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Maori Storehouses and Kindred Structures


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The two native terms pataka and whata appear to be used in a somewhat loose manner, and are both applied to the elevated storehouse and the simple platform, stage, or scaffold with no erection thereon. This is somewhat confusing. The generic term for pits is rua, these food-storage pits being known in full as rua kai (food-pits), or by such terms as rua kumara (sweet-potato pit or store) and rua taewa (potato-store).

To judge from information obtained from various sources, the term pataka could not rightly be applied to an open platform—i.e., uncovered and without walls—as it implies something "enclosed."

The term whata, however, simply means "to elevate, to support, or elevate on supports," hence it would appear that this term might be applied to both pataka and open platforms.

Polack terms the raised storehouses or pataka, pouaka (pouwaka), about which name there is some doubt. Pouaka is a genuine Maori word, but we need corroboration as to its application as above given. Polack's knowledge of the native tongue was not extensive. We have seen the word pouaka used as a name for the waka, or trough used in snaring birds; but this also needs corroboration. Pouwaka (not pouaka): Properly speaking, says Mr. Stowell, this name, among Nga-Puhi, applies only to little carved boxes, or diminutive pataka, in which bones of the dead were placed and kept. They were about 30 in. long, and adorned with carved slabs, being placed on the top of a single post about 14 ft. from the ground. They were termed pouwaka whakairo. Occasionally a tohunga would ascend to view the receptacle, to see that the bones had not been interfered with. He ascended by means of a notched beam (ara-whata), which would be taken away again, not left there. A word of somewhat similar form is pouraka, which denotes (1) a platform erected on one supporting-post; (2) a box-like receptacle for a dead body, which was also placed on a post,, according to Williams.

John White applies the names whata, timanga, and komanga to the pataka, or raised storehouse. He remarks that such places are built on two plates hollowed out on one side, the hollow side being downwards when the beams are put in position on the supporting-posts. This was to prevent rats passing up into the storehouse.

The fine carved storehouses raised on posts were termed whata papaka on the east coast. The carvings thereof were of the koruru and karearea type.

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Williams's Maori Dictionary gives: "Pataka, storehouses raised upon posts, elevated stage for storing food; (2) enclosure." "Whata, elevated stage for storing food." Also, "Whatarangi, stage or platform elevated on two or more posts." This latter word might be given as whata a rangi.

We hear the term whata applied to platforms, stages, scaffolds, racks, and elevated storehouses. On the other hand, in a letter written by a Wai-rarapa native in 1857, the term pataka is applied to a rude scaffold erected for use in felling a tree; also, the word is used as a verb: "Ka patakatia e au kia tae ki te wahi iti o te rakau" (I constructed a pataka against the tree to enable me to reach the smaller part of the trunk). It would thus appear that both these terms, pataka and whata, are used by natives in a wide sense, as embracing both elevated houses and elevated platforms and stages, including rude scaffolds. This leaves us lacking in specific native terms for these two types of storage-places. The term whata, however, we can follow northward into the many-isled sea, and see that the ancestors of the Maori knew it as a name for a stage or platform, &c., ere they migrated to New Zealand: Tahitian, fata, an altar, a scaffold; Samoan, fata, a raised storehouse, a shelf, &c.; Tongan, fata, a loft, &c.; Mangaian, ata, a shelf; Futuna, fata, a stage; Paumotan, afata, a box; while Moriori gives whata, a raft.

In his account of Te Reinga, Mr. Percy Smith states that a northern native, of the Au-pouri Tribe, informed him that in the north the doors of the kumara stores were always turned to the north, for fear the spirits travelling from the south should enter and thereby tapu the kumara, and so render them unfit for food: This idea does not seem to have obtained elsewhere.

It was customary to build pataka so that they faced the sun—that is, faced some point between east and north, north-east or east by north being the usual aspect. The only object was to secure a warm aspect. To face due north would be too far round, and there seems to have been also a feeling that to face the house in that direction would be a takahi i te rerenga wairua—that is, an interference with the departing-place of the spirits of the dead, which is situated at the northern extremity of the island. If a pataka was so faced, one might remark, "Katahi ki to pataka. Kei te rerenga wairua tonu te waha." In many districts pataka were not necessarily north and south.

The two supporting-posts in the front of a pataka are termed pou aronui, but there are no specific names for the other posts, or for pataka having six or more supports. Across the tops of these posts page 5were placed the plates or joists on which the flooring rested, and which were known as huapae.* In some cases these were plates so fashioned as to be wide on top and much narrower on the lower sides, so as to baffle rats. In other cases they were hollowed out like a long trough, save that the hollow continued to the very ends, as in a piece of spouting. These were placed hollow downwards on the top of the posts, in order to prevent rats passing up into the store. Pieces of old canoes were sometimes used for this purpose. In some cases plates were pakatitia, or slotted, so as to fit on the post-heads. The flooring-slabs, termed papa takatakahi, were then laid across on the huapae, or plates. On the top of these floor-slabs, along either side of the pataka, running fore and aft and a little distance in from the edges of the floor, was laid a pole, or worked timber, against which the bottom of the planks to form the walls were placed. These poles were lashed to the plates with aka, or some other material, which encircled the plate and pole, being thrust through narrow spaces between the floor-planks. The planks to form the walls were then placed upright outside the lashed pole, and lashed thereto by means of a cord or aka passed through holes bored in the planks. These holes were bored with a cord-drilling apparatus, having a stone point. A hewn plank was then placed horizontally along the upper parts of the planks of the wall, and on the inside, and lashed to those planks, which had holes bored through them for the purpose, with the tough and pliant aka kai (kaaii). This horizontal plank is the wall-plate of the pataka. No ridge-pole was erected, but the rafters were set up in pairs, crossed like X at the top, and lashed in many cases, but sometimes fashioned to butt together, and the lower ends projecting considerably over the side walls. On the top of the rafters, just above the wall-plate, a strong batten was lashed firmly, in a horizontal position, to the wall at both ends and to each separate rafter. A pole was then placed along the top of the rafters, lashed to the apex of each pair, this supplying the place of a ridge-pole. The intermediate battens to support the thatch were then lashed on to the rafters. The end walls were built in a similar manner to the side walls. In some cases bark was used instead of thatch on the roof; and in some pataka two poles were placed on the floor to receive the lower ends of the planks forming the walls, such planks being inserted into the narrow space between the two parallel poles. In these cases no lashing was employed on the lower ends of the wall-plank.

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It should here be observed that the above-described mode of erecting a pataka, or elevated storehouse, in which no true ridge-pole was employed, would not be adopted in the case of a superior store, such as were embellished with carvings—that is, the more permanent type.

The doorways of these pataka were small in size, and fitted with a plank door that slid to one side, as the door of a dwelling-hut does. In some cases the kaurori method was employed, a similar one to that seen in our own bush camps. A piece of timber at one side of the door projected above the top and below the bottom of the door, these projections fitting into holes in plates above and below the door; thus the door swung as if on hinges. We have always looked upon this mode as having been borrowed from Europeans, but Te Whatahoro seems to think that it was pre-European.

The little porch or veranda at the front end of these pataka, formed by the prolonging of the walls and roof, is often used as a place to deposit odd articles in. This little veranda is termed a whakamahau.

Instead of the trough-like timbers, the plates were sometimes hewn timbers shaped like this Shape of hewn timbers, and laid on the tops of the supporting-posts.

When European manufactures became plentiful it was no uncommon sight to see tin milk-pans, or other tin dishes, placed on the top of the supporting-posts of these elevated storehouses upside down, and on top of which the foundation plates or beams of the building were laid. These were most effectual in preventing the passage of rats into the store.

So useful are these raised storehouses that many of our bush settlers built such places in which to keep any goods destroyable by rats. The modern method of preventing rats passing up the posts is to nail pieces of tin round them, for which purpose preserved-food tins are often used.

The superior class of pataka, such as those ornamented with carved slabs, &c., were not used as storehouses for crops—kumara and taro—but as pataka taonga, or storage-places for general objects. All kinds of things—boxes containing ornaments or prized garments, also weapons, implements, fine mats and baskets, &c.—were stored in pataka whakairo or ornamented storehouses; as also such articles of food as preserved birds, rats, &c., in calabashes or wooden vessels; kao kumara (dried sweet-potatoes), dried fish, &c. Kumara were never stored in a pataka taonga, but only in pits, caves, ordinary stores, or occasionally in common pataka.

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The superior type of pataka—those ornamented with carving or red paint—were given special names, but common rough ones were not. The little whata rangi, described elsewhere, were sometimes named, as also in some cases were whare punanga erected in tree-tops. Each hamlet, however small, had at least one pataka and one whata or platform.

Some pataka had only the pae kai awha carved, and some had the pae kai awha and maihi carved.

Of the pataka of the Taranaki district, Mr. W. H. Skinner says, "There were storehouses built on piles, sometimes on tree-trunks 20 ft. in the air, frequently very handsomely carved and painted red with kokowai, or oxide of iron. In these were stored arms, utensils, fishing-nets, and other property… The ariki, or head chief,… was very tapu, as was all belonging to him. He had a small pataka erected near his house called a pu, in which were kept preserved birds, human flesh, &c., only to be eaten by him. This kind of storehouse had only one post, on which it was stuck like our pigeon-houses. In the same manner all pertaining to the priest was equally sacred. His storehouse was named an ipu, but had two supports…. There was a particular kind of receptacle called kawiu, a pataka on a pole, where the waka (receptacle) of the god was kept."

Here we note the origin of the terms purangi and ipurangi as applied to elevated stores. The word rangi in this connection seems to mean lofty or elevated, as pu-rangi, ipu-rangi, and whata-rangi.

A rough or temporary sleeping-hut is sometimes termed a purangi according to Te Whatahoro, but the term was not applied in former times to such an item. It is also said to be sometimes wrongly applied to a cook-shed, and sometimes to a pataka.

Earle, who spent some months in the northern part of New Zealand in 1827, remarks, "Their storehouses are generally placed upon poles, a few feet, from the ground, and tabooed or consecrated. Great taste and ingenuity are displayed in carving and ornamenting these depositories. I made drawings from several of them, which were entirely covered with carving; and some good attempts at groups of figures, as large as life, plainly showed the dawning of the art of sculpture amongst them. Many of the attempts of the New-Zealanders in that art are quite as good if not better than various specimens I have seen of the first efforts of the early Egyptians. Painting and sculpture are both arts greatly admired by these rude people. Every house of consequence is ornamented and embellished, and their canoes have the most minute and elaborate workmanship bestowed upon them."

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The Rev. W. Wade, who travelled through the Roto-rua district in 1838, speaks of a pataka he saw at Ohine-mutu. "In the pa a large elaborately carved pataka, or kumara store, supported on four strong wooden pillars, attracted my attention. The broad boards, which formed the upper angle and most conspicuous part of the veranda of the pataka, were curiously wrought, and surmounted at the angular point by a small uncouth figure (tekoteko). The inner front and small doorway also abounded in grotesque carvings."

The preceding paragraph to the above is also of interest, hence we quote it: "The high fence of Ohine-mutu exhibited a variety of hideous figures as carved tops to the posts. The larger carvings of the New-Zealanders are of the rudest cast, and often highly indelicate; but their smaller and more finished pieces of workmanship display much ingenuity. Their carved spear-heads and club-handles, their tinder-boxes and boxes for carrying their feathers, the head and stern posts of their canoes, their best paddles, the elaborate work in the front of some of their houses, as well as their efforts in a variety of other ways, both in wood and stone—all show their capabilities."

"Their kumara stores are far better built than their most superb houses; and are in general very elaborately carved, having a splendid architrave over the door. These stores, when the kumara crop is in them, are all tapu; and no persons are allowed to enter them, except those who are tapu for the occasion."

It should be here explained that the elaborately ornamented pataka, such as the above, were not used as places for storing the kumara crop in, as is shown in the contributions of Hare Hongi and Te Whatahoro.

In writing of Taupo, Angas remarks, "The houses here are coloured with bright-red clay from the adjoining hot springs; and many of the storehouses for food are adorned with feathers and grotesque carved work."

Cruise, who visited New Zealand in 1820, describes a pataka seen at the Bay of Islands: "The huts of the natives were not very numerous, and the most remarkable among them were the public storehouse or repository of the general stock of kumara, or sweet-potatoes, which stood in the centre of the village. Several posts driven into the ground, and floored over with pieces of timber fastened close together, formed a stage about 4 ft. high, upon which the building was erected. The sides and roof were of reeds, so compactly arranged as to be impervious to rain. A sliding doorway, scarcely large enough for a man to creep through, was the only aperture; beyond which the roof projected so far as to form a kind page 9of veranda, which was ornamented with pieces of plank painted red and carved in various grotesque and indecent figures. The carving is a work of much labour and ingenuity; and artists competent to its execution are rare. Wevere(?) pointed out to us the man who was then employed in completing the decorations of his storehouse, and told us that he had brought him from the River Thames, a distance of two hundred miles from the Wai-kare, for that purpose."

Concerning the storehouses in which the sweet-potato crop was stored, Polack, a very early resident, who resided in the Bay of Islands district in the "thirties" of the last century, writes, "Kumara houses, expressly built for the storing of the sweet-potato crop, are put together with much care and neatness, of similar materials and workmanship to the superior houses. For such houses the floors are raised, and the lower parts boarded at the sides, to prevent in some degree the incursion of the rats. A veranda is generally carried from the roof entirely round the building, supported by pillars loaded with whimsical sculptures. The doors are often formed like the Egyptian style, contracting towards the top. On the roof a wooden image is generally fixed." In another account he applies the name pouwaka to small elevated houses in which were stored arms, garments, utensils, trinkets, &c. They were supported on four carved posts, and embellished with carving and red ochre; in fact, they were the ordinary small pataka whakairo used as a storehouse for small miscellaneous items.

Marshall speaks of examining an elaborately carved pataka, the four supporting-pillars of which were also "decorated with a variety of grotesque figures."

Colenso says, "Their sweet-potato stores were also often elaborately finished. Sometimes their stores were neatly set on high posts, which were not unfrequently carved, and were climbed up into by means of a notched pole as a ladder."

In Volume v of the "Transactions of the New Zealand Institute" the Rev. R. Taylor mentions some storehouses that he saw in Horo-whenua Lake in the "forties" of last century, and an illustration showing their aspect is given in his work "Te Ika a Maui." Writing in 1872, he says, "It is now nearly thirty years since I first visited Horo-whenua Lake, which, though not of great extent, is still one of much beauty. I was struck with its singular appearance, from a number of whata, or native storehouses, being erected on posts in the middle of the lake, and seeing the natives ascend to them from their canoes by means of a notched pole."

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Fig. 1. Storehouses in Horo-whenua Lake. After the Rev. R. Taylor.

Fig. 1. Storehouses in Horo-whenua Lake. After the Rev. R. Taylor.

The illustration here given (Fig. 1) of these storehouses in the Horowhenua Lake is based on that in the Rev. R. Taylor's work "Te Ika a Maui." Apparently they were situated near the little promontory at the southern end of the lake. This picture is of interest as the only one we possess of storehouses so situated, for such a situation for a pataka was uncommon.

Captain Cruise remarked, in 1820, "The storehouse is always the largest and best building in the village; the one described was about 20 ft. long, 8 ft. wide, and 5ft high; it was quite new, and there seemed to have been more pains taken in erecting it than most of those which we had subsequent opportunities of examining."

Wakefield remarks in his "Adventures in New Zealand": "At Otumatua I saw a very beautifully carved whata, or storehouse, of which Mr. Heaphy had made a sketch on his visit in 1840, and it was pointed out to me on that account." This was in 1843.

Pourewa, or atamira: In former times, says Te Hiko, of NgatiToa, these names were applied to a small house supported by one tall post (see Angas), in which high-born children of either sex were sometimes isolated, and wherein they lived. They occasionally descended, and strolled about, but spent most of their time in the elevated hut. Such treatment was accorded only to children who page 11were set aside or selected as being of special importance, and were carefully trained to assume and hold an important position in the tribe. This curious usage would continue until the young person married. In the case if a girl, she was, of course, a puhi, and a main object of the above treatment was to prevent her having any connection with the opposite sex.

In Tahitian myths we note that Ta'aroa (Tangaroa), one of the principal gods, had a daughter named Hina, who, in order that her chastity might be preserved, was made pahio (cf. Maori pahiko, a makeshift enclosure), or kept in a kind of enclosure, and constantly attended by her mother. Again, in describing Tahitian marriage customs, Ellis remarks, "They were often betrothed to each other during childhood, and the female thus betrothed was called a vahine pahio (wahine pahiko). As she grew up, for the preservation of her chastity a small platform of considerable elevation was erected for her abode within the dwelling of her parents. Here she slept and spent the whole of the time she passed within doors. Her parents, or some member of the family, attended her by night and by day, supplied her with every necessary, and accompanied her whenever she left the house. Some of their traditions warrant the inference that this mode of life, in early years, was observed by other females besides those who were betrothed."

It is apparent that this Tahitian institution was connected with the Mangaian whare motunau, and that the Maori of New Zealand had some traditional knowledge of the custom.

Whare motunau (an old Mangaian institution): The whare motunau, as described by Colonel Gudgeon, was a place where young girls were received and cared for, but only those of good family, until they were of marriageable age, which would not be less than twenty years. When girls were so ready for marriage they were ranged along one wall of a house, and a number of young men of rank were admitted and seated in a row along the other wall. Thus the rows faced each other. The young men then selected each the girl that pleased him, and, if she was agreeable, the twain were, with much ceremony, conducted to the boy's house, and were then looked upon as man and wife.

Dr. Savage, who visited the Bay of Islands in 1805, mentions an extraordinary use made of a pataka in the following words: "A short distance from the residence of the chief is an edifice every way similar to a dovecote, standing upon a single post, and not larger than dovecotes usually are. In this Tippeehee(?) confined one of his daughters several years. We understood she had fallen in love page 12with a person of inferior condition, and that these means were adopted to prevent her bringing disgrace upon her family. The space allotted to the lady would neither allow of her standing up or stretching at her length; she had a trough in which her food was deposited as often as was thought necessary during her confinement, and I could not find that she was allowed any other accommodation…. The long confinement, with all its inconveniences, produced the desired effect in rendering the princess obedient to the wishes of her royal parent. This barbarous cage, which is ornamented with much grotesque carving, still remains as a memento in terrorem to all the young ladies under Tippeehee's government."

Polack makes a curious statement, to the effect that "Houses on posts are also erected for the preservation of food or the honour of young ladies." He mentions a case in which a woman ascended to one of these raised huts, and drew the ladder up after her, in order to escape from an unwelcome suitor. This incident may possibly have been the origin of the latter part of his remark.

Te Whatahoro informs us that occasionally, in former times, a girl might be confined in a pataka for some act of disobedience, but that such an occurrence was a rare one. He has only known of one such case during his long life. In this case a girl wanted to marry a man of whom her relatives disapproved, hence she was confined in a pataka for one year, an old woman being appointed to watch her and attend her. After a year of this seclusion she became "tame," and was allowed more liberty.

* This description of a pataka was given verbally by Te Whatahoro, of Wai-rarapa, in 1913.