Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Forest Lore of the Maori

Tree Dwellings

Tree Dwellings

We are sometimes asked as to whether the Maori was a tree-dweller; did he, for any purpose, build dwelling huts in tree-tops, such as are seen in parts of New Guinea? This tree-dwelling was never a Maori custom; we merely hear of a very few isolated cases in which a single family or a few refugees have so lived far above ground. A weak party so situated could not hold out if their enemies could spare the time to surround and besiege them. In his Manners and Customs of the New Zealanders (1840) J. S. Polack tells us of a refugee folk having lived in tree-built huts for some time near Opotiki. In Taylor's Te Ika a Maui we are told of other tree-dwellers seen on the slopes of Mt. Egmont by some fowlers of the long ago; they formed a small party of refugees, and all were speedily slain, and absorbed. In John White's unpublished Ms. matter is another brief statement that, in olden days, some tree-dwelling folk had their home in the forest inland of Ketemarae, near Normanby. Each man of the tree-dwelling folk is said to have had many wives. In the same Ms. collection is another account of tree-dwellers at Puke-ronaki, on the slopes of Mount Egmont. These three notes probably referred to one such occurrence, if indeed there is any truth in them. The last-mentioned account, attributed to Ngati-Ruanui, is to the effect that certain fowlers engaged in seeking kiwi on the eastern slopes of the mountain came upon the tree-dwellings. These were huts erected on platforms constructed among the branches of trees, the means of access consisting of rude ladders. The forest settlement was, we are told, surrounded, the men thereof were slain and the women enslaved. They were a people of short stature and like the original folk of Taupo, unwarlike and so by no means formidable.

Many years ago I was told of another party of tree-dwellers of the Muaupoko tribe, a small community of pre-European times that page 36dwelt in huts built on platforms secured to the branches of three lofty white-pine trees standing at the Whakahoro clearing, near where the present village of Manakau now is. The object of this arboreal hamlet is said to have been to escape the attention of raiding bands, hence piles of stones were kept on the platforms with a view to discouraging such roaming gentry. One would suppose that the rugged, forest-clad ranges nearby would have been a safer refuge.

In a paper on the Ngati-Huarere folk Mr. G. Graham alludes to what were apparently other tree dwellers at Moehau, Hauraki district. See Journal of the Polynesian Society, Vol. 32, p. 41. "Ngati-Huarere had gone into the far recesses of Moehau forests, and there built a series of dwellings in the trees at Pukekauri; their home is still called Pa-kauri." The retreat of these refugees was at last discovered through their visiting the coast to procure shellfish.