Volume 5 1896 > Volume 5, No. 3, September 1896 > The Maori whare: notes on the construction of a Maori house, by Rev. H. W. Williams, p 145-154
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THE general appearance of a Maori whare is still familiar to all who are accustomed to seeing the Maori in his own home; but corrugated iron and milled timbers threaten its appearance, as surely as iron tools have affected the method of construction. The appearance of a whare was tolerably uniform in all districts, but different tribes excelled in different points of detail: the Nga-Puhi, for instance, was an artist in raupo work and thatching, while the Ngati-Porou was renowned for carved work and painting. The information in these notes was mainly derived from the Rev. Mohi Turei, of Waiapu, one of our corresponding members, and must, therefore, be taken as referring in the first place to the whare as built by the Ngati-Porou tribe. It is hoped that their appearance is not too late to elicit information with regard to whares in other districts, as it may be found that there were interesting differences in the practice of different tribes.

A whare consisted of a framework of timber, carefully notched, and lashed together with flax, the wall spaces being filled in with screens made chiefly of kakaho, the reeds of the toetoe plant (Arundo conspicua), the whole being covered with bundles of raupo (Typha angustifolia), bound on with strips of flax (Phormium tenax).

No mean part of the work consisted in the collection and preparation of the materials. The raupo had to be cut in the ninth month (March), the toetoe of various sorts to be collected, the kakaho prepared, and the timber felled and dressed. This latter presented the main difficulty, and was often done a considerable time—years even—beforehand; and of course in many cases the question of transport over great distances had to be faced. The trees were felled by means of fire, split with wedges, known as ora pĭpĭ, ora whakatangitangi, and ora wahi, which were inserted in succession and driven home with - 146 a maul, ta (these wedges were respectively about three, six, and nine inches in length, made of hard wood, bound with flax at the wide end to prevent splitting). The timbers were shaped roughly by means of fire, and finally finished with the stone adze, tarai, which in this district had a head of koma. If the whare was an important one, and ornamented with carving and painting, all this, which must have been a very laborious undertaking, was completed before the various parts were put together.

When the materials were ready, the site was prepared. The ground was levelled in the first instance by eye, then at the first heavy rain, depressions were rendered visible and filled in. The plan of the building was invariably oblong; the proportion of the sides apparently depending on the taste of the tohunga who was architect. Different methods of whanganga (measuring) prevailed in different districts; on the west coast measurement was by takoto,1 on the east coast by fathoms, maro. Anything over four maro would be considered a large whare, but apparently houses were made as large as kumi, or ten maro. The lines for the two ends, known as roro, the front, and tuarongo, the back, were first laid down, and the building squared by measuring the diagonals, haurōkī. Finally, for some occult reason, the corner A (see plan) was displaced a very slight distance towards D. The sides of the open porch, or whakamahau, were not a continuation of the sides of the house, but were on parallel lines a few inches within the others.

The next business was the erection of the main posts, or pou-tahu, for the support of the ridge-pole, tahu or tahuhu. These were trunks of trees, either whole or split in half, with the inner convex faces carved or more often painted, and stood in the middle of the roro and tuarongo respectively, that at the roro being perceptibly higher than the other to allow the smoke to escape at the front of the house. Some ingenuity was displayed in erecting these posts. The hole was dug, and the post brought up to it and laid face downwards inside the whare; a heavy slab of wood, the tuauau, was placed in the hole against the foot of the post; the head of the post was first raised by lifting, and then by hauling on two heavy ropes, the advantage made in hauling being secured by a pair of shears, tokorangi, placed under the post, and worked gradually forward towards the hole; a third rope fastened to the head of the post served to guide it as it rose; when the post was perpendicular the tuauau was removed, the hole filled in, and the earth rammed down.2

[Inserted unpaginated illustration]

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The tāhu, or ridge-pole, was in one piece, and about ten feet longer than the whare proper. Its section was an obtuse isosceles triangle, the apex uppermost. In a large house it might be two feet or more in width, and must have been of considerable weight. The difficulty of raising it to its position on the pou-tahu was overcome by the use of tokorangi at each end, a scaffolding, rangitapu, being erected to support it in different positions, until it finally rested on the flat tops of the pou-tahu, the rear end resting on its post, while the excess mentioned above projected in front of the whare. This extra ten feet of the tahu was carved to represent a conventional human figure, pane, while the part between the posts was painted with a scroll pattern, kowhai. The tahu was retained in its position by stout pins driven through either side into the posts, also by lashing to sunk eyes.3

During the work of building, the tahu was supported between the posts by one or two temporary supports, tokotoko; these, when the building was completed, were replaced by the pou-tokomanawa, a post much lighter than the pou-tahu, generally squared through the greater part of the length, with the lower part carved to represent a human figure, the result in many cases being very realistic.4 In some whares there may now be seen a light pole supporting the projecting end of the tahu, but this formed no part of a regulation Maori whare.

The framework of the sides, pakitara, consisted of upright slabs of wood set in the ground. These slabs, poupou, were from one to three feet wide, from three to nine inches thick, and of such a height as to make the pitch of the roof about thirty degrees. Of course as the pou-tahu were not of the same height the poupou had to be graduated accordingly. In ordinary houses the height of the poupou above ground was somewhat under six feet, but in special cases has been made as much as thirteen feet. The poupou were flat or slightly convex on the inner face, which was sometimes elaborately carved with conventionalized figures of ancestors, sometimes painted, and sometimes slightly relieved by notches along the edges. The edges of each poupou were rebated from behind; and at the top there was a semicircular depression, the rua-whetu, to receive the end of the rafter; in small houses this depression was about half the width of the poupou. When in position the poupou leaned slightly inwards, and were each buttressed behind with a hirinaki, a rough piece of split timber set in the ground, and lashed to eyes near the upper end of the poupou. The poupou were of course set opposite one another at even distances, starting from the corners by the tuarongo. The four poupou at the corners of the house were tapu. The intervals were, as a rule, a little wider than the poupou, and were invariably of an odd number inside the whare, and an odd number also—generally three—in the whakamahau. Not infrequently the poupou nearest the front - 148 wall was split down the middle with its corresponding rafter, half being inside the house and half in the porch, thus making in all an odd number of poupou on each side of the house. The upper ends of the poupou were secured to a batten, kaho-paetara, placed behind the poupou and lashed to notches or holes in the corners of each.

The framework of the tuarongo consisted of uprights, epa, set in the ground similarly to the poupou, except that they were set vertically. There were, of course, the same number on either side of the pou-tahu, generally three, in the case of a large whare as many as five. The height was fixed by the heke-tipi, a board placed on its edge, and extending from the top of the pou-tahu to the top of the poupou; each epa was lashed to the lower edge of this board.

The roro was similar to the tuarongo, but with a frame for the door, tatau, on the right5 of the pou-tahu, looking outwards, and one for the window, matapihi or pihanga, on the left; the epa being cut away to leave room for these frames.

A skirting-board, papaka, was formed by slabs placed between the poupou. These slabs were rebated from the front at the ends to come flush with the faces of the poupou, and from the back along the upper edge to correspond with the rebate on the sides of the poupou. Similar boards were placed between the epa of the two ends of the whare.

The door, tatau, was rarely more than two feet wide and four feet high, and consisted of a slab of wood about two inches thick. It was opened by sliding the slab from the pou-tahu into a recess built in the wall. When the whare was closed from without, the cord holding the door was fastened in a knot, ruru aho tuwhere. Many owners had their special knots, which were highly complicated to serve as burglar detectors. When closed from the inside the door was secured by a peg,6 and rattling was prevented by a wedge.

The door-frame consisted of the paepae, or threshold, a piece of timber in length rather more than twice the width of the door, and squared about twelve inches by twelve inches, having a groove, tōanga, on its upper face to carry the door. Upon this stood the jambs, whakawae, (roughly morticed to the sill and taupoki), which projected front and back to form a moulding; the two whakawae were flanged, as shown in section No. 6, the front edge being generally ornamented with carving. The left-hand jamb (looking outwards) stood close against the pou-tahu, the right-hand one was in two pieces, which stood on either side of the groove in the paepae. Over the whakawae lay a horizontal slab, the taupoki, while the front of the doorway was finished off by a carved slab, the korupe, or kororupe, which rested on - 149 the carved edges of the whakawae. The korupe was not put in its place until the spaces in the walls had been filled in with raupo. The recess into which the door slid was lined with light horizontal battens, to prevent the door injuring the packing of the walls. The arrangements for the window, which was about two feet by two feet, were in all respects similar to those for the door; except that of course the window slid to the left. The sill was flanged on the outside similarly to the jambs. The usual height from the ground was such that a man sitting could barely see out.

After the poupou had been allowed to stand in the ground some time so as to get well set, the rafters, heke, were put into position. These were flat on the upper, and rounded on the under face. They were not as a rule straight, but curved slightly upwards throughout their whole length, or curved at either or both ends, and straight through the remainder of the length. The under side was frequently ornamented with a painted scroll pattern. The lower end of the rafter was cut into a tongue, teremu, to fit the depression, rua-whetu, in the poupou. The heke against the roro was like its corresponding poupou, sometimes split and placed half inside and half outside the whare. The rafters were kept in place by lashing the lower ends to the poupou and the upper ends to one another over the tahu, and in some cases to a lighter beam, the tahu-iti, which lay along the tahu.

The front edge of the walls was protected by slabs, amo, which had a wide rib at the back near the inner edge, and the front, as a rule carved to conventional form. The amo supported the lower ends of the barge-boards, maihi. The maihi had near the lower edge of the back a projecting rib, papawai (corresponding with that of the amo), which rested against the foremost rafter, or in some cases replaced a rafter. The maihi were carried beyond the amo; the projecting part, known as the raparapa, being carved with a pierced pattern, which formed over the amo a shallow mouth fitting over the head of the figure in the amo. The upper part of the barge-boards was finished plain, and ornamented with painting. The junction of the barge-boards was covered by a carved flat face, the koruru, which was adorned with feathers, and sometimes surmounted by a full length figure, the tekoteko. The koruru was kept in place by a boss at the back which was pierced horizontally, by a pin behind the maihi.

The wood-work of the roof was completed by laying on the rafters horizontal battens, kaho. Of these there were an even number on each side, the upper and lower one on each side being called kaho pătu. The kaho-patu were respectively contiguous to the tahu and kaho-paetara. The kaho were first kept temporarily in position by cords between the rafters passing over the ridge-pole. These cords, which were known as kaumahaki, were replaced by the permanent supports, tataki, ropes passing over the tahu and down the back of each heke, being knotted to each kaho, and the ends made fast to the backs of the poupou.

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The covering of the framework involved several processes. For the roof, tuanui, the kakaho (reeds of toetoe) were lashed evenly to laths, called kārapi, which were placed at distances corresponding with those of the kaho. The screens thus formed were laid, with the laths upper-most, upon the kaho, to which they were carefully bound by strips of flax. The flax was passed from above, carried diagonally across the kaho, up through the kakaho, and over the karapi; a second, and sometimes a third, stitch was taken at a distance of about two inches, and the same repeated at short intervals. When the whole roof was covered in this way it was strewn with raupo, in layers known as tuāhuri; these layers were kept in place by strips of flax tied to the karapi. Over the tuahuri were laid bundles of raupo, aranati, the process of laying which was known as nati, and over these were layers of toetoe, aratuparu, then aranati again, and so on alternately, until it was judged that the roof was of sufficient thickness. Over all was placed a thatching, arawhiuwhiu, of toetoe, the laying of which was called tāpatu. It was found that toetoe-rakau, a variety found in the bush, was more durable than toetoe-kakaho, or upoko-tangata. In the best class of house the ridging was further protected by a turihunga of ponga, fronds of tree-fern.7 The thatching was protected from damage by the wind by aka vines, placed lattice-wise across the roof; this open lattice-work was called tātāmi.8 In smaller houses light rods of manuka took the place of the aka. The peru, or eaves, were made sufficiently prominent to throw the water off the walls.

The spaces of the walls between the poupou were filled in with lattice-work panels, known as tukutuku. The tukutuku consisted of light horizontal laths, kaho-tarai, half inch to one inch wide, which were closely laced to vertical reeds, kakaho, with narrow strips of kiekie (Freycinetia Banksii), white, or dyed black, and occasionally with pingao (Desmoschenus littoralis) a rich orange-coloured grass; but where these were not procurable flax was used. The laths of the tukutuku were sometimes painted red and black, four, or some even number of one colour together, and an equal number of the other colour following. In making the tukutuku each lath was lashed to each reed, a variety of stitches being used. If the strips of kiekie formed a cross on the lath in front of each reed the stitch was called pukonohi-aua. Single stiches were known as whakarua kopito, or tapuae-kautuku, according as they formed diamonds or zig-zag lines either vertical or horizontal; the pattern formed by the latter stitch was also sometimes called waewae-pakura. In well-made tukutuku, a rounded rod, tumatakăhuki, ran up the middle of the face of each - 151 panel. It was lashed to the laths by close stitches, crossing in front, each stitch passing over two or three laths; this lashing was known as pihapiha mango. Further ornamental effects were produced by alternate use of black and white kiekie. The two patterns most commonly used were a succession of chevrons, kaokao, and a step pattern, poutama. Other more elaborate patterns were designated kūrawa wāwawawai, tăkărārautau, &c. The tukutuku when completed was framed in the rebate of the poupou and papaka; horizontal battens, four, five, or more in number, being lashed to the backs of the poupou to keep the panels in position. Warmth was obtained by means of vertical bundles of raupo, called tūpuni, which were lashed to the battens just referred to. The front wall was finished off with kakaho reeds, neatly held in place with cords of whitau, or prepared flax. For the sake of effect ornamented reeds were placed at even distances, the ornamentation being produced by winding strips of green flax spirally round the reed and then smoking it and removing the flax.

Finally across the entrance to the porch was placed a stout piece of timber, the paepae kainga-awha,9 about eighteen inches by four inches, lying on its edge.

An explanation has been suggested for the position of the door and window, that it afforded those in the whare the advantage in the case of attack. In some whares a small aperture was made in the roro, under the eaves on the door side, and through this aperture the ends of the long fighting-spears projected into the whakamahau. So that in case of a surprise the warrior could snatch up his spear without delay in his right hand, as he rushed out of the whare.

In the whare the place of honour is immediately under the window; this is reserved for the important guests, the chief men of the place taking up their position on the opposite side. This inferior side is called pakitara i a Tawheo, in allusion to a great chief who invariably sat at the lesser side, saying that the other side was well enough for the common run of chiefs.10

The floor was strewn with rushes and fern, with the exception of a bare space inside the door, the rushes being kept back by pieces of wood, pae or pauruhanga, which were pegged to the floor, Over these rushes on state occasions were laid the whariki, mats of flax or kiekie, which were known by various names, koaka, waikawa, takapau, &c.

The hearth, takuahi, was a space about a foot square, generally defined by four stones, and was placed half-way between the pou tokomanawa and the front pou-tahu, the side of the hearth being placed on the line drawn to the pou-tokomanawa from the edge of the - 152 pou-tahu next the door. The smoke from the fire soon obliterated all the painted work inside the whare. This fact, coupled with the destructible nature of the materials used in buildings, makes it impossible to obtain specimens of painting of any great age; and the best Maori artists of to-day cannot free themselves from Pakeha forms of ornamentation which they have unconsciously, perhaps, assimilated.

Of course every step in the construction was taken with the greatest ritual, and appropriate karakias were recited. No woman or cooked food was allowed within the precincts of the whare until it had been formally opened by the ceremony of the Kawa.

Subjoined is a Kawa said to be of great antiquity:

He aha te hau e riri mai nei,
Haramai ra kati nei,
Haramai ra kati nei,
Toki ta wahie, e! te toki.
Ka whanatu au, ka tua i te takapu o te rangi
Koia tiritiri ki te rangi
Ka hinga ka mate
Whakataka to hau ki te uru,
Whakataka to hau ki te tonga,
Kia haramai Tama ki tona wai-kau
Kia inumia te pae o Uenuku Ruanuku
Ka takoto ki te wai nonokura,
He matenga ia no te kawa i uru rangi,
He rangi koiretoro e, te angiangi pu,
Whano! whana! haramai te toki!
Hauma! hui-e! taiki-e!
Ko te kawa i whea,
Ko te kawa i tuhangaia te haroharo,
Ko Hine-ki-tua kua riua ki taha te Wairangi
Tangi te rupe, i Rau te kawa,
Kāwa, te angiangi pu,
Whano! whana! &c.
Ka taua te rangi ki te kohukohu,
Ka taua te rangi ki te hapainga,
Ririwai Tangaroa i.
Tatakina te kawa i tauaraia whatu,
Ruiruia te kawa whatu,
Tatakina te kawa whatitiri-takataka
Whangaia te marama,
Papa mai kāwa, te angiangi pu,
Whano! whana! haramai te toki!
Hauma! hui-e! taiki-e!
The last two words of the chorus repeated several times: hui-ĕ! by the reciter; taiki-ĕ! as a reply by the rest.

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[In the building of all large houses intended for meeting-places of the tribe or for the entertainment of visitors, on the erection of the main pillar or pou-tokomanawa, a slave, or in some instances a member of the tribe, was sacrificed, and after the abstraction of the heart, the body buried at the foot of the pou-tokomanawa. The heart of the victim (whatu) was cooked and eaten by the priest, or tohunga, presiding over the work, accompanied by karakias. This was the practice in some districts, as for instance among the Arawa tribe, but the Rev. Mr. Williams tells us that the victim, whatu, was buried at the left-hand back corner of the house, at the base of the poupou in that corner. Amongst the Urewera tribes, the whatu was called ika-purapura, and it was buried at foot of the pou-toko-manawa. After some time the bones may be exhumed and taken to the tuāhu (altar), and there used as a manea, or means of beneficial influence for the owner of the house. Manea means the hau, or spirit, essence of man, and also of the earth. The following lines from an old song are the only references (in song) we recollect, alluding to this custom; it is part of an oriori, composed by some member of the Ngati-Kahu-ngunu tribe of the East Coast:

Ka whaihanga Taraia i tona whare,
Ka makaia tana potiki
Hei whatu mo te pou-tua-rongo,
O tona whare, o Te Raro-akiaki.11
Taraia was a very noted ancestor of the Ngati-Kahu-ngunu tribe, and the house whose name is given above was erected at Herepu, near Karamu, Hawke's Bay. The ritual connected with the taking off of the tapu from a new house differed in each tribe. The following—supplied by Mr. Elsdon Best—was that used by the Urewera tribe: When the building is finished, and the people assembled to the Kāwanga, the priest affixes to the pou-tuarongo, a piece of the petaka, or some other sacred plant, which is called a maro. The object is to draw warmth to the house, and to “bind” it there. The pillar is then named Rua. On completion the priest issues forth from the house, and taking a wand of Karamu wood in his hand, strikes the side of the house, and then commences to recite the Kāwa, of which a specimen is given above. After this he strikes the riko (corner posts of house) with his wand, then the mahihi, the tau-tiaki, and the paepae-awha, reciting at the same time the Kāwa. The priest then ascends to the roof of the house, and recites a karakia-whakanoa, or invocation to make common, i.e., free from tapu; that of the Urewera tribe is as follows:
Manamana hau, manamana hau,
Pera hoki ra te korepe nui te korepe roa,
Te wahi awa te totoe awa,
Whakamoea, whakamoea tama,
Kauaka tama e uhia,
Kauaka tama e rawea
Ki te ata tauira māi-ea
Mai-ea te niho o te tupua
Te niho o te tawhito
Te whakahotu-nuku, te whakahotu-rangi,
Turuturu o hiti, whakamau kia tina.
(Chorus of People.)
- 154 I aua kia eke,
Eke Tangaroa,
Eke panuku,
Ka noa te whare.
All join in the response, which is heard far away. After this the house is free from tapu, and people may sleep in it. All large houses had names assigned to them, which were frequently those of some celebrated ancestor of the tribe. Houses (whare-whakairo, carved houses) such as described in Mr. Williams' paper, were frequently built at some important epoch in the tribal history, such as at great assemblies to discuss questions of policy, of war or peace, or at the birth of an heir to the principal chief. On the arrival of each of the famous canoes of the migration from Hawaiki in about 1350, a whare-maire or whare-kura was built in which was taught the religion, history, poetry, and genealogies of the tribe, by the priests, whose special function it was to preserve this lore, and ensure that it was correctly handed down to succeeding generations. The names of nearly all, and the positions of many, of these celebrated houses are known. Such houses were extremely tapu, and only under the most extraordinary circumstances was cooked food ever taken inside.—Editors.]

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Plate II. (Ground Plan).
A B is the Roro.
C D ” Tua-rongo.
A D ” Paki-tara.
B C ” Paki-tara.
A C ” Hau-rōkī.
B D ” Hau-rōkī.
a a ” Poutahu.
b ” Pou-toko-manawa.
c c c ” Poupou.
d d d ” Epa.
e e e ” Hirinaki.
f f ” Amo.
g g g ” Papaka.
h ” Paepae.
i i ” Toanga.
k k ” Whakawai.
l l ” Paepae-kainga-awha.
m ” Takuahi.
Plate III. (Front Elevation).

The diagram on the left is a section through the Roro, that on the right being a front elevation.

a is the Pou-tahu.
c ” Poupou.
d ” Epa.
e ” Hirinaki.
f ” Amo.
g ” Papaka.
h ” Paepae.
k ” Whakawai.
n ” Taupoki.
o o is the Section of Maihi.
p ” Heke.
r ” Teremu.
s ” Heke-tipi.
t ” Tāhu.
w ” Korupe.
x ” Maihi.
z ” Koruru.
    Plate IV. (Interior Decoration).
  • Nos. 1 to 4, are stitches of the Tukutuku: 1 is the Pu-konohi-aua, 2 is Whakarua-kopito, 3 and 4 are Tapuae-kautuku, or Waewae-pakura.
  • No. 5 is called Pihapiha-mango.
  • Nos. 6 and 7 are patterns of Tukutuku; 6 is called Poutama.
  • No. 7 is Kaokao.

At page 148, line ten from bottom, correct the reference “section No. 6” to “section No. 8.” The word whakawae in the text should be whakawai. On page 151, line 7, read, “tăkă-rarā-rau-tau.”

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- iii
- iv
1  Takoto, the length from the foot to the hand extended beyond the head as the measurer lay at full length on the ground.
2  In some houses the parts of the main posts within the ground were surrounded with slabs of ponga (fern-tree), which being almost imperishable, preserved the posts; such slabs were called turihunga.Editors.
3  Possibly some reader may obtain the name of these eyes.
4  A long whare might have two pou-tokomanawa.
5  This is the invariable position with Ngati-Porou: do pictures representing the other arrangement show another custom elsewhere, or want of observation in the artist? [We think the latter supposition is right.—Editors.]
6  Some member may possibly be able to supply the names for these.
7  (?) Slabs of ponga.Editors.
8  In the north this end was secured by the use of thick ropes of mangemange (a species of climbing fern—Lygodium articulatum), which are there called taotao.Editors.
9  Or paepae-kai-awha, or paepae-roa.Editors.
10  In other tribes this side is called te kopa-iti, and was allotted to the slaves of the family.—Editors.
Then Taraia built his house,
Placing his youngest child
As a whatu for rearmost pillar
Of his house, of Te Raro-akiaki.