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Maori Storehouses and Kindred Structures

East-coast Types of Food-stores

East-coast Types of Food-stores

The following account of the different kinds of storage-pits and semi-subterranean stores, as constructed by the natives of the east-coast district, has been contributed by Tuta Nihoniho, of the Ngati-Porou Tribe. He first remarks that all storage-places for the kumara were subterranean (as the rua tahuhu); in no case were ordinary huts or store-huts built on the surface of the earth so used. Both kinds are included in the generic term of rua kai. Including a small and crude makeshift type, there were four different forms of rua kai employed in the above district:—

1.The rua tahuhu type; an excavated rectangular pit with a roof built over it.
2.The rua kopiha; a well-like pit, wholly subterranean, entered from the top.
3.The rua whakatoke, or rua tawaero; semi-subterranean; a shallow pit in which tubers were placed, then covered with bark, thatch, and earth.
4.The rua-roa; an artificial cave or tunnel in a hillside or bluff.

Rua tahuhu: These were the best-constructed store-pits of the roofed kind, and were sometimes large enough to contain an immense quantity of tubers. Special names were assigned to them, usually the names of ancestors. Kapokapo-a-wai and Tauranga-wai-kahia were the names of two large stores of this type at the Ngati-Ira pa of Whakaihu-puku, at Waiapu. Large rua tahuhu had three tahu—the true ridge-pole and the longitudinal pole parallel with it on either side of the roof. These side poles helped to support the page 99roof, or, if a hewed beam, to break joints of roofing-slabs on—i.e., to support the ends of such slabs on if they were not long enough to reach from the ridge to the top of the earthen wall. There were posts to support each of these longitudinal beams, the number of such posts depending on the length of the store. If a long one, there might be several hononga or joinings of these beams. Although there might be two series of slabs to form the roof of a large store-pit, there was no break in the slope of the roof, be that roof a hoka (sharp-pitched) or a kaupaparu (low-pitched) one. Rua tahuhu, then, was a name applied only to the rua that had three tahu, as described. It was never applied to such as had but one tahu—that is, the ridgepole only, and not the side beams parallel to it. The plate at the ground-line for the lower ends of the roofing-slabs to rest on was termed the paetara.

The body of the store being an excavated rectangular pit, it follows that the walls are represented by earth alone—vertical walls of earth. Along the tops of the side walls—i.e., on the surface of the ground near the edge of the pit—a beam might be placed to act as a wall-plate to support the lower ends of the up-and-down slabs that formed the roof, but in many cases this plate was dispensed with, and the lower ends-of the roofing-slabs rested on the earth. The plate was desirable in cases where the soil was of a friable nature, whereas in a stiff soil, such as clay, no such plate was needed. In covering the roof, one end of the flat-hewn slabs of wood used for a first covering rested on the ridge-pole, the lower end on the ground or wooden plate; thus the roof resembled an inverted V. The lower ends of such slabs were placed a little distance outwards from the edges of the pit, so that the storm-water running off the roof might not percolate through the soil into the pit. From the eaves the earth was cut away, so as to form a downward slope from the eaves to a small runnel or ditch formed parallel with the eaves. This ditch was so made as to have a fall outwards toward the front of the rua, so that storm-waters might be let down the sloping ground in front of the pit. In order to secure such easy drainage, these pit stores were usually formed along the edge of a terrace, or, if such a site was not obtainable, then on sloping ground. In cases where the storm-water from the roof and ditch (manga or tamanga) ran down a steepish slope near the mouth of the pit, and would be liable to scour out the earth of such slope, slabs of timber were sunk in the surface of the sloping earth, as a channel or runway for the waters to flow down. Such a runway was also termed a tamanga.

The very large store-pits were made in terrace formations, for obvious reasons; a small pit store might be made in sloping ground, page 100but it could not be carried back far, or the depth of the excavation at the back would be too great, thus the pit would not be dry enough to store kumara in. Storm-water or seepage-water would cause at least the rear end to be damp, not to speak of the difficulty of roofing the pit. Very great care was necessary in storing the kumara, so susceptible was it to damp. A slight dampness, or bruise, or abrasion would cause these tubers to decay, and such decay was quickly communicated to surrounding tubers. Hence the crop was handled most carefully, each tuber being handled, manipulated, and stacked separately, nor was any earth allowed to adhere to them. A crop of kumara stacked in a pit store is the very height of elaborate neatness.

When, however, the Maori obtained the common potato he soon found it needed much less care in handling and storing, that it could be thrown carelessly into a basket, and poured out in a heap in the store; also that it might be kept for a considerable period in ordinary huts or elevated stores. The cultivation of the potato also demands much less labour and care, hence the decay of kumara cultivation.

It will be seen that the roof of a rua, or pit store, was not constructed as that of a house—it had neither rafters nor battens, save that in large ones the extra tahu on either side helped to support the roof, the covering resting on it as it does on the roof-battens of a house. The slabs or planks used to cover a pit store were of totara timber, if available, on account of its durability; they were known as oka when used for this purpose. They were placed close together, side by side, up and down the roof, simply laid on, and not secured in any way. Over this layer of slabs was laid in a similar manner a layer of turihunga, or flat-hewn slabs of various species of tree-ferns. The actual trunk of the tree-fern was not so utilized, but the slabs were hewn from the thick masses of aerial roots developed by certain species, more particularly by Dicksonia fibrosa. These are laid on the top of the wooden slabs, side by side, so as to break joints, but are not secured. Over these turihunga was laid a thick layer of thatch, of leaves of the toetoe kakaho (Arundo conspicua), laid on in overlapping layers, the whakapipi process—as in thatching a house-roof, save that in the case of the rua the thatch is not tied on. Strips of the bark of manuka (Leptospermum scoparium) or of totara (Podocarpus totara) were often used in place of the toetoe thatch. The bark so used in roofing pits and houses was the outer bark only of those trees; the inner bark was never so used by the Maori. The loose semi-detached outer bark was obtained by freeing a strip at the base of the tree, and then pulling the lower end outwards from the tree until it became detached far up the trunk, page 101and so fell to the ground. It was then folded up as one folds a piece of ribbon, and so formed into short compact bundles, which were confined by lashings of aka (pliant stems of climbing-plants). These bundles were then ready for transportation to the settlement, being carried on men's backs by means of shoulder-straps (kawe). This outer bark of these two trees is known as kiri amoko. Peeling this outer bark off does not kill or injure the tree as would the detaching of the inner bark, and in course of time another such layer of loose outer bark would be formed. To destroy the trees would be a pernicious process. The inner bark of the totara was used for some purposes, as in the construction of the curious vessels termed patua, but such material was obtained when a tree was felled for house-building or canoe-making purposes.

The next and final process in roofing the rua, or pit, was to cover the whole roof thickly with earth, including the ridge or summit; this earth being trampled down in order to solidify it, in time it came to grow herbage of divers species, which tended to retain the earth covering in position.

The tuarongo, or back of the rua, was also made of wooden slabs and turihunga, set up perpendicularly. As the store was essentially a pit store, it follows that the only part of the back end to enclose in this manner was the upper part—that triangular space above the level of the walls. Earth was then banked up against the rear end so as to quite conceal it. The front end of the rua was, however, a different proposition. Here the whole end was often to be closed in the same manner, save that a space had to be left for the door. The same material was used in constructing the front walls; and earth was piled up against the wall, and padded or compressed so as to form a broad-based wall outside the wooden wall.

The ridge-pole of these roofs was not quite horizontal, but raised a little higher at the back end of the house than at the front end. The object of this was to prevent any moisture collecting on the under-side of the ridge-pole dripping on to the stored tubers. Such moisture was sometimes produced by the warmth of these earth-covered pits; and when it so condensed and formed on the ridge-pole it ran down the slightly slanting timber to the front wall, and there descended. Such moisture was, however, but small in quantity, if any; but damp air could so escape. No aperture was left in the front wall, and when the door was closed the interior of the rua was in darkness. The two slabs set up as door posts or jambs were called whakawai, and a horizontal cross-piece was placed on the top of them. Across the upper part of the inner side of these jambs page 102was secured the perepere—a piece of board or plank with a notched edge—and against this the top of the door rested when closed. The notches in the edge of the board formed small apertures through which the damp air, or pumahu, is said to have escaped. These perepere were sometimes carved with such a pattern as kowhaiwhai, and sometimes adorned with pieces of bright-coloured paua, or Haliotis shell (ka tiwhaia ki te paua).

The door was composed of one or two planks. If two, they were placed edge to edge, and sewn together by means of passing a strong cord through holes bored through the planks near their edges. The door was about 4 ft. high, and wide enough to admit a large basket filled with tubers. This door was not swung or hung in any way, but was quite detached, and was lifted in and out of a groove at the bottom of the doorway, such groove being formed by securing two pieces of wood parallel to each other. When the pit was to be closed the bottom of the door was inserted in the groove, and the door pushed in between the door-jambs until its top came against the perepere. It was held in position by means of a peg jammed in between the edge of the door and one of the jambs, in many cases a small slot being cut out of the edge of the door-plank to receive the peg. Thus the door is jammed tightly in its upright position. (In some cases, says Tuta Nihoniho, the door of a rua was hung to one of the jambs by means of cords passed through holes bored in at the edge of the slab forming the door and others bored through the jamb. It swung on these cords somewhat awkwardly, and had often to be dragged or lifted in order to open it. It is by no means assured that this was a pre-European usage.)

A small roro, or porch-like extension of the roof, was often a feature of these rua; it would be about 3 ft. deep, and served to protect the face of the store and doorway from the weather. Posts (pou taumaihi) supported the taumaihi, or facing-boards of the gable. These boards were often carved (as in some cases were the outer sides of the planks composing the door) with such patterns as taowaru, manaia, or kowhaiwhai—that is, in the case of the more important rua, to which a special name was assigned. The roof of the porch was covered like the roof of the pit; in fact, it formed a part of the same roof, but it was not covered with heavy slabs, merely with bark and earth, the bark being supported by short battens, termed tatara.

In response to a request for further information on the above subject, our friend Nihoniho supplied the following:—

The door of a rua is in the middle of the front wall. The two whakawai, or door-jambs, are wide slabs, on top of which is placed page 103another wide hewn slab termed the epa. On the inner edge of this epa the perepere is attached, and extends right up to the tahu, or ridge-pole, which it touches. Thus, the door being in the middle, there is no pou tahu or post sunk in the ground to support the front end of the tahu (ridge-pole), its place being supplied (as in many of our structures) by a short upright extending from the epa to the under-side of the ridge-pole, the latter resting on it.

The epa and the two whakawai, or door-jambs, being wide hewn slabs, extend outwards for some distance, the whole looking like a wide shelf supported by two wide uprights, until the wall is finished. The whole of the front wall, on both sides of the door and over it, are now reinforced (outside the slabbing) with puddled earth—earth mixed with water and formed into a wall by a punching and patting process, as we ourselves construct a clay chimney in a bush hut. Above the door this clay is supported by the wide epa, or lintel.

To form the roro or veranda, which is practically a continuation of the roof of the rua, though constructed separately, posts are set up about 3 ft. in front of the front wall of the rua, and to these posts are secured two pairs of maihi, one pair about a foot above the other, with an open space between, the lower pair acting as rafters for the two sides. Short battens are laid horizontally, with one end on the lower maihi, the other on the roof of the main building, and on these battens the covering of the roof, consisting of bark, is laid. The space between the two sets of rafter-like maihi in front is then blocked by means of placing short rods of manuka in an upright position on the inside of the upper maihi (kaha runga) and the lower maihi (kaha raro), where they are secured. At the back of these are placed strips of bark to prevent the earth of the roof from falling through. The roof is then covered with earth, like that of the rua itself, and the porch protects the door and mud wall from the weather. In some cases a koruru, or carved wooden head, is placed at the junction of the two upper maihi. A little space, perhaps an inch, is left between the top of the door and the epa or lintel, and the perepere is fixed with its notched edge downwards so that the notches or open spaces are level with the open space above the door: thus a little ventilation is provided. It is from the points of this notched board that the tota or moisture drips, whenever it runs along the tahu and down the perepere.

The name of rua tahuhu was applied to the large pit stores only, some of which would hold an immense quantity of tubers. Such large stores were owned in common by many families, each having its own allotted portion of floor-space. A passage-way was left downpage 104the middle of the chamber, and the tubers were piled in carefully built stacks on both sides of such passage, each family's stack being termed a niho. The floor-space allotted to a whanau (family, or family group) was termed a tawaha.

Prior to stowing away the kumara crop, the floor of the rua was covered thickly with dry manuka brush and fronds of rarauhe (Pteris aquilina), the same material being placed along the walls so as to prevent the tubers coming into contact with the earth. In commencing to store the season's crop, the stacking of the tubers in a rua was commenced at the inner end or back of the pit, where a niho, or stack, was made in the right-hand corner. Then one was made in the left-hand back corner, and so on, building out towards the front of the pit. Even in small pit stores the tubers were piled in separate stacks, although the stacks were close together, so that a stack might be all used ere another was commenced. When stacked by an adept all sides of each stack were vertical, and the stacks needed no side support whatever. In the large rua tahuhu each family built its own niho, or stack, on its own tawaha, or division of the pit, entirely independent of those of its neighbours. No partitions were erected, but each family niho was stacked up with vertical sides and face, and as deep as the space between the pit-wall and the central passage. Such a depth might be 4 ft., 6 ft., or 8 ft., and the height about 5 ft.; the width depending upon that of the tawaha, which might be regulated by the number of persons in the whanua (see above). But although the stacks are piled separately, so that each could stand alone, yet no space is left between them, lest rats enter therein and work havoc. When stacking the tubers every endeavour was made to close any hole therein by which a rat might enter, small-sized tubers being inserted into such apertures. All this was with the view of compelling any raiding rat to attack the outside of the stack, where the damage wrought would soon be detected. When a stack was removed the neighbouring one stood intact, without crumbling down.

In stacking the tubers, each one was lifted separately and placed in position, the operation being described by the word whakapipi. The niho were, as a rule, about 3 ft. in width, and, in the smaller pit stores, would not be more than 3 ft. to 4 ft. deep—i.e., from wall to passage-way.

The smaller rua, made for the use of one family, were not termed rua tahuhu. The space immediately inside the doorway of these smaller rua, on both sides, was termed the kerepeti, whereat were stored the finest and largest tubers specially selected in the sorting, and which were kept for distinguished visitors. Back of this space page 105the bulk of the crop was stored. In rua tahuhu no kerepeti was used, but each person sorted out his tubers and placed the large ones together so as to be accessible when required. The process of sorting the kumara was termed kopana or mahiti (ka mahititia nga kumara rarahi, ka kopanatia nga kumara pakupaku). The very small kumara, termed takora, were not stacked, but put aside for immediate use. Very diminutive tubers, mere root-like items about as thick as a lead-pencil, called hekerau, are, as a rule not used, but thrown out to pigs.

Small enclosures, such as divisions in a potato-store, are termed pakorokoro.

The rua tatara was so called from the manner in which its contents were protected from rats. The pit was of the dug-out type with a inverted v shape roof over it, and excavated on the edge of a terrace or hillside. At a little distance away a ditch, perhaps 30 in. deep, was dug round it. Then, on the inner side of the ditch, a series of short stakes were stuck in the earth so as to project out over the ditch in a horizontal position, but not too far. On the top of these sticks sheets of bark were laid, on which was put a layer of earth. Rats getting into the ditch and climbing up the inner side thereof were unable to pass the roof-like tatara, as the above-described protection was termed. Thus the rats were unable to approach the store-pit.

Archdeacon Williams gives tatara, pointed pegs placed horizontally in the eaves of a rua kumara to keep out rats.

The well-like pits or holes made in the ground and entered from above through a trap-door are termed rua kopiha among the Ngati-Porou Tribe, but they were not much used by those folk. They are used for potatoes as well as for kumara. These underground chambers were sometimes square, sometimes round. Short ladders were used as a means of descending into them.

To cover a rua kopiha four short wide pieces of slab were laid at the edges of the square entrance-hole, placed so as to slope downwards away from the entrance. Then a very wide slab was laid over these, so as to cover the entrance-hole. Rain-water runs off this on to the sloping pae or border-slabs, off them on to the ground, a small ditch being formed in the earth round the pit to run such waters off. The expression rua kopia, occasionally seen, should be rua kopiha.

The kumara was always stored in these pit stores, never in an ordinary hut or pataka (elevated storehouse), as they would not keep in the two latter structures, but would soon decay. Natives say that it is the warmth of the pits that preserves the tubers. Of course, some might be placed in a pataka for immediate use.

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The store-pits were never fenced in in former times, for there was no animal that could molest them except the rat, which gave a good deal of trouble. In some cases a rua tahuhu, or the smaller ones of similar form, had their walls lined with turihunga, or slabs of tree-fern, in which case no rat could enter. When not so lined, rats sometimes burrowed through the earth and entered the pit.

The space within a rua tahuhu between the front wall and the central-ridge-post (or first of the intermediate posts) is termed the moana.

Owners of a rua often inspected its contents to see if there was anything wrong that might cause decay, such as waitau, or moisture, that sometimes was seen collected on the ridge-pole. On fine bright days the door was often left open until the sun went off it. If any moisture dripped on to the kumara it would cause them to decay.

In the case of rua or semi-subterranean stores being made in level land, the ground would be so manipulated as to slope away from the store in all directions, so as to run off all storm-waters, also a porch would protect the entrance of the store.

In some cases, when a man had stacked his crop of tubers in his pit store, he would obtain the services of an adept to recite over it certain charms to prevent the decay of his stored food products, and to slay or render demented any person who entered the pit to steal its contents. Also, when a man left his house for some time, he might secure the door of his store-pit in some peculiar way in order to detect any interference with it, or he might so charm it that if a thief entered it he would at once become demented, and would wander about shouting "Kumara! Kumara! Kumara!" Says Tuta, "I saw many persons so afflicted in my youth." In tying the door-fastening of a store the final knot made with the cord was sometimes a very complicated one. In the case of a store being plundered, when not protected by the dread arts of black magic, the owner would obtain the services of a tohunga, or shaman, who performed a certain rite at the plundered place that would render the thief demented wherever he might chance to be, and he also would wander around the hamlet calling out the word "kumara," or such a sentence as "Naka tonu aku kumara, kumara, kumara."

It sometimes occurred that caves were formed in cliffs, with a door fixed at the entrance, to serve as storage-places for kumara.

It might happen that a man had a quantity of tubers to store for which he had no storage-room, in which case he made a tawaero, as it was termed. He formed a raised foundation of earth in a circular form, about 1 ft. high at the edge but hollow in the middle. A layer page 107of dry manuka brush and rushes was laid on this, and then the kumara were carefully stacked up on this foundation in the form of a solid cone, coming to a point at the top. Dry manuka brush was then placed round and against it, then a layer of toetoe leaves, after which earth was heaped up against it all round so as to cover it. At the base of the foundation a small ditch was made to carry off storm-waters.

Mohi Turei, of Ngati-Porou, speaks of the rua tawaero as though it were a shallow circular pit lined with toetoe leaves, and the heap of kumara covered with a thatch of the same material. Such a heap of kumara is termed a rua whakatoke, but if potatoes are so stored it is termed a rua tawaero. Such a shallow basin-like pit was made on rising ground, as on the top of a knoll, if convenient. The rua tawaero was sometimes made of an oblong form.

In Major Heaphy's account of his exploring trip down the west coast of the South Island he describes the method adopted by his native companion for preserving provisions from the destructive rat: "To outwit his old enemies the rats, Kehu buried the provisions, nicely lining the hole with bark, covering the place over with ashes—a proceeding which we certainly should not have decided upon for security against burrowing animals, but which he knew was effective."

The rua kaupapa is not a pit, but the name is applied to a heap of kumara or potatoes piled up on the surface and covered with earth, having no erection over or around it. Cf. koputu.

In his district, says Tuta, taro was not stored in the above-described store-pits, but in holes dug in the ground some 2 ft. or 3 ft. in depth, in which the taro were placed, then covered over with a layer of tutu leaves, and those again with a gravelly soil. The leaves decayed, and had some effect in preserving the crop—that is, in keeping them damp. Taro decayed if stored in too dry a place.

The rua-roa was a tunnel-like hole driven into a hillside, the entrance thereto being fitted with a door. In some cases short branch tunnels or drives were made from the main drive. Should the material be inclined to slip or cave at any spot, it was confined by means of lagging, termed takitaki-a-manu. These store-places were used in olden days, and were often quite dry. Cliffs composed of an indurated form of pumice were favoured places for such stores. The edible roots of Pteris aquiline, termed aruhe, were often placed in such a pit, and covered with earth to prevent them becoming too dry.

The rua kopiro was a pit in the ground into which water was conducted, and in which hinau berries were steeped, and, in later times, maize.

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Such are the notes supplied by Tuta Nihoniho concerning the modes of storage in excavated pits on the east coast of the North Island, and it is the most detailed and satisfactory description we have received. Our informant has ever displayed a keen interest in our Bulletin work, a strong desire to put such matter on record, and a wondrous patience in explaining details to a dense-witted member of an alien race.