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No. 36 (September 1961)
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Do the bushes on these paintings have special significance?


About ten miles out of Wairoa, on a road branching off the Waikaremoana-Wairoa highway, you will find the Rangiahua marae. This marae has a meeting-house and dining hall of which its owners must be very proud.

The meeting-house, Te Poho o Tamaterangi, was built in 1893. It is a particularly beautiful house, and a very unusual one. On the outside there is a certain amount of carving the ends of the barge-boards (or maihi) are carved, and so are the two main upright posts (amo). On the top of the house there is as usual a carved head (koruru), and above it is a figure brandishing a mere; this must be Tamaterangi himself.

But it is really the paintings which make this house so interesting. In the porch and inside the house, on the slabs (poupou) where you usually see the carved figures of ancestors, this house has painted figures. They are formed out of the kind of notched line which is often used in rafter patterns, and each figure is brightly painted in red, blue, brown and green. There are a number of houses, especially on the East Coast, which have

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painted poupou. All of them are attractive, but the paintings in Te Poho o Tamaterangi are some of the most beautiful I have seen.

On many of the rafters there is the same kind of notched line as that from which the figures are formed. Both the rafters and the poupou have a white background, and the paintings on the walls and ceiling join up in such a way that the one seems a continuation of the other. The house is light and airy, cheerful and also very elegant. On the front and back walls inside the house are manaia—that profile figure which you find everywhere in Maori carving. You can see some on the left in the photograph. There are many different kinds of manaia, but I have never before seen manaia at all like these ones. They are most beautiful and original little figures.

In another way, too, this house seems to be unique. Between the legs of each figure there is painted a flowering plant. The leaves are bright green and the flowers are red. There is also a ponga with curling fronds, and a clump of raupo. Each bush is quite different from its neighbours, and they are painted with great precision and delicacy.


Mr and Mrs Sam Cotter and Mr Meimei Hamilton, who live close to the house, very kindly told us about its history. They told us that Te Poho o Tamaterangi was designed by a carver called Hukanui. Hukanui was born near Turanga, south of Gisborne. He took part in the carving of a number of houses, especially the famous old house ‘Te Whai a te Motu’, near Ruatahuna. He died in 1922. But though Hukanui designed Te Poho o Tamaterangi, it was built by local people. Everyone helped in the work, whether with the carpentry, the tukutuku, the painting and carving, or with making mats for the floor.

A few years ago it was decided that the Rangiahua marae needed a dining hall. To help raise the money for this, its owners sold a block of land near Gisborne, called Tahora. So the name of the dining hall is Tahora, and a very fine building it is. It has excellent kitchens, and a large hall which is also used sometimes for dances.

Then the meeting-house was rebuilt and repainted. Its owners collected money to do this, and the government provided a subsidy, as it also had for the dining hall. This time there were people specially employed to do the work, but again many of the local people helped in their spare time, and the ladies made tukutuku and mats. Mr and Mrs Cotter were two of the people who helped in this way. It is wonderful to see how carefully the original paintings have been re-painted, for it must have been very difficult to do this. The dining hall was opened in 1956 and the meeting-house in 1958.


And what about those little painted bushes? Why are they there? We asked Mr and Mrs Cotter and Mr Hamilton this. They told us that the plants did have a special meaning, but that there is no-one left now who knows exactly what this was. The plants represent words, in such a way that the poupou together spell out a message. Mr Hamilton told us that this message was one of welcome, in the following words: ‘Haere mai e aku tamariki e aku mokopuna tomongia te poho o to koutou tipuna te poho o Tama-te-Rangi”.

There are almost as many words in this message as there are little bushes. If these plants do represent a message, I wonder if it might be that each one represents a real kind of plant, not just an imaginary one? Perhaps then the first letter of the name of each plant might represent the first letter of each word in the message of welcome. If this were so, and if you knew the secret, each painting would give you one word in this message. But this is only a guess. Nobody really knows now.