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The Coming of the Maori

The Carved Meeting House

The Carved Meeting House

The whare whakairo formed the peak of Maori architectural development and, as every tribe had its expert builders, many differences occurred in technical details and in the terms applied to the various parts. The building technique, as practised by the Ngati Porou, has been described in detail by Williams (105) and yet Ngata (56), of the same tribe, was able to point out some significant differences or alternatives. Best (16, Vol. 2, p. 558) also contributed additional details and Phillipps (58, 59) made recent surveys of the carved houses existing in certain districts.

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The carved houses were 60 feet and more in length and the wooden framework was consequently much more solid than in the smaller whare puni. The house named Hotunui from the Thames district and now in the Auckland Museum is 80 feet long, 24 feet high, 33 feet wide, and the included porch is 12 feet long. The following description of the Ngati Porou technique is taken mostly from Williams. See Plate II.

The floor space was cleared and the ground plan after being squared to the required measurements was marked with corner pegs. The back ridgepost (pou tuarongo) and the front ridgepost (pou tahu) were half tree trunks which were carved with human figures on the convex side. They were erected with the carved surfaces turned inwards. The ridge-pole was a massive piece of timber formed of one piece for the entire length of the house and was dressed to form a low isosceles triangle in cross section. It was laboriously raised to the tops of the ridgeposts by the help of an inclined scaffold and supporting struts. The flat base surface, sometimes two feet wide, rested on the ridgeposts and was fixed in position by wooden pegs driven from each side into the tops of the ridgeposts or sometimes lashed to eyes. The front ridgepost was slightly higher than the back one to allow smoke to pass forward to escape through an opening in the front wall under the ridgepole. The ridgepole projected some feet beyond the front ridgepost to support the roof over an open porch. The heavy ridgepole was supported in the middle by temporary struts which were later replaced by a middle ridgepost (pou tokomanawa) or sometimes two. This ridgepost was more slender than the other two and usually squared in part. The lower end was more massive and it was carved into a human figure which represented an ancestor supporting the roof on his head.

The side walls (tara, pakitara) were supported by wall posts (poupou) of wide, thick slabs from one to three feet in width and three to nine inches in thickness. The outer surface was flat and the inner surface slightly convex and carved in human forms named after ancestors. The spaces between posts were a little wider than the posts. The lower ends were imbedded in the ground with a slight inward lean to counteract the outward thrust of the rafters. The height above the floor was usually under six feet but Williams (105, p. 147) states that they varied to make the pitch of the roof about 30 degrees. Ngata (56, p. 86) states that the posts in the middle of the wall were higher than those at the ends and it was regarded as an error if all were made of the same height. The edges of each post were rebated from behind and the upper ends were cut to form semicircular grooves (rua-whetu) but according to Best (16, Vol. 2, p. 563) square grooves (waha paepae) were also made. The wall posts were buttressed from the outside with split timber (hirinaki) set in the ground and slanting upwards to be lashed to eyes near the upper page 124ends of the wall posts. The wall posts were arranged at equal spaces apart to correspond with those on the opposite side and the number was odd for both the house interior and the porch.

Upper battens (kaho paetara) were placed between adjoining posts and lashed to holes in the corners of the upper ends of the posts. Best (16, Vol. 2, p. 565) states that a light plank (kaho matapu) was secured to the upper ends of the posts on the outer side. The stout wall plate of Polynesia was absent. Skirting boards (papaka) closed in the bottom of the spaces between the wall posts. They were rebated in front at the ends so as to fit against the back rebate on the edges of the wall posts. Similar boards were placed between the epa uprights in the front and back walls.

The back wall (tuarongo) was formed of spaced vertical slabs (epa) resembling the wall posts but with oblique upper ends graded on each side of the rear ridgepost to coincide with the pitch of the roof. The height was fixed by a board (heke tipi) placed on edge and extending from the top of the rear ridgepost to the top of the corner wall post. Each epa was lashed to the lower edge of the board and their number on each side of the ridgepost ranged from three to five according to the width of the house.

The front wall (roro, apai) was formed on the line of the front ridgepole and had epa uprights like the rear wall but they were cut to form openings for the door and the window.

The rafters (heke) were formed of dressed timber, slightly curved upwards particularly towards the lower ends which were trimmed to form a tenon (teremu) that would fit into the grooves on the upper ends of the wall posts. The rafters were not placed in position until the wall posts had been given time to settle in the ground. The rafters were paired with opposite wall posts, the tenon of the lower ends fitted into the wall post grooves, the upper ends laid on the sloping sides of the ridgepole and lashed together over the ridgepole. Williams (105, p. 149) states that in some cases, they were lashed to a lighter beam (tahu-iti) which lay along the main ridgepole. The term tahu-iti means small ridgepole to distinguish it from the main ridgepole or tahu. Ngata (56, p. 87) states that in many cases there were two tahu-iti, the principal one being put on after the rafters were lashed across the ridgepole. The other tahu-iti was really a thatch batten which was put on after the thatching to keep the toetoe thatch in position and hence it was called tatami (to press down). The rafters corresponding with the front wall, and the wall posts on which they rested, were split as it were by the wall so that half was in the interior and the other half in the porch. The full rafters in the interior and in the porch with their corresponding wall posts were odd in number for an even number was regarded as an ill omen that would bring disaster.

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I once took Hori Pukehika, a master builder from Whanganui, to see the Hotunui house in the old Auckland Museum. We entered the house and I was prepared to take notes from an expert. Hori gazed upwards and I could see that he was counting the rafters. A look of supreme disgust came over his face and he walked abruptly out of the building. The number of rafters was even. I told Mr. Cheeseman, the Director, about the error and he informed me that in re-erecting the house it was found to be too long for the space available in the Museum and so the building was cut short by leaving out three rafters and their wall posts which were kept in storage. Thus Hori's poor opinion of the original builders was due to pakeha adaptation to available space. Had two or four rafters been omitted, the principle of odd numbers would not have been violated.

Fig. 12. Frame section, Maori meeting house (after Hamilton, 46, p. 122).

Fig. 12. Frame section, Maori meeting house (after Hamilton, 46, p. 122).

The section of the frame at the median ridgepost is shown in Figure 12. Horizontal battens or purlins (kaho) were laid on the rafters in an even number on each side and evenly spaced. The highest was contiguous with the ridgepole and the lowest with the upper battens between the wall posts. These received the specific names of kaho patu. According to Ngata (56, p. 87), the purlins varied in thickness, the kaho patu being the thinnest and the middle purlins the thickest. The purlins were kept temporarily in position by cords termed kaumahaki passing over the ridgepole between the rafters. According to Williams (105, p. 149), these were replaced by permanent ropes termed tataki which were knotted around each purlin at the back of each rafter, passed over the ridgepole, and the ends made fast to the backs of the wall posts. This curious method of suspending the purlins was described with further detail by Best (16, Vol. 2, p. 565). He states that the rope was made from leaves of the Cordyline australis as great strength was required. It was plaited in the flat style termed whiri papa and was called tauwhenua, a synonym page 126evidently of the Ngati Porou tatakt. The lower end was secured to a buttress (pou matua, hirinaki), a double turn was made around each purlin from below upwards, the rope passed over the ridgepole, and double turns made around the purlins on the other side from above down. The rope was strained taut by a stout pole lever termed mimiro, which was planted with its lower end at the base of the buttress corresponding with the rafter on which the rope had descended. A short rope was tied to the lever and to the suspensory rope. Leverage was obtained by pulling on the upper end of the pole. The upper ends of the rafters had been rebated to prevent them from riding over the ridgepole when the strain was applied. The strain on the rope clamped the rafters home on the wall
Fig. 13. Purlin fixation.a, Maori concealed rope suspension; b, Polynesian direct lashing;c, Maori back rafter.

Fig. 13. Purlin fixation.
a, Maori concealed rope suspension; b, Polynesian direct lashing;
c, Maori back rafter.

posts and the ridgepole and the free end of the suspensory rope was made fast to the corresponding buttress. The suspensory rope was concealed from the interior of the house by the rafters behind which it ascended and descended. Compare this method of suspending the purlins (Fig. 13a) with the Polynesian method (Fig. 13b) of lashing them to the rafters.

Ngata (56, p. 87) gives a different method of fixing purlins. He states that there was a small heke (rafter) at the back of the regular rafters termed heke tuarā (tuarā, back). It was above the purlins, and the reed lining and raupo thatch as well as the purlins were lashed to it (Fig. 13c). He notes that in Williams' description, the tataki rope took the place of the heke tuarā. However, no mention is made of how the back rafter was fixed in position. The back rafter is probably an earlier technique than the suspensory rope.

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The thatching of the roof was a complex process. It commenced with an inner lining of reeds formed of the dry flower stalks (kakaho) of toetoe (Arundo conspicua). They were of finger thickness and were lashed evenly to laths (karapi), spaced to correspond with the intervals between the roof purlins. The screens so formed were laid on the purlins with the laths uppermost and they were tied by a strip of flax carried diagonally across the purlin, up through the reeds, and over the lath. A second and sometimes third stitch was made at intervals of two inches and the process repeated at wider intervals. The inner surface of the roof was completely covered with straw-coloured, parallel reeds which hid inequalities in the subsequent thatch and formed a smooth background for the main rafters, which were painted with coloured designs.

The reed lining separated the first layer of thatch from the purlins but the karapi laths were now available to serve as thatch purlins. The first layer of raupo leaves termed tuahuri was laid over the reeds and tied to the karapi laths. A second layer of bundles of raupo was laid over the first by the process termed nati which is not explained. A layer of toetoe termed ara tuparu followed and then alternate layers of raupo and toetoe until the desired thickness was attained. The last layer of toetoe was termed ara whiuwhiu and the process of laying it was termed tapatu. After the first tuahuri layer, no mention is made of how the subsequent layers were attached. The term tapatu was applied to the ridge thatch in central Polynesia and it is likely that the Maori term meant that thatch was doubled over the ridge and kept down by tree fern slabs on either side. Williams states that an open lattice work of aka vines termed tatami was placed across the roof to prevent damage by the wind. Ngata has been quoted as applying the term tatami to a second, smaller ridgepole (tahu iti) which was laid over the thatch along the roof apex for a similar purpose. If the rafter-tenons extended some inches outside the wall posts, the thatch could be continued over them to form eaves (peru).

The side walls (pakitara) and the end walls were lined between the wall posts and between the epa uprights with kakaho reeds after the fashion of the roof. The reed panels were kept in position by battens lashed to sunken eyes in the back of the posts. The walls were finished off with thick vertical bundles of raupo attached to the horizontal battens on the outer side of the reed panels. The process was termed tupuni.

The front wall (roro, apai) was lined with reeds on the outer porch side as well as on the inner side. Some of the reeds were decorated with a spiral black band obtained by twining a strip of green flax in a wide spiral around individual reeds and exposing them to smoke. The exposed part was blackened but the covered part showed white on the removal of the flax.

Decorative wall panels (tukutuku) were formed by crossing the front page 128surface of the reed panels with narrow battens (kaho tarat), from one-half to an inch wide and working cross or single stitches over them. The stitching material was dyed and undyed strips of flax and kiekie, and yellow strips of pingao. The strips were passed backward and forward between the horizontal battens and the vertical reeds with a wooden needle termed au tuitui. The laths were usually stained black and sometimes red and alternated in groups. Sometimes dry stalks of bracken fern were used for the horizontal battens. The stitches in white, black, and yellow were arranged to form various geometrical patterns which were given distinctive names (86).

The doorway (whatitoka) was made in the front wall on the immediate right of the front ridgepole looking outwards. It was usually four feet high and two feet wide and was defined by four pieces: the sill or threshold (paepae), two side jambs (whakawae), and an upper cross piece (taupoki). The sill was a solid piece of timber 12 inches square in section and its length was a little over twice the width of the doorway. It had a median groove (toanga) on its upper surface for the sliding door. The jambs had a forward flange which was carved with human figures and sometimes the flat surfaces to the outer sides of the flange were also carved, usually with spiral motifs. The jambs were morticed into the sill at their lower ends. The left jamb was close to the front ridgepost. The right jamb was in two pieces, one on either side of the sill groove to allow the slide door to pass between them. The upper cross piece rested on the jambs behind the forward flanges. After the front wall thatch was applied, a carved lintel (korupe, pare) was rested on the upper ends of the forward flanges of the jambs and so completed a doorway that was unique in Polynesian art. The door (tatau) was a dressed slab, four feet high, two feet wide, and two inches thick and it was either carved or painted on the front surface. It slid to the right along the sill groove into a recess formed of horizontal battens to protect the wall thatch. When closed from the outside, it was tied with rope passing through a hole near the left edge; and from the inside, it was pegged. See Plate III.

The window (matapihi, mataaho, pihanga) was on the left side of the front ridgepole and was about two feet square. The window frame resembled that of the doorway, with grooved sill, carved jambs, and carved lintel. The window slab was carved or painted and slid to the left.

The window served for ventilation; but there is evidence that an opening, also termed pihanga, was made in the roof near the ridge and was covered with a small pitched roof like a louvre. It was not a constant feature but may have prevailed more in certain districts.

The porch (mahau) was a forward extension of the side walls and roof to cover the length of ridgepole which projected beyond the front wall for 10 to 12 feet. It was made a little less in width than the rest of page 129the house. The under surface of the ridgepole was carved whereas its course in the interior was painted. The porch opening was framed by two barge-boards, two upright supports, and a long outer threshold. The gable apex was ornamented with a carved figure.

The barge-boards (maihi) were wide planks which were dubbed out with a longitudinal flange (papawai) on the back near the lower edge. The flange rested on the front rafter and the barge-boards thus covered the front edge of the roof. The upper ends were cut obliquely so as to form a vertical join at the gable apex. They were supported near the lower ends by upright slabs termed amo which covered the front edges of the side walls. The barge-boards projected beyond the amo uprights and these parts termed raparapa were covered with pierced carving. The part between the amo uprights and the apex was carved on the lower third or half of the front surface and in some houses was completely covered with carving. Sometimes painted scroll designs were used. The amo upright also had a longitudinal flange near the inner edge for resting against the front wall posts. Some amo had the upper ends cut obliquely to fit under the barge-boards and others passed in front of the barge-boards to project upwards for a short distance. The uprights were also carved.

The outer threshold (paepae-kai-awha) was a solid slab about 18 inches high and 4 inches thick with the front surface carved. It was set on the ground and extended completely across the front of the porch between the amo uprights. It was the long threshold (paepae rod) as contrasted with the door threshold which was also termed the short threshold (paepae poto).

A carved head (koruru) was placed over the vertical join of the two barge-boards forming the gable apex. The head was provided with a deep vertical flange on its posterior surface which passed through an opening made for it and the part which projected behind the barge-boards was pierced with a horizontal hole for a wooden pin which kept it in position. Sometimes a complete human figure (tekoteko) was used instead of the koruru type and sometimes a combination took place in which the tekoteko stood on the head of the koruru. The tekoteko projected above the gable apex as a finial and it was usually named after an ancestor.

The front end of the ridgepole was supported by a ridgepost in the Hotunui house in the Auckland Museum, but this extra ridgepost was not usual.

The house interior was provided with a fireplace set in the middle passage and the furnishings were similar to that of the whare puni. The place of honour was the corner next to the window and guests usually slept on that side of the house while the opposite or right side (kopaiti) of the house was occupied by the home people who entertained their guests with speeches, song, and dance. When the house was not occupied, page 130the good sleeping mats (takapau) were rolled up and kept in a storehouse on piles.