Pataka, The Maori Treasure Houses
The photograph above shows the porch of a Maori storehouse (pataka) which is in the National Museum in Copenhagen. It is one of the most beautiful ones which have survived, and is very old. Pataka were made in all shapes and sizes; many were not carved, or else had only a little carving or painting. But as well as these, every village of any consequence had an elaborately carved storehouse which belonged to the chief, and was a sign of his authority and prestige; hence the famous saying, ‘Ko te tohu o te Rangatira he pataka whakairo e tu na i roto i te pa tuwatawata’. Carved pataka were never used to store kumara or taro; they were used only for the people's most precious treasures—boxes containing greenstone, jewellery, weapons, finely worked cloaks and baskets, and so on. Gourds containing preserved birds and rats were
kept there, and so was dried fish, which they very much liked to eat with kumaras to give them more flavour. Many pataka, though not this one, have bargeboards carved to represent a stylized whale, with its head turned into a spiral pattern at the lower end; it was natural that on their storehouses for fish, they should put the biggest fish they were ever able to find. (In those days, whales were quite often stranded on the shore). On much the same principle, carved figures of ancestors were set there to guard the house and its contents. The ancestor who guarded the door was an especially important one. Pataka were very tapu, but in case the rats should ignore this, they were placed for safety on top of smooth poles.
There is a picture of an old one on the next page.