Nuku-te-Apiapi - The House that Arama Built

The carved house Nuku Te Apiapi was commenced in around 1873 by Aramakaraka te Mokonui-a-rangi, chief of Ngāti Rangitihi at Matatā. The carvers employed were Tara Te Awatapu (also called Te Amo Awatapu) and his pupil Wero Taroi (also known as Karu). Both carvers were from the Ngāti Tarāwhai tribe of Rotoiti.

The carvers worked in Matatā under the direction of Aramakaraka, and for eight years were occupied in carving the interior poupou or wooden slabs supporting the roof. At about that time Aramakaraka died, leaving his daughter, Ngārangikaki, to oversee to the completion of the work. Ngārangikaki later married a chief named Hemana Te Wehi-o-te-rangi and this chief saw that work on the carvings was resumed. Eventually, however, he found that he no longer had sufficient food or means to continue paying Te Amo, the carver.

Hemana therefore decided to visit Te Pokiha, otherwise known as Major Fox, and place the whole matter before him in the hope that he might be induced to advance the money necessary for the project. But Te Pohika was unable to grant the money and Hemana returned to his pa very downhearted and next morning was found dead in his whare. The carvings were then on the beach at Matata and, as it was believed a chief had died because of them, the tohunga of the tribe declared the carvings to be tapu. A shelter was built to protect them from the weather, and there they remained until the year 1900.

Meanwhile, another carved house named Rauru was under construction opposite the Geyser Hotel at Whakarewarewa. It was begun by Te Waru, chief of the Ngāti Whaoa and completed by the later owners Messrs David Nathan & Co through their representative Mr Charles E Nelson. This house was opened with great pageantry in March, 1900. Because some of the timbers and probably some of the carvings of Nuku Te Apiapi as it stands today erected are from Rauru, it is worth recounting the history of this second house as told by Maui Pomare and James Cowan in Legends of the Maori.

Te Waru, chief of the Ngāti Whaoa, who lived at the foot of Paeroa Mountain, began Rauru as a carved house in honour of his young and beautiful wife. Under the laws of tapu no food must come near a carved house during its construction and smoking is also prohibited since tobacco is regarded as food (kai paipa). Te Waru transgressed this law by entering the building while smoking his pipe. An old tohunga advised that it would not be prudent to go on with the building, but Te Waru took no notice and continued to employ the carvers. Before long his young wife died and then the carving ceased.

Some time later Te Waru married again, and, the fear of tapu diminishing, the whakairo work was resumed. But again the tapu fell heavily and the second wife died. More years passed. At length Te Waru married a third time and his wife bore him sons. He now resolved to finish the house as the ambition of his old age. Once more carvers set to work. Again the heavy hand of Aitua was laid on him and his wife and two children died. The carvings were now regarded as highly dangerous and were stored in a remote part of thekainga.

At this time Mr CE Nelson heard of the tapu-guarded carvings and through the influence of Te Kepa Rangipuawhe, head chief of Tuhourangi tribe, he induced Te Waru to part with them. Having obtained the carvings, he then employed the three most expert wood-workers of Te Arawa to make other carvings and complete the house. “This house,” said Mr Nelson to Te Waru, “shall be the finest carved house ever built by the Maori, and the tapu shall be removed from it by the most wise and skilful of our priests.” And so it was done. This was in the year 1897.

Anaha Te Rahui, Neke Kapua, and Tene Waitere completed the necessary carvings, and in March 1900, the renowned Maori tohunga Te Rangi Tahau of Arawa and Tumutara Pio of Ngāti Awa performed the opening ceremonies. But the gods were not yet appeased. Te Rangi Tahau died eight days after the ceremony, and on the day of his burial, Tumutara Pio followed his colleague to the Spirit-land. Thus was fulfilled an old prophecy that seven people were to die if Rauru were completed.

The beautiful carved house “Rauru” became a focal point of interest to visitors to Whakarewarewa, who never tired of hearing the story of its eventful history. About five years after the opening ceremony most of the carvings were sold by the owners to go overseas to adorn an American exhibition. Some of the carvings of porch and roof—the carved door and window, were not included in this sale but the majority of Rauru was gone.

Mr CE Nelson was well aware of the outcry that would follow the removal of the sacred carvings, but Te Waru and the main actors in the drama of Rauru were now dead. On behalf of David Nathan & Co he now immediately entered into negotiations with Hemana Te Pokiha, the son of Hemana Te Wehi-o-te-rangi, to purchase the carvings on the beach at Matata. A price was agreed upon. However, various factions objected, and ultimately there was a Court case, the Native Court deciding that half of the money should go to Hemana and half to the tribe, the condition being that the house for which they were intended should be erected within the confines of the Te Arawa country, then never to be removed.

Thus on the skeleton of what remained of Rauru, Nuku-Te-Apiapi was thus finally erected. Several new carvings were added by Neke Kapua and Tene Waitere, and the well-known Whakarewarewa guide Bella was employed to supervise the construction of the tukutuku wall-panels between the carvings.

The following is the story of the opening of Nuku Te Apiapi (with minor corrections) as told by the Auckland Weekly News, March 15th, 1906.

The carved house was opened with great ceremony during the second week in March, 1906. A great body of Whakarewarewa Maoris and others of Arawa tribes gathered in the roadway and proceeded to meet the Native Minister who presently appeared walking with a stately and dignified procession of the Ohinemutu and other visiting Natives. The two parties met and commenced the ceremony of greeting each other with speeches and haka of welcome. Eventually, the gates of the stockade were opened and all poured into the enclosure, the dancers and other natives being seated in a semi-circle before the carved house. Presently the old tohunga, Whitiaka Kapua, of the Ngaati Taraawhai tribe appeared in front of the house clad in his elaborate robes, and, according to ancient custom, pronounced the greeting of the visiting Maoris and Pakehas, informing them in the native tongue that the ceremonies and rites were to be carried out after the manner of the ancient customs of the Arawa people.

Commencing his weird chant, he ascended the side of the house and took up his position on top, beside the tekoteko, and there loudly but musically chanted the great ceremonial incantation to Taane, the God of Forests, for his protection on the house and all that dwelt therein, the strain being taken up at intervals in the manner of a chorus by the Maoris below. Descending again to the front, the old tohunga, now worked up to a high pitch of excitement, sang through the mysterious incantation for the removal of the tapu caused by the death of Hemana Te Wehi-o-te-rangi. In the meantime Te Iwi Pukapuka, who acted as the ruahine or first woman to enter the house, had been led forward robed in a richly-decorated kahu kura. After the kumara had been eaten the ruahine stepped across the threshold and the tapu was removed for ever. The tohunga then entered followed by Anaha Te Rahui, Neke Kapua, Tene Waitere and the Hon. J. Carroll. This party was led around the interior of the house. Emerging again to the open, the little party seated themselves in the porch.

After this Anaha Te Rahui came forward and delivered an impassioned address relating the history of the wonderful carvings of the house. The tohunga then joined in and the two chanted a welcome to the visitors. The famous Whakarewarewa chief Mitataupopoki next came forward to give the welcome. The Hon. J. Carroll then addressed an oration to the Maoris, and, after a few words in English to the visitors, led off with the haka “Ka mate, Ka mate”. The women performed their poi dance and executed a special symbolic dance of “Nuku Te Apiapi”, illustrating in graceful movement all the many activities of the tribes preparatory to the completion of the building, such as felling of trees, splitting and levelling of logs, carving of timbers, thatching and weaving of panels.

The old chief Mitataupopoki then addressed the audience and after more ceremonial dancing the house was thrown open to the visitors. After this a great feast was held. Messrs. A. and D. Nathan had supplied some tons of food—taro from the Islands, kumara and toheroa from Hokianga, potatoes, flour, beef, mutton and sugar. As room could not be found at the pa for all, some 80 Maoris were entertained by Messrs Nathan at the Tea Kiosk. In the afternoon the proceedings partook of the nature of great rejoicing with haka and poi dances.

For some years Nuku Te Apiapi was used as a show place for tourists. Guides Sophia and Maggie Papakura were permitted to admit visitors under their charge, but as the years passed the house was allowed to deteriorate. In about 1936 Mr FA Peat purchased the property from the Guardian Trust and Executors Co of New Zealand and David Nathan & Co. Mr Peat had a carved fence and guide's shelter erected in front of the carved house and a concrete wall built around the sides and back to protect it, together with a concrete foundation around the building and an iron roof to replace the old one of raupo and thatch. In addition all the carvings were renovated, painted and had paua eyes inserted. A new Nuku Te Apiapi emerged and visitors were shown through it daily.

Nuku Te Apiapi represents much of the best in Te Arawa carving art. A relationship to Homaitawhiti, Tama Te Kapua, and the poupou of the carved house Rangitihi in Auckland Museum is evident in the inside poupou on the side walls, while the end walls and part of the porch remind one of certain carvings from the venerated whare whakairo Hinemihi, which withstood the Tarawera eruption at Wairoa. Here and there also some features of Nuku Te Apiapi are reminiscent of other older Arawa houses, including the famous Paihekie Council Chamber and the Ruato Tomb, both from Lake Rotoiti and now gone.

(Abridged article from “Historical notes on the carved house Nuku Te Apiapi” by W. J. Phillipps, p 71 – 85, Journal of the Polynesian Society, Volume 79 1970, No. 1. Click here to read the full article)

More information on Nuku te Apiapi

As mentioned in the article above the whare was the subject of a court case in 1904 and a detailed account of the whare, the evidence given in the case and some interesting Rangitihi whakapapa information can be found in the book “Carved Histories” by Roger Neich

Click here to read extracts from the book on Google.


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