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Maori Storehouses and Kindred Structures

II. Ordinary Storehouses, Built on Ground-Line

page 53

II. Ordinary Storehouses, Built on Ground-Line

This type of storehouse was not elevated on posts, but was built on the ground. In some cases we hear of raised earthen floors in these storehouses. In others earth was piled up against the outer faces of the walls, as in the case of sleeping-houses, and which had practically the same effect as excavation of the floor.

In some of the native villages early voyagers saw such buildings of a large size, which were utilized as public storehouses, containing food, implements, weapons, &c, for the benefit of the village community. Again, smaller houses were used as storage-places for the food, &c., of a family group, or, in some cases, of a single family.

The best description given of the large storehouses mentioned above is that left us by Crozet in his excellent account of his sojourn at the Bay of Islands in the year 1772. He describes the arrangement of dwellinghouses in the fortified villages of that district as being two rows of houses with an open plaza (or "parade-ground," as this military writer terms it) between them, and continues, "The whole space between the two rows of houses is only occupied by three public buildings, of which the first and nearest to the village-gate is the general magazine of arms. A little distance off is the food-storehouse, and still farther the storehouse for nets—all the implements used in fishing, as well as all the necessary material for making the nets, &c. At about the extremity of the village there are some large posts set up in the form of gallows, where the provisions are dried before being placed in the stores."

The writer and his companions were shown through the series of public storehouses. The first was the armoury of the village, and contained quantities of weapons of various kinds—spears, clubs, patu, and darts—as also such implements as stone adzes and chisels, made of jade, granite, and basalt. "The magazines are generally about 20 ft. to 25 ft. long by 10 ft. to 12 ft. broad. In the interior there is a row of posts, which support the ridge-board of the roof. In the second magazine, where the savages keep their food in common, we found sacks of potatoes [the kumara, or sweet-potato, is here meant]; bundles of suspended fern-root; various testaceous fishes, cooked, drawn from the shell and threaded on blades of rushes, and hung up; and an abundance of very large calabashes always kept full of water for village use. This storehouse is almost as big, and of the same shape, as the magazine-house. The third storehouse contains the rope, fishing-lines, the flax for making rope, page 54thread and rushes for making string, an immense quantity of fishhooks of every size from the smallest to the largest, stones cut to serve as lead weights, and pieces of wood cut to serve as floats. In this warehouse they keep all the paddles of their war-canoes; it is there that they make their nets, and when they have finished one they carry it to the extremity of the village…. These public storehouses as well as the private houses are made of timber, well squared, and fastened by mortise and tenon, and pinned together; they are generally oblong in form. Instead of planks for the walls of their houses they make use of well-made straw matting, which they ply doubled or trebled one on top of the other, and which shelter them from wind and rain. The straw mattings also serve as roofs to the houses, but in this case they are made of a sort of very hard grass which grows in the marshes, and which the natives manipulate with great skill."

The third storehouse described by Crozet is equivalent to one known as the whare mata among the Tuhoe Tribe. This was a special building erected and set aside as a storehouse for all implements and material connected with bird-snaring and fishing, and in which such apparatus or implements were made. This building was held to be tapu, and no cooked foods was allowed to be taken into it, nor were women allowed to enter it. Men engaged in making bird-snares, &c., in this building for the opening of the fowling season were tapu, and were not allowed to live with their families until their tasks were completed and the tapu lifted from them. The Ngati-Raukawa Tribe had a similar building in their hamlets. Some account of the whare mata may be found in Volume xlii of the "Transactions of the New Zealand Institute," page 445.

J. L. Nicholas, who sojourned in the northern part of New Zealand in 1814-15, remarks on the superiority of the storehouses of the natives to their dwellings: "The inhabitants, to preserve their winter's supply of food had built a good many storehouses, which were better constructed and much more commodious than their dwellings. I observed one particularly that was as well built, both in point of comfort and convenience, as any of the huts of New South Wales that serve as a residence for our people. It had a door spacious enough to admit a person through it without stooping—a plan that I am surprised they neglect in their dwellings, where ingress is so difficult through the narrow apertures that it is always a laborious task to attempt it. The roof of this storehouse projected more than 3 ft. from the walls, forming a veranda round the dwelling; and to admit a free circulation of air they had made in it two large openings. page 55The interior of this structure was also well planned, and partitioned into two convenient apartments. The door-frame was a curious specimen of the progress of their attempts in carpenters' work; the top and bottom of the frame were mortised to the sides and pinned very firmly, and from the sides projected a strong ledge, through which they had cut two holes for the bolt that served as a fastening to the door. Round the house was a paling, that stood about 10 ft. distant from it, and was formed, like the rest, of strong stakes."

In Polack's "New Zealand: a Narrative of Travels and Adventures, &c.," published in 1838, is given an illustration of one of these storehouses with a fence round it. Like most of the illustrations in the above work, it does not bear much resemblance to Maori work, but has one notable peculiarity: this consists of the shape of the door, which is much narrower at the top than at the bottom. Of such buildings the author says, "The house appropriated to the kumara, or sweet-potato, is built expressly of the raupo with exceeding neatness. These have sometimes a veranda all round the building, and are enclosed with a neat fence; the doors are large, neatly carved, and painted. These entrances are often formed in the Egyptian style—narrow above, and widening as it descends; a small figure also surmounts the doorway." The illustration shows a ground-line storehouse, not an elevated one. See also Archdeacon Walsh's account of similar stores, at page 21. The so-called "veranda all round" was simply the projecting eaves at the sides of the building, and the roof gables at the two ends.

Williams's Maori Dictionary gives "Patengitengi, storehouse for kumara"; but whether it be an elevated, subterranean, or ground-line store we know not.

Nicholas, whose writings were published in 1817, speaks of having seen a circular storehouse in the Hauraki district: "On the side of the hill was a fine plantation of potatoes, cultivated with their usual neatness, and in the midst of it two very comfortable huts, with a singular building, probably intended for a storehouse. This strange edifice was built in a circular form, with the roof projecting about 3 ft. from the sides." This building was also surrounded with a fence, but such fencing was probably a modern innovation, practised since the introduction of pigs.

After the trade in flax was inaugurated, the natives in the Northern Island sometimes constructed large houses or sheds in which to store the prepared fibre. Polack states that some of these storehouses were "above 100 ft. in length, 30 ft. in width, and 40 ft. in height… The page 56sides of a flaxhouse are generally open, with poles only placed across… Some of these houses are 40 ft. in height… Great care is taken that the roof be watertight." Again, he says, "The flaxhouses (storing-places for Phormium fibre) in this village were nearly 80 ft. in length and 30 ft. in breadth. They were constructed of poles and raupo, and the lower parts were open, with only poles placed across."

Marshall, in his "Narrative of Two Visits to New Zealand", speaks of a curious form of storehouse as seen by him in the Ngati-Ruanui district of Taranaki in 1834. In describing the Wai-mate pa, which contained nearly two hundred huts, he says, "In the samples they afforded of the domestic architecture of the New-Zealanders, there was little remarkable when contrasted with the similar edifices of the northern tribes, except that they appear to have been constructed with more nicety and carefulness, and with great attention to beauty of appearance. They were divisible into four varieties: (1) The whare mahana (warm, or sleeping, houses); (2) the kauta (cookhouses, or kitchens); (3) the maua(?) (open, or store, houses); (4) the whata (or wood-houses). The maua(?), or open houses, are so called either from a small opening in addition to the door, or from the wall at one end only reaching half-way across the building, and thereby leaving a wide entrance to the space within, beyond which there is occasionally an inner and sleeping apartment. These houses are used, for the most part, as warehouses in common, where the joint proprietors may safely deposit their implements of husbandry and weapons of war, together with the few articles employed in their still-fewer manufactures."

The above term maua, as applied to a house or hut, is unknown to us. As the author was not a Maori linguist, and the expedition does not, on his own evidence, seem to have had a competent interpreter, it is likely enough that some error was made in noting the name of these huts. The form of these storehouses was a curious one, and if an inner apartment was sometimes partitioned off it was probably a local usage.

The rua tairanga was, it is said, a store built on the surface of the ground, such being its floor, no part of it being excavated. The walls were built up much as in our log huts, by crossing lengths of the tree-fern trunks, the spaces between the logs being blocked with bunches of rarauhe (bracken), after which earth was piled up against the walls. This usage is said to have obtained in the Wai-rarapa district, but it does not look like a Maori mode.

In some cases storehouses with raised floors were constructed, as in situations where the ground was too damp to store supplies in. page 57Earth was piled up to form such raised floors. Occasionally storehouses with wooden floors raised a little above ground, so that the air might circulate beneath them, were used, hence these resembled low-built pataka; but these were very uncommon. It was not a native custom to store kumara or taro in ornamented pataka. Likewise stores like ordinary huts, the surface of the ground forming the floor, were sometimes used; but ever the Maori preferred to excavate pits for storing his crops in, such being semi-subterranean, or wholly so, or in the form of caves hewn out of the soft sandstone or indurated pumice.

In the following account of kumara stores from the pen of Mr. Colenso the first part seems to refer to stores on the ground-level, which do not seem to have been used on the east coast: "The kumara barn or store was almost universally the well-made handsome house of the village—the one sure to catch the eye of the European visitor, from its size, shape, neatness, and profusion of ornamental carved works inlaid with pearl-shell (Haliotis) and stained red. Its walls were made of yellow reeds of the Arundo, placed neatly together, with a squared plinth of the dark stem of the fern-tree set at the base to keep out the rats and wet, while its (thatched) roof was well
Carved Board from Front Wall of a Pataka.

Carved Board from Front Wall of a Pataka.

page 58 secured with loosely twisted ropes composed of the airy elastic climbing-stems of the durable mangemange fern (Lygodium articu-latuni), and a drain cut round it to throw off the rain and other waters. Sometimes those stores were also elevated on squared and dubbed and ornamented posts, and sometimes even built up in the forks of the main branches of a dead tree."

It should here be mentioned that walls of store or dwelling houses, though often lined with reeds (the yellow flowering-stalks of Arundo conspicua), were yet never made of such frail material. They were merely used as a neat sightly lining for walls and roof. Also, the highly adorned pataka were never constructed on trees, though rude open platforms often were.

Canoe-sheds: Polack remarks, "Houses are also erected for war-canoes, the sides being generally open. The posts are made strong, for it often occurs that beneath the gable roof families dwell, who ascend thereto by means of a notched pole." These wharau, as they were termed, were also often used as places in which to keep fishing-nets and other items.