Mākōtukutuku wharepuni 


Mākōtukutuku wharepuni

 Mākōtukutuku wharepuni  

Curriculum links

Learning areas

  • Social Studies
  • Technology

Which strands will it fit with?

  • Social Studies: Place and Environment: Continuity and Change: Identity, Culture, and Organisation 
  • Technology: Nature of Technology 

Key competencies

Thinking: students will examine the components and structure of a wharepuni (sleeping house), constructing knowledge of how and why they were used in their original context.

Levels of achievement

Levels 1—7 

Year group

Years 1—11

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Which topics of study can it support?

  • New Zealand technological advances
  • Innovation and invention
  • New Zealand society, past and present


How long might this take?

Allow 5—10 minutes.

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Where do I find it?

  • Level 4, Mana Whenua. If you get lost, just ask a Te Papa Host.

Why should I take my class to visit this?

  • This is a great example of a unique sixteenth century wharepuni or sleeping house.
  • The whole class can fit easily around it and go inside.


What is there to do there? 

  • Listen to the audio located just outside the wharepuni.
  • Watch the video that explains the experiences of Ngāti Hinewaka while building the wharepuni, and their reasons for building it.

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What should I know about this?

Building the wharepuni
  • This taonga (treasure) is a reconstruction of a wharepuni or sleeping house from the Mākōtukutuku valley in the Wairarapa, inland from Cape Palliser (Mātakitaki a Kupe).
  • The wharepuni reconstruction was one of several iwi (tribal) projects planned by Ngāti Hinewaka. They are a South Wairarapa hapū (subtribe) of Ngāti Kahungunu, who occupy the region and descend from the earlier people who built the original wharepuni in the sixteenth century.
  • Building the wharepuni was an opportunity to reclaim and revive ancestral skills and knowledge (mātauranga Māori) in customary house-building, and also tool-making technology (such as the stone tools used to hew the timber for the house).
  • The project began in 1995. It took Ngāti Hinewaka people over three years of wānanga (schools) and hui (meetings) to learn the techniques necessary to construct this building. Dedicated people worked hard over a long period of time, gathering and preparing materials such tōtara logs suitable to split into the frames. Other tasks included preparing the raupō for the walls, splitting and preparing vines for the binding, and collecting and weaving the nikau palm for the roof.
  • In preparation for  making this wharepuni, a whare raupō was constructed at Pirinoa marae, Kohunui, with the help of expert Tona Nuri (Te Arawa). Ngāti Hinewaka then stayed in Te Papa for two months to construct this building.
The orginal wharepuni    
  • Archaeologists from the University of Otago uncovered the original whare in a dig that took place in 1969-73.
  • The image behind the wharepuni show the Mākōtukutuku Valley where the orginal house, gardens, and settlement were located.
  • Ngāti Hinewaka are a South Wairarapa hapū (subtribe) of  Ngāti Kahungunu, who  occupy the region and descend from the earlier people who built the original wharepuni in the sixteenth century.
  • The original taonga was a family sleeping house and not a ceremonial house. However, archaeologists uncovered a young dog’s jaw bone buried underneath the centre back post, which they thought indicated a ritual associated with the wahre's construction — perhaps an early example of the current practice of depositing the ‘mauri of the house’.
Construction methods and materials
  • Traditional construction methods were used to construct this new wharepuni. Using traditional tools and materials, the timber was adzed, finished, rubbed with shark oil, and lashed with kiekie vine and pirita (supplejack).
  • The roof was woven with nīkau fronds.
  • The walls are made from raupō.
Other features
  • The house is built low to keep the warmth in. A hearth inside generates heat. Whare means ‘house’, puni ‘to seal’ (sealing in the heat or warmth).
  • Outside the front entrance are several traditional tools used for catching fish ― such as hinaki (crayfish pot), kete (baskets), tōrehe and pouraka (fish traps).
  • The whalebone lying beside of the wharepuni came from a whale stranded on the South Wairarapa coast about the time that Ngāti Hinewaka started this project. It has been placed by the house as a mauri (spiritual guardian or life force), reminding us of Ngāti Hinewaka's kaitiakitanga (guardianship) role towards their natural environment, and the customs and values of their ancestors.


Possible topics for discussion

  • Is this building new or old? Is it traditional or modern?

Customary methods were used to make this traditional wharepuni.

  • What would the people who once lived in a wharepuni like this have slept on?

Usually finely woven flax or kiekie mats over soft moss or bracken. The bedding for this wharepuni would have also consisted of bracken

  • Did they have pillows?

No pillows were introduced by Europeans.

  • What is the difference between a pātaka (food store) and a wharepuni?

Check out Te Tākinga (the traditional food store house) next to Te Hau ki Turanga (the traditional wharenui or meeting house on Level 4). Note that the general shape of the wharepuni is the same as Te Hau ki Turanga: rectangular with central posts. This has not changed over time.

  • How did the people of Aotearoa New Zealand keep warm in their houses four hundred years ago?

Embers might be taken inside the wharepuni, else people would huddle close together to create body warmth. The way the house was contructed aslso helped conserve heat: as we see here, the roof is low and thick, the walls are thick, and the door and windows are small.

  • How many people can fit into this building?

Use your class to see how many people can fit inside this building, safely. How easy would it be to sleep there? 

  • From the photograph behind the wharepuni (showing where it was originally built), can you tell what the weather is like in this area? How would this effect the design of the building?

The wharepuni is built low to conserve heat, and it would have faced away from the prevailing wind.

  • Check out the objects surrounding this wharepuni. What would the people of this area have used them for? What can they tell us about how the people who once used them?

There are nets for fishing, kete for holding food, and whalebone for making tools and objects. How long would it take you to collect food for the day using these objects?

  • What are some of the challenges of daily life that people had to face four hundred years ago, compared with today?

Everyday challenged included keeping warm, securing adequate food supply, and maintaining health. Māori ancestors lived on a seasonally varied diet of fresh and dried fish, shellfish, birds, vegetables, meat, and forest produce. They drank water. Compare this with aspects of our lives now  ― pollution, high fat food content, and so on.

  • Are there any similarities between this wharepuni and houses of today?

For example, the doorway, small windows, and the shape of the roof.

  • How easy would it be for you to make a wharepuni or some other construction like a tree house where you live?

Are there any natural resources around that you could use? Are the resources used in making this wharepuni native or introduced?

  • Would you live in it? Why? Why not?
  • Take your students to the partial fale in PlaNet Pasifika and compare it with the wharepuni. How are they different from each other? What are the similarities?

Take note of the weaving of the nīkau leaves on the wharepuni and the coconut leaves on the fale. The height of the wharepuni is low to conserve heat whereas the fale is high: this allows air movement through the stucture and keeps it cool.

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Further information

  • Tai Awatea | Knowledge Net,Te Papa’s online multimedia resource.
  • The Prehistory of New Zealand, Davidson, Janet. 1984. Auckland: Longman Paul.
  • Icons Ngā Taonga, Te Papa, 2004. Wellington: Te Papa Press.
  • Prehistoric Man in Palliser Bay, Leach, B F, and Leach, H M (eds). 1979.  Wellington: National Museum of New Zealand Bulletin 21.


Related material

  • The pātaka (store house) called Te Takinga in Mana Whenua on Level 4 ― an example of a specialised building.
  • The wharenui (meeting house) called Te Hau ki Turanga in Mana Whenua on Level 4 ― an example of a specialised building.
  • The fale in PlaNet Pasifika on Level 4 ― shows how natural resources are used for housing in the Pacific.
  • The waka (canoe) Teremoe on Level 4 is an example of innovative use of natural resources.
  • Download the Mana Whenua student activity trail to help your students explore the rest of this exhibition.

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