School holidays in the pā

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School holidays in the pā

20 March 2014

At Rotorua’s Te Puia these school holidays, manuhiri (visitors) can step back in time and experience what Māori life might have been like to live in a pā (village) setting during pre-European times.

Pikirangi Māori Village is in the process of being restored, providing a unique opportunity for tamariki (children) and whānau (families) to watch this work in progress, with the handcrafting of traditional Māori whare (houses). In keeping with tradition, the original whare-ponga (houses made from ponga trees) are being replaced with whare built from mānuka trees and a range of natural fibres, bringing greater authenticity to the pā.

As well as the restoration work, an area is also being prepared for the installation of a miniature carved whare which has recently returned from Germany. The miniature was originally carved by the New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute (NZMACI) for the Museumsuferfest and Frankfurt Book Fair in October 2012 to promote New Zealand and Māori culture.

A grass area is also planned for tamariki to bring a sense of fun to the pā. This area will see the installation of moari (traditional Māori swings) and other activities, keeping as close to tradition as possible.

The restoration work is being completed by Dion Maurirere, a student in NZMACI’s Te Takapū o Rotowhio (National Stone and Bone Carving School), which is providing support. The school focuses on an array of indigenous materials and elements of traditional material culture. Dion is also being assisted by Ngāti Hikairo - a hapū (sub-tribe) of Ngāti Tūwharetoa – as well as the on-site Te Wānanga Whakairo Rākau (National Wood Carving School) and Te Puia staff.

Dion was brought up in the bush, pig hunting with his father, where they would build small wharepuni (sleeping houses) to stay in for days at a time. He now spends his weekdays in Pikirangi, making the most of his skills and weaving some magic back into the pā by returning to the ‘old ways’.

Manuhiri are welcome to ask Dion questions about the construction of the whare, like the reason for the roof’s overhang, why the entrance door is kept small, and more.

“At the back of the whare, there’s a secret exit covered by harakeke (flax) for a quick escape – our tīpuna (ancestors) sometimes dug tunnels from inside the whare to the outside of the palisades and would often fool intruders,” says Dion.

Tamariki and their whānau can go inside the whare and try out the secret exit, take photos and check out the views of the geyser terrace. The pā also includes a pātaka (storehouse), old waka (canoe), traditional hangi pits (earth ovens) and drying racks.

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