The Maori As He Was : A Brief Account of Maori Life as it was in Pre-European Days
The Art of War
The Art of War
War-gods. Women as fighters. Spirit of revenge. Omens. Tapu. War-god mediums. Methods of fighting. Weapons. War ceremonial. War-dance. The mawe rite. Peace-making. Fortified villages. Effect of firearms.
War was an important institution in Maoriland, and all able-bodied men were liable for military duty when necessity arose. It was on this account, presumably, that Tu, who represents war, was one of the most important of the departmental gods, or tutelary beings. Tu was the patron of war, and it was his tapu that pertained to ceremonial and persons connected with war. All other war-gods, so called, occupied a lower plane. These latter, however, were the beings actually “employed,” as one may say, by those who conducted the art of war; they were, in some cases at least, personifications of natural phenomena. Thus, Uenuku represented the rainbow, Tunui probably the comet, Rongomai apparently a meteorite, Maru some form of glow in the heavens, and so on. Those phenomena are the aria, or visible forms, of the beings named. These beings were placated, but never really worshipped; they were supposed to warn their followers of dangers, and protect them generally, so long as they were properly placated. I have never learned what would be the result if two opposing parties were under the same atua or war-god. Each of these atua had its human medium in different districts, and such a thing might occur at any time. Presumably it would have about as much effect as it does in our present-day wars when both sides beseech a Supreme Being to grant them a victory.
The so-called war-god Te Rehu o Tainui was represented by a lizard, but its origin was as an atua kahu. This name denotes a malignant spirit that emanates from a page 156 still-born child. Aitupawa seems to have been a personification of thunder, and a large number of other mythical beings relied on by the Maori for help and protection show how barbaric man turned to supernatural beings for help in the crises of life.
A remarkable feature of Maori life was the fact that women accompanied warlike raids, and in a few cases are said to have been energetic fighters.
The spirit of revenge was very strong in the native character, and this, combined with the fact that they were very prone to take offence, meant that fighting between tribes, and even different divisions of the same tribe, might break out at any time. To avenge a wrong was held as a sacred duty. Should a community consider itself too weak to attack an enemy in order to avenge some insult or other wrong, then several courses were open to them. They might seek armed assistance from another tribe or clan; they might wait patiently for a generation or two until strong enough in numbers to gain their object; or they might practise one of the extraordinary substitutes for vigorous action that we often encounter in studying native traditions and customs. Thus they might compose a bitterly worded song reviling their enemies, and sing it as a ngeri, or haka, before such enemies. Or they might endeavour to seriously injure their enemies by means of magic arts.
When a party of avengers went forth to seek blood vengeance for a grievous injury, the first person met was slain, be he foe or friend. To spare such a person would be an extremely unlucky act. Such a party was excessively tapu, and had to be very careful in its behaviour while under the aegis of the war-god. Unlucky acts and occurrences, evil omens, in connection with war are very numerous. To neglect any of the ceremonial observances pertaining to war is unluckly, as it is to neglect signs and warnings of supernatural powers. The cry of the owl under certain circumstances was deemed ominous. To make any error in performing the war-dance was unlucky, as also was the act of eating in a standing position, or with a weapon in the hand. Omens were derived from the heavenly bodies, from the cries and movements of animals, from land-slips, from sounds heard at night, from natural phenomena, and many other things. Maori life seems to have been burdened by evil signs and unlucky tokens innumerable, while good omens were apparently much less numerous. Much faith was placed in dreams, and in divinatory acts performed by priestly experts of a shamanistic page 157 type. A person under the tapu of the war-god had to be extremely careful in his demeanour and actions. Should he commit any act that polluted his tapu condition, then he was placed in a very dangerous position. The protection of the gods was withdrawn from him, and he became exposed to a multitude of evil influences and dangers. His only hope to retain life and welfare lay in regaining the favour of the gods.
The position of the priestly expert accompanying an armed force on a raid was widely different from that of our army chaplains; he might even have command of all the fighting operations. He would be the medium of a certain war-god, who was supposed to warn him of coming danger and acquaint him with any special duty or act it was necessary to perform ere success could be attained. Thus in many stories of prophecy or second-sight concerning war we learn that a force about to attack was told that it was necessary that a certain thing or person should be seen, or captured, or slain ere success could be secured. These superstitious practices have provided us with some very singular stories. Oracular utterances were often communicated to the people in the form of a song composed by the priest.
The Maori was much given to employing stratagem, decoy manoeuvres, ambuscades, and similar activities. A fight must have been a series of single combats, and no fight lasted long: one side would soon give way, and woe betide those who were overtaken by the pursuers!
The two-handed weapons employed by the Maoris in pre-European days were remarkable for their lightness, and in some cases for their slenderness. They are, as a rule, very much lighter and handier than Melanesian weapons. The Maori disliked heavy or clumsy weapons such as those used by the natives of Fiji. He relied principally upon his agility in mortal combat, and he was trained from childhood, one may say, in the art of avoiding blow and thrust. The nimbleness of a person so trained is very remarkable. Native weapons consisted of striking and thrusting implements, as spears and short striking-weapons. Others were a form of halbert or quarter-staff, and with these the Maori was given much to thrust-feinting with the point and delivering a blow with the butt end. The rapidity with which an expert could recover arms, reverse, and deliver a blow was truly surprising. The materials employed in the manufacture of weapons were wood, stone, and bone. Such hard woods as maire, ake, and manuka were employed page 158 for the purpose. The spear, taiaha, pouwhenua, and tewhatewha were but slightly made implements, and a hard, tough and strong wood was a necessity. Spears were from 6 ft. to 18 ft. or so in length. The most valued weapon was the greenstone mere, or patu, a short striking-weapon manufactured from the highly prized nephrite. A weapon of similar but more symmetrical form was made from greywacke or other stone. The hoeroa, a double-handed weapon of very singular form, the material being whale's bone, was less common than other weapons. Its curious reverse - curve form has puzzled collectors as to the mode of using it. The generic term for weapons is rakau.
Missile weapons were but little employed by the Maori, and those used were of the rudest form. The bow and arrow he knew not, though his ancestors must have known it in their ocean wanderings. Fig. 63 shows a wooden bow found in a swamp at Mangapai—an interesting discovery, inasmuch as the Maori did not use the bow and arrow. Throwing - spears were evidently not favourite weapons. The whip - thrown spear was a native weapon, but by no means a prominent or much-favoured one. Stones were cast by hand from points of vantage, such as elevated platforms, but the sling of Polynesia seems to have been abandoned by the Maori when he landed on these shores. Possibly he discarded both sling and balance-pole on account of their not being suitable to local conditions. We are told that the curious hoeroa was used as a projectile weapon at close quarters, the manipulator recovering it by means of a cord secured to its end. It was a firm belief page 159 page 160 page 161 page 162 that all weapons were rendered much more effective by reciting certain charms over them.
A peculiar ceremony termed tohi was performed over fighting-men about to lift the war-trail. It included a form of baptism, and it brought those men under the tapu of the war-god. Another, known as the tira ora, was a form of absolution. This purified the men from the effects of any offences, however slight, committed against the gods, and so saved them from any disabilities the gods might have inflicted on them.
The war-dance of the Maori is perhaps the most strenuous and startling affair of the kind to be seen anywhere, and the roar of the war-song as delivered by hundreds of performers is a sound not easily forgotten. Great care was necessary in its execution, for any error was looked upon as a serious omen by the superstitious Maori. In like manner the conduct of a raid called for extremely careful management, not only to avoid unlucky acts, &c., but also to retain the favour of the war-gods in other ways. The first slain of the enemy was utilized as an offering to the war-god, and the killing of such first man was looked upon as a desirable achievement. When the fight was won the priestly expert accompanying the winning force would proceed to take the mawe of the won field, and this was usually a lock of hair from the head of a slain enemy. Over this was performed a certain ceremony to prevent the enemy obtaining revenge, to retain the supremacy here gained, and the courage of the fighters; also to affect injuriously the courage, confidence, &c., of the enemy. The Maori was ever performing magic acts or reciting charms in order to affect the mentality of people and disturb their nervous systems.
Peace and peace-making are matters that come under the supervision of Rongo, one of the primal offspring. There were many ceremonial usages connected with peace-ratifying functions. The tatau pounamu, or “jade door,” was a name for a firm peace, and rongo is the ordinary word denoting peace.
In pre-European times the natives of these isles lived for the most part in small fortified villages situated on hills and headlands. In page 163 some cases people were enabled to live in unfortified hamlets, but if such were situated in open country, then as a rule there was a stronghold or a forest near by to which the people could retire when enemies approached. In a few districts such as the Auckland Isthmus and certain areas of the far north, remains of very extensive fortified villages of former times are seen. Some of these must have sheltered thousands of persons. In all cases this was only made possible by careful cultivation of fertile lands immediately surrounding the village community. Such districts provided, in return for labour, the greatest and most steady supply of food, hence the abundant population, hence also greater comfort and superior conditions generally. In regard to the defences of such villages, there were several methods by which they were protected. In some cases stockades only were employed; in others, earthworks consisting of ramparts and fosses supplemented by stockades. In some defences the earthern ramparts supported no stockade, but were wide enough on top to allow of the defenders being stationed on them. Such ramparts were often close together, so that if enemies made their way into the narrow fosse they were unable to use their long spears against the defenders, who, however, could lunge downward with good effect.
Another style of pa, as such fortified places were termed, was the terraced hill, such as are seen in numbers in the northern peninsula. All these terraces were residential areas, but along their outer edges lines of stockades would be erected. These terraced hill forts are quite different to the more southern type showing fosse and rampart, and the origin of the two methods is an interesting subject, but page 164 page 165 buried in the past. The Maori did not live in this manner in his former home in eastern Polynesia. Did he evolve the pa system after he settled here, or did he borrow it from former inhabitants? These pa, be it said, closely resembled the hill forts of Fiji.
After the acquisition of firearms changes were made in the construction of the pa maori, or native fort. The earthern ramparts were much reduced in height and thickness, while the heavy timber stockades gave way to lighter fences. Casemates, flanking-angles, traverses, and other European features were introduced, and the picturesque old Maori village soon passed away. The so-called model pa at Rotorua is a restoration of the modern gunfighters' pa, not the real thing of the days of yore.