Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 14, October 1970

[Te Pai O Hauraki - E]


At first sight, this Maori meeting-house near Paeroa, would hardly attract any attention, as it is hard to see from the road, and has no exterior decoration other than the familiar koruru at the apex of the bargeboards. A more detailed examination of the weather-board and iron-roofed building was made by investigators from the Waikato Historical Society. Permission from the custodian was obtained.

It is, of course, of the regular plan with veranda, (mahau) in front, door, (Kuwaha) to the left, and window (matapihi), to the right. Nothing remarkable about that - it was the interior thar that astounded the visitors. Nothing carved either - plain wall-slabs, (poupou), adzed smooth, alternating with reed-work, (tukutuku). In fact the only carving was the koruru of a most singular pattern, with a sort of double mouth or cleft tongue, and protruding eyes.

Each tukutuku panel has a slightly different design noticeable only on a closer inspection, but the whole blending in artistic conception. It was amazing to find the pattern picked out in red, yellow, and black still in the vivid colours apparently unfaded after many years. Reed-work is normally woven by the women with coloured flax, (harakeke), or kiekie on a backing of kakaho, the dried stems of the toetoe. That was the selected material for panels, and for the underneath lining of the ceiling, because it was somewhat fire resistant.

The wide poupou, in accepted practice, are leaning slightly inwards, and the curved faces of the rafters (heke), are mortised accurately to their tops and securely lashed into place, the whole bound tightly with aka vines out of sight. Scroll patterns, each one different, are picked out in black and white, and similar decoration is on the lintel, (pare), of the door, and (korupe) of the window. The door and window are of course, joiner's work over the original. The original threshold (paepae), seems an adaptation to suit the verandah floor during reconstruction.

What is remarkable about this particular wharepuni, is that it is of great age, about 1830, and was put together entirely without nails. It would seem that it was made soon after Hongi's raid and slaughter of Totara Pa in 1822. It might have been so urgently required that carving was dispensed with. We did learn that the Paiohauraki Wharepuni was once on another site nearer Thames, was moved up river on the left bank, then moved again across to the right bank, more central, and where it could be preserved.

The normal plan of a house such as this would be on a dirt floor covered with fern and mats, having a wide corridor up the centre .This divided the sexes, men and boys all one side, women and girls on the other. No food was ever allowed in the sleeping house. The far end, called tuarongo, consisted of slabs called epa, usually devoted to the tribal or family treasures on exhibition. This is the normal layout of today, but here we have a Maori constructed house, now so happily preserved with its sheathing of weather boards and corrugated iron roof. We can overlook the polished dance floor; electric light, and admire the spirit that has led the Maori people to retain this house as is. There is another far in the King Country originally built without nails, but in poor repair, hardly worth restoring not so old by any means. We must hand it to our Maori brethren for ingenuity in making use of natural materials in this land of forest and swamp.