Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Ngā Tohuwhenua Mai Te Rangi: A New Zealand Archeology in Aerial Photographs

Living in the Pā

Living in the Pā

The function of pā in the wider settlement pattern of a region or locality has been much debated. 18 The debate has been about whether the pā was a village for everyday living or a 'citadel' to which people went only when under threat. In times of threat, people may have gone either from an 'open' undefended settlement in a river valley or coastal plain to the pā on the hill country or at the edge of the terrace country, or they may have congregated there from more dispersed, smaller settlements, in the pattern described by de l'Horme in 1769 in Doubtless Bay. Some pā are clearly 'refuge' pā, being located far inland away from more closely settled areas. This pattern is common in Samoa or Hawaii; the relatively few fortifications there typically lie well inland from the page 58 coastal strip where the main population lived. In New Zealand such pā may have been a refuge for a hapū or whānau temporarily out of favour with more senior or powerful hapū of its iwi.

The size of pā varies greatly. Even where the actual boundaries can be determined, there may be obvious restrictions on the area. A cliffed hilltop would have been readily defended, but may have been uncomfortably small, or used only as a refuge for a wider settlement. Many pā are tiny (as small as 10 by 15 m) and have very restricted access to water. Would this have limited the number of people and the length of time they could stay in the pā? These factors have a bearing on the issue of whether pā were occupied from time to time when needed, or whether they were centres of settlement. What was the role of hilltop settlements as symbols of territorial occupation? We do not really know.

The number of people who may have lived in pā has proved to be controversial. Figures as high as 1,000 people have been offered for the very largest pā such as the Auckland volcanic cones. 19 On the other hand, the very small pā will have held social groups as small as a single whānau. The usual estimates based on measures of the size of pā (mainly the defended area) are probably too high. An added difficulty is that it is often difficult to determine just what is the extent of the pā. In the Bay of Plenty, it is common for there to be small pā, say 30 by 10 m in plan, which are clearly part of larger settlements. One hundred people packed into a pā of this size would have very little living space. In some cases, pā are obviously built or occupied with a 'concertina' effect in mind. There may be a central fortification in a system of ridges, with inner and outer fortifications. If the outer defensive line was broken through, the defenders could retreat to an inner line of defences. At the same time, running down the ridge towards the river, there will be a series of terraces extending over perhaps 400 m of ridge line. What is the function of these terraces— for houses, or gardens? Do the scarps (outer slopes) of the terrace represent additional defences?

A further difficulty lies in considerations of the fortified perimeter, the actual length of the defensive ditch and bank. How much work would it take to create a given length of such a ditch and bank? How much time did the inhabitants have to dig it? Was it all done in emergency conditions, or was it a more leisurely process? In emergencies, small numbers of people would explain quite large fortifications. More importantly, how much of the defensive perimeter had to have people behind it to be effective? What were the attacking tactics of their opponents? The answers to these questions are not known. Looking at the question more broadly, it is unwise to apply our modern levels of comfort, inability to withstand privation, and lack of sheer physical capacity for work and endurance to the people who built and occupied pā. In pre-European times, life could be very tough indeed. As a general rule, then, it is advisable to 'think small' when considering the numbers of people occupying any single fortification even if it appears to require large numbers.

Within the pā there would have been storage pits and houses. Communal open spaces ('marae') were apparently rare in pre-European sites, the only known examples being from a Waikato swamp pā 20 and a pā recorded in 1772 by the French on Moturua Island in the Bay of Islands, although smaller open areas are sometimes recognisable. 21 The surfaces of some pā are filled with closely spaced storage pits, suggesting that pā in some areas may function simply as defended foodstores. 22 Houses or more strictly house floors are relatively difficult to detect from the surface. 23 House floors are marked by shallow (less than 40 cm deep), rectangular depressions, and may be mistaken for storage pits in some cases. House floors tend to be more regular in their rectangular outline and have a distinctively flat bottom. In the central North Island, where they are common, the depressions are shallow, fairly large (5 by 3 m in plan), and have a distinctive rim around only three sides. The rim was an earth wall built against the exterior walls and beneath the low eaves of the house. The rimless side indicates the location of the porch. Such houses will show in aerial photographs if lighting and ground conditions are right.

From the 1830s there was a steep decline in Māori population and many hill country settlements were abandoned for the trading advantages of areas, generally flatlands, close to European anchorages and trading points. This was a far-reaching change in settlement pattern, but it has been too mechanically reported in some accounts. There was extensive pre-European settlement on flatland, for example, on the East Coast, and hills remained occupied after European contact. One hill pā known to have been occupied in the 1820s and 1830s, Rangihoua in the Bay of Islands, illustrated in chapter 16, appears not to have used its earlier pre-European fortifications, 24 but was still occupied because it was near page 59 a mission settlement. The technical detail of the debate about the use of hill country versus that of lowland settlement need not concern us here. 25 There is no reason why a mixture of such settlement was not possible with a different pattern, more dependent on lowland settlement, beginning at the time of initial European settlement in the 1830s. From that time, depopulation caused by disease, coupled with the advantages of trade in settlements accessible to the anchorages of European schooners and co-location with the rapidly growing European settlements, were powerful influences and few Māori settlements remained on hilltops.