukeko in a Ponga Tree

On the first day of Christmas
My true love gave to me
A pukeko in a ponga tree

On the second day of Christmas
My true love gave to me
Two kumera
And a pukeko in a ponga tree

On the third day of Christmas...

and so on, until...

On the twelfth day of Christmas
My true love gave to me
Twelve piupius swinging
Eleven haka lessons
Ten juicy fish heads
Nine sacks of pipis
Eight plants of puha
Seven eels a swimming
Six pois a twirling
Five - big - fat - pigs !
Four huhu grubs
Three flax kits
Two kumera
And a pukeko in a ponga tree!


MAORI WORDS - meaning and pronunciation

1. Pukeko (Poo - care - kor) : type of bird found in NZ, known as a NZ Swamp hen.  Found in many other parts of the world too.
2. Ponga (pung-ah) : giant fern tree that grows in NZ
3. Kumera (Koo - ma - rah): a yellow sweet potato with a purple skin
4. Piupiu (pew - pew): a skirt or kilt made from strips of flax. They look like hula skirts. They're worn by the Maori (indigenous people of NZ) during certain traditional dances and special celebrations
5. Haka (Har - kar): war songs traditionaly sung before charging
6. Pipi (Pee - pee): clam, small shellfish
7. Puha (Poo - har): a type of sow thistle that is eaten as a vegetable in NZ
8. Pois (poy): Maori word for ball – they're two balls on the end of two ropes and they're twirled around making patterns during some Maori dances
9. Huhu (Hoo -hoo) grubs: a small edible grub or beetle found in NZ.  It was a delicacy of the Maori

Note about the words "piupius", "pipis" and "pois": Normally you don't find the letter "s" in the Maori language. But this song being English uses it to indicate plurals.

You can go here to hear a rendition of this song in a typical New Zealand accent.  
I take no responsibility for it.  


  1. That is brilliant Katherine ~ a Pukeko in a Ponga tree ~ we don't all have pears and partridges. I know there are a few renditions here in Australia too. I wonder how many other countries have adapted the song?

    1. Carol, it's such a fun idea - like the old woman and the stile rhyme, and the house that Jack built. It can go on and on with just a few changes...

  2. Your view is splendid, and contains two of my favourite things. The only thing we really lack here is water; I would love to look out onto a stream or river. And those Tree Ferns are spectacular!

    Maybe I should write a French version of the song.

    1. Cro - Before I read your comment, I took a photo a few minutes ago - the sunset over the river... Posting now.

      A French version would be intriguing!

  3. A great view but the song is much better than Partridges and Pear trees. Boring are Pear trees.

    1. Adrian, pear trees in my experience are old, gnarly and interesting! But I've really only known one. The pears were terrible - tiny little wizened up things full of bugs.

  4. I've never listened to it properly before Katherine: shame on me.

    1. GB - Being a primary school teacher it was required reading around Christmas for me!


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