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The Coming of the Maori

[the village centre]

Each family household required essential buildings for sleeping, cooking, and storing food. The sleeping house (whare puni) served as a dormitory for the entire family and was built to shut out the cold air. The cooking house (whare umu) sheltered the shallow oven pit (umu) with its pile of cooking stones, cover mats, and other utensils. Its end walls were more open than those of the sleeping house to allow the escape of smoke. It could be used by slaves and menials for sleeping but not by the family.

When the family expanded to include a number of households, an assembly house (whare hui) was needed to accommodate the increased number at family conclaves and to lodge visitors. This usually took the form of a larger sleeping house (whare puni) which served two purposes. In the daytime, the meetings were held in the open space before the house; in bad weather and at night, within it. Hence the saying,

Ko Tu ki te awotea, ko Tahu ki te po.
Tu in the daytime, Tahu in the evening.

Tu refers to the war god Tu, for virile speeches with active movements on the feet and war dances of welcome were exchanged outside, and Tahu (to light) personified the milder and quieter reception within the lighted house at night. The establishment of a guest house and a marae plaza before it marked the growth of family strength and prestige.

In the old-time fortified villages, the various families had their establishments arranged on the different terraces. The highest ranking chief had the privilege of occupying the topmost flat, and ample space had to be provided for the marae before his guest house. To maintain his prestige, his guest house was the largest and best carved in the village. The significance of the carved guest house (whare whakairo) is brought out in the story of Taharakau.

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Taharakau was a chief who lived in the Poverty Bay area and who excelled at repartee. He visited a chief of high rank who, for some error, was living in a poorly constructed house out in the wilderness. Jade has always been a chiefly possession, and the exile had a bunch of jade cloak pins (aurei) attached to the shoulder border of the cloak he was wearing. Shrugging his shoulder so that the jade ornaments jingled, he asked, "Taharakau, what are the signs of chieftainship?" Taharakau, ignoring the sound meant to prompt his reply, answered,

He whare whakairo i tu ki roto i te pa tuwatawata!
Te whare i tu kt te koraha, he kai na te ahi.
A carved house standing in a fortified village!
The house standing in the open is food for the fire.

After the acceptance of Christianity and its gospel of peace, the villages moved down from the fortified hills to the more accessible flats but the arrangement of family units and the central carved guest house with its assembly marae followed the established pattern.

The guest house, carved or uncarved, served various social needs and various names were applied to the one structure. Structurally it was an enlarged sleeping house (whare puni). If carved, it was also a whare whakairo. It functioned variously as an assembly house (whare hui), a council chamber (whare runanga) and a guest house (whare manuhiri). As the prestige of the village as well as that of the chief was gauged somewhat by the meeting house, no effort or expense was spared in employing master craftsmen to expend their greatest skill in carving the various parts. The meeting houses formed the social focus of the tribe, hence they were generally named after tribal ancestors. When the people assembled within its walls for tribal discussions, the orators were justified when they said, "We have gathered together within the bosom of our ancestor." The carved meeting houses were a source of pride to the people and they gave an atmosphere to the village that nothing else could equal.

The term marae was applied to the plaza before the guest house. In the cultural development which took place in New Zealand, the meeting house and the marae became complementary to each other and one could not function adequately without the other. People were welcomed with speech, song, dance, and food on the marae in the daytime and were further welcomed, entertained, and lodged within the house at night. In many important villages, the marae received an individual personal name, Te Papaiouru before the carved meeting house of Tamatekapua at Ohinemutu, for example. The prestige of a marae was sometimes built up to such a height that people of inferior rank were not allowed to deliver speeches on them.

page 375

Inasmuch as the welcome by speech on the marae had to be followed by a welcome with food, the marae could not maintain its prestige unless it was supported by storehouses plentifully stocked with food. Thus the storehouses formed a third element in the complex which administered to the social needs of the tribe, maintaining and increasing its reputation with outside people. In addition to household stores it was necessary to have a reserve supply to assist in the extra demands made by tribal gatherings and, above all, by the entertainment of visitors. The home people could live upon scanty rations in times of scarcity, but visitors had to receive the best or shame enveloped the community. Thus social gatherings which involved invitations to outside tribes were arranged to fit in with the time when the storehouses were full, and outside tribes arranged ceremonial visits to coincide with the local seasons of plenty. However, the storehouses had to be ever ready to deal with emergencies, such as deaths. In addition to the family storehouses, the chief had a special storehouse on piles (pataka) which was often more elaborately carved than the guest house. It was the symbol of hospitality and was often given a proper name. The storehouse of Te Heuheu of Tokaanu was named Hinana, and because it was always stocked with preserved pigeons (huahua) from the inland forests and with dried whitebait (inanga) from the inland sea of Lake Taupo, the following saying was applied to it:

Hinana ki uta, Hinana ki tat.
Hinana inland, Hinana to the sea.

The marae, the guest house, and the storehouse formed a triple complex by which the social prestige of a tribe rose or fell.