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Browse the 1966 Encyclopaedia of New Zealand
Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.



The Maoris

For centuries after their arrival in New Zealand the Maoris lived in isolation and gradually adapted themselves to the new environment. But, as Aotearoa was much colder than their former Polynesian homes, of necessity their material arts changed and developed. Warm clothing and houses were needed; new techniques were evolved for weaving flax fibres into garments and for erecting large plank-built houses. The materials and construction of their houses varied with the locality and type of dwelling. It is not possible to classify houses according to function, except that, in general, the functions of meeting, sleeping, cooking, and food storage were expressed separately in variations of three basic shapes–the rectangular, circular, and the oval. The whare runanga, the assembly or meeting house, always conformed to a rectangular, simple, thatched, gable-roofed form, with deep front verandah that provided shelter from the wind and rain. Facing the marae or open meeting space, this whare was the embodiment of the tribal community. As in all primitive architecture, sculpture formed an integral part of the building; the structural form and the decoration, applied pattern or carved legend, were expressed as a rhythmic, unified whole. Magnificently carved wall panels and tall posts supported the painted roof structure–wall plates, continuous ridge beam, and bold rafters. In the main the materials available were skilfully and imaginatively used with great craftsmanship; the plan and structure of the building were physically functional, even psychologically and spiritually functional in an intrinsically architectural way that our present day buildings seldom are. The whare and the pa were genuine cultural expressions of the community life of the Maori people. They had little influence on European immigrants, but there is now a revaluation of the Maori heritage by younger present-day architects in search of roots based on a national building tradition. This has aroused an awareness of similar “tent and cave” architectural ideas.