This is a story from our monthly newsletter, Heritage this Month.
Niki Partsch | Arowhena, South Waikato
The recent conservation clean of Hoturoa, a 135-year-old whare tupuna standing at Aotearoa Marae, involved one of our most seasoned Māori Built Specialists and one of the newest.
Opened in 1888, the striking black and white painted whare tupuna (ancestral house) was named by King Tawhiao for the tohunga and captain of the Tainui waka. Rangikatua is the name of the whare moe. The people of Aotearoa Pā are Raukawa ki Wharepūhunga.
Jasmine Hemi Poārahi Tautiaki Taonga and Jim Schuster Senior Pouārahi Māori Built Heritage were called in to assess the condition of Hoturoa, and found some issues related to moisture and mould. In Jim’s words, this wharenui, “needs a bit of work.”
Mya Dixon, who has recently joined the team as Mātauranga Māori Pou Taituarā, had the opportunity to work alongside Jim and Jasmine. As this is a large whare, the task ahead of them was quite extensive. Working at height, from scaffolding and ladders, they cleaned all the kaho paetara (purlins), heke (rafters), the tāhuhu (ridge beam), pou tokomanawa (central poles) and kākaho (toetoe stems) that line the ceiling. During the cleaning, the team shifted any kākaho that had dropped out of place and removed the frayed sheaths. “This mahi was very satisfying. Our cleaning allowed us to reveal the true colours of the kōwhaiwhai and kākaho,” says Jasmine.
"It's not every day that you get to spend time up-close with a wharenui. From the kōwhaiwhai details to the kākaho craftsmanship, it was gratifying to see the project brought back to its original form. I was also privileged to learn from not only Hoturoa, but Jim and Jasmine, who welcomed my curiosity and eagerness by holding space for me to listen, understand and engage throughout the project. Their wisdom imparted a strong sense of responsibility and pride in preserving the traditions for future generations," says Mya.
Hoturoa was carved by Ngāti Raukawa carvers Te Motu Heta and Hokowhitu McGregor. An interesting feature of this whare is the huge, exaggerated eyes of the whakairo (carvings). These eyes are a recognisable design characteristic of the two carvers.
The ceiling is still insulated with raupō, a native bulrush that grows mostly around the shallow edges of lakes and swampy areas. Once harvested and dried, raupō stems are bundled together and placed into ceiling and wall spaces to keep warmth in.
Kākaho are the upright stems of toetoe and are usually positioned behind the slats with timber slats on top. Some of the tukutuku of Hoturoa have been used as the front and back elements on some panels, while others have a modern pegboard base with kākaho on top. It is uncommon for kākaho to be used as the kaho tarai (horizontal slats) at the front of the panel.
After this thorough clean, the next step is to continue supporting the marae by providing advice about minimising the presence of moisture within the wharenui.
The team were able to complete the conservation clean and repairs in time for the 135th anniversary of the whare held beneath beautiful blue skies on 9 December 2023.