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Maori Storehouses and Kindred Structures


These have been noticed in some parts, but were not commonly used, as were the forms of store-pits already described. In a few cases natural caves were used for storing-places, and even for living in; but this would be merely as a temporary abode—such as in the case of persons travelling, either for a single night or longer, when weatherbound. Natural caves were also used as dwelling-places by parties frequenting the coast for the purpose of fishing, &c., or by those engaged in collecting forest-products. Some caves used for such purposes received special names—such as Te Waha-o-te-ana, on the old track from the Whirinaki River to Otukopeka; and Te Ana-o-Tikitiki, at Wai-kare Moana. Many of these shelters, termed ana by the Maori, are better described as rock shelters than as caves. Stages or platforms were often erected in such places by fishers and woodsmen, to be used for storing food products and other items on.

Caves used as stores were, however, more frequently artificial, it would appear. These were sometimes excavated in cliffs, where the formation admitted of such work by a people not possessed of metal tools. Such artificial caves are usually rectangular in form as to the lower part, and somewhat rounded off above. At Mingi-nui, on the Whirinaki River, Te Whaiti district, is a small cliff or bluff of indurated pumice, in which some caves have been excavated. These were used as places wherein to store potatoes, the entrance being closed with wooden doors. When last seen by us one of these caves was occupied by old Hamiora Po-takurua, of Ngati-Whare, as a sleeping-chamber; that old nonagenarian asserting that it was more desirable as such than his hut, then largely occupied by Pulex canis.

In describing various kinds of food-stores used by the Maori, Mr. Wade, who visited the Roto-rua district in 1838, says, "There are page 93two forms of rua. One form is a quadrangular hole, about 3 ft. deep, dug in the ground, with the framework of a sloping roof erected over it, and covered in with a strong thatch, the entrance being by a small door in the front (this seems to apply to the pit excavated in sloping ground). The other form is a cave dug in the earth, and entered by a hole from the top, or sometimes, as at Pa-teko, from the side." In describing Pa-teko Islet, in Roto-iti, this author describes the artificial-cave food-stores in the cliffs of that picturesque isle: "We put across to view a singular island called Pa-teko, lying off Motu-oha Point. The island is high and rocky, but a good part of it, on the side facing Motu-oha, covered with verdure. Its steep sides had been perforated by the people to form rua or caves, for the storing of kumara or potatoes. The mouths of some of the rua were open, others closed by square wooden doors. A few natives were living on the rock as guardians of the stores. On one side, just above a native hovel, there was a cavity larger than the rest, having a semicircular range of smaller rua just above it, and appearing at a distance like the ruined entrance of an old monastery."

At a place named Te Pehu, near Roto-rua, are some of these cave stores or cave dwellings, and which are described by Mr. Cowan in the "Journal of the Polynesian Society," Volume xvii, page 222. Mr. Cowan says, "A series of singular little doorway-openings cut in the mossy cliff was seen on the right, and investigating these we found that they gave access to the ancient cave dwellings. We counted nine of these artificial caves, all on an alignment; a number of them, close together, were connected by openings cut through the soft rock. The little doorways, from 3 ft. to 4 ft. high, exactly resembled the openings to the rua or kumara pits which are often seen on the sites of old pa cut out of the hillsides. No doubt these caves, or some of them, were originally made for food-stores……. Entering one rua near the lower end of the terrace we found it to measure 5 ft. in height, with a length of 13 ft., and a width of 8 ft. 6 in. The roof was of a dome-shape, very carefully rounded; the marks of the stone axes … with which the Maoris chipped out the soft rock were still as plain and well preserved as if they had only been made yesterday, instead of centuries ago. The sides of the little under-ground dwellings were very smoothly cut; the floors were cut out to a foot or so below the level of the terrace outside…. The next caves are so close that they are connected by the wall-openings already spoken of, so that the people in one could converse with their neighbours." These caves are said to have been made about two hundred and fifty years ago though possibly enlarged since that time.

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Mr. Cowan also mentions certain artificial caves at the Okoihu pa which were used as storehouses: "On the uppermost terrace, in the sandy walls are a series of old kumara store-pits, their arched roof as perfect as when they were first hollowed out many generations ago."

In the Whanga-nui district a storage-pit in the form of an artificial cave made in the face of a bluff or hillside is known as a rua pongere. The mouth of such a cave was closed by means of slabs of whekii. The semi-subterranean roofed rua is often referred to in the same district as a rua tuanui—literally, a "roofed rua." See also Tuta Nihoniho's description of the rua-roa at pages 107-108.

One or two similar caves, probably used as kumara stores in former times, may be seen near an old pa on the left bank of the Whakatane River, opposite Tane-atua. Here also the walls retain the marks of the tools used in excavation. The cluster of pa, or forts, in this vicinity were formerly occupied by the Kareke and Ngai-Tamango clans.

In his journey from Taupo to Roto-rua in May, 1841, Dieffenbach came across some of these cave stores: "The sides of this small ravine consisted of cliffs of pumice or tufa; and here the proprietors of the potato-ground had hollowed out deep caves, which were secured from without, and were full of potatoes. Snares made of flax were laid all round the entrance, for the purpose of destroying the rats… One of the holes filled with potatoes had been left open for the use of travellers, as is customary in New Zealand."