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The Coming of the Maori

The Family Sleeping House

The Family Sleeping House

The whare puni varied in size. Those in the Tuhoe country described by Firth (39) were 13 and 14 feet long and 10 feet wide. The ridgepole (tahuhu), trapezoidal in cross section, was supported by two ridgeposts (pou tahuhu) 10 feet high, the front post being erected a few feet short of the front end of the ridgepole. The wall posts (pou) were 3 to 4 feet high and 1 foot wide and they were spaced 2 to 3 feet apart. The rafters had the lower ends cut to a tenon which fitted into a slot on the upper ends of the wall posts, the tenons projecting outwards for some inches to form eaves. The upper ends rested on the ridgepole. End posts (epa) were spaced in the back wall and graduated in length with the upper ends cut obliquely to coincide with the angle of the roof. Similar posts were included in the front wall which was in line with the front ridge-post. The side walls and rafters were continued to the front end of the ridgepole thus forming an open porch termed mahau. Small battens were placed between the wall posts and cross battens between the upper ends of the wall posts took the place of the wall plates which are present in Polynesian houses. In the Tuhoe houses, horizontal planks between the wall posts took the place of the reed ornamentation of the superior guest houses. Barge-boards (maihi) 10 inches wide were faced along the front edge of the front rafters and supported near the lower ends by vertical boards or slabs which projected above the upper edge of the barge-boards. The upper ends of the barge-boards met in a vertical join to form the gable apex and a carved figure (tekoteko) was usually fitted over the page 122join and projected upwards. Facing outwards, the door opening was on the right of the front ridgepost and a rectangular window opening was on the left. The door and window frames were solidly made, especially the sill (paepae) of the doorway. Both openings were provided with sliding wooden slabs. Horizontal purlins (Kaho) were laid on the rafters about 12 to 18 inches apart. No mention is made as to how the purlins were kept in place. Layers of raupo were laid over the Kaho purlins and long strips of totara bark were used for the outer layer of thatch. Bark strips were doubled over the ridgepole to overlap the upper layers of thatch on each side. The bark thatch was kept down by horizontal poles a foot apart, which were lashed to the purlins.

The walls were backed with raupo or with fern-tree slabs and perpendicular slabs of wood formed the outer wall against which earth was heaped to further keep in the heat. The floor space was sunk to from a few inches to two feet before building commenced. The use of totara bark for thatch and wooden slabs for the outer walls was characteristic of a forest tribe in whose territory good timber was plentiful.

In other districts, the whare puni sometimes ranged from 20 to 30 feet in length with a corresponding increase in width. The longer ridgepoles required a middle ridgepost (pou-tokomanawa). The outer layer of thatch consisted of toetoe leaves and the walls were thatched with thick layers of raupo without any outer wooden walls. The walls were sometimes lined with kakaho reeds but without cross stitch designs. The only carving was a tekoteko human figure at the front gable apex but occasionally the foot of the middle ridgepost was carved in human form.

A passage way was defined by wooden scantlings pegged in position. A small fireplace in the passage was defined by imbedding flat stones on edge. Between the passage and the walls, fern was spread for bedding. The fern was covered with coarse flaxen mats which were covered with finer mats (takapau) when the house was occupied. No window opening was allowed in the back wall until recent times. With the door and window closed the house was sealed (puni) and hence its specific name of whare puni.