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Ngā Tohuwhenua Mai Te Rangi: A New Zealand Archeology in Aerial Photographs


Pā are one of the most common features, of the New Zealand historic landscape and provide an extraordinary range of opportunities for aerial photography. Archaeologists always use the term 'pā' to refer to earthwork fortifications; the term as used by archaeologists does not refer to a modern Māori settlement. The term 'papakainga' rather than 'pā' better expresses the sense of a modern Māori settlement long associated with former ancestral villages or living areas. Examples were illustrated in chapter 1, where their common association with pā in the archaeologist's sense was evident. Most pā went out of use somewhat less than 200 years ago, primarily in response to the desire to live near European settlements and trading harbours, although forms of pā for gunfighting were built up until 1880. Prominent and well recognised in local landscapes, pā are frequently mentioned in traditional recitations on the neighbouring marae, or on more distant marae when the local people are visiting there.

There was early European interest in the description of pā, not least from the earliest navigators who, aware of the risk of being attacked and overwhelmed by surprise or by numbers, carefully surveyed Māori defensive as well as offensive techniques. The most important of the descriptions are those of James Cook in Mercury Bay on the Coromandel in 1769 and Roux in the Bay of Islands in 1772. 1 For full and accurate detail of a significant site which I have been able to photograph usefully, Wharetaewa, the pā described by Cook at Mercury Bay, is the most important:

... on the East side is a high point or peninsula. ... in some places quite inaccessible to man and in others very difficult except on that side which face'd the narrow ridge of the hill on which it stands, here it is defended by a double ditch a bank and two rows of Picketing—the inner row upon the bank but not so near the Crown but what there was good room for men to walk and handle their arms between the Picketing and the inner dich: the outer Picketing was between the two ditches and laid sloping with their upper ends hanging over the inner ditch, the depth of this ditch from the bottom to the Crown of the bank was 24 feet. Close within the inner picketing was erre[c]ted by strong posts, a stage 30 feet high 40 in length and 6 feet broad, the use of this stage was to stand upon to throw darts at the Assailants, and a number of darts lay upon it for that purpose. At right Angles to this stage and a few paces from it was another of the same construction and bigness. . .. the whole Village was pallisaded round with a line of pretty strong picketing run round the edge of the hill. The ground within ... they had divided it into little squares and levelled each of these; these squares lay in the form of an amphitheatre and were each of them pallisaded round and had a communication one with another by narrow lanes or little gate ways which could easily be stopped up, so that if any enemy had force'd the outer picketing he had several others to incounter before the place could be wholy reduced. . . . The Main way leading into this fortification was up a very steep part of the hill and thro' a narrow passage about 12 feet long, and under one of the Stages... 2

James Cook had learnt his surveying techniques as part of military operations on the Canadian coast, and his description is reliable and thorough. The features of Wharetaewa on the ground today are relatively simple in arrangement. The ditch and bank are clear, as are some of the terraces used for habitation. In the aerial page break
Views from different directions of the pā Wharetaewa and Wharekaho in Mercury Bay

Views from different directions of the pā Wharetaewa and Wharekaho in Mercury Bay

Left The view is to the east. Wharetaewa is the pā furthest out on the peninsula. Its large transverse ditch and bank described by Cook and Banks shows (just above centre) beneath two large pohutukawa and in line with the camera viewpoint. Several other pā including Wharekaho, not described by Cook, lie further inland along the cliff edge, bottom left. They may not have existed in 1769; alternatively, they may have been occupied earlier than 1769 and their wooden palisades had decayed or the earthworks were hidden in scrub at the time of his visit.

Right. Close-up view of the area of ditch and bank on Wharetaewa described by Cook and Banks. The interpretative drawing (below) shows how the key features such as the palisade and fighting stages relate to the archaeological features such as the ditch.

page 44 photograph, the natural slope defences can be seen to be very steep. Of some interest also is that there are now three pā on the same point, Wharetaewa being only the pā at the very tip of the point. It is possible that these pā did not exist in 1769, since Ngāti Hei, the hapū of this locality, were 'besieged in Whare-taewa' as late as 1800. 3 Clearly, care is needed not to assume that all the features presented in a surface view are the same age.

In the earlier part of this century, significant work was done to protect and record pā by S. Percy Smith and W.H. Skinner, both surveyors by profession. 4 They recorded accounts of traditions relating to pā, while other surveyors not infrequently recorded the location of pā in their field notebooks. The greatest historian of pā was Elsdon Best who published his book, The Pa Maori, 5 in 1927. Best's book is kept in print because it remains the most comprehensive and accessible source for the names and history of individual pā in many regions of New Zealand. His characterisation of the nature and function of defensive features is also still valid. A more recent work by Aileen, Lady Fox, Prehistoric Māori Fortifications in the North Island of New Zealand 6 provides a contemporary view of the range of pā in New Zealand, and brought (to the debate about function) useful insights from her extensive studies of Iron Age hillforts in England and Wales.

The tactical objective of the fortification was to prevent the attackers from being able to engage in hand-to-hand fighting, at the same time exposing them to spear thrusts through the palisade, or darts and stones thrown from above. Attacking forces could not get into the pā, or their entry was slowed down by the fortifications. The weapons used in pre-European Māori society were of a particularly devastating hand-to-hand type, although spears, darts and sling stones were also used. Clubs of both shorter reach (mere, patu and others) and longer reach (taiaha) were important; 7 they were described in some detail by Cook:

The Arms they use are Long spears or lances, a Staff about 5 feet long, some of these are pointed at one end like a Serjeants Halbard others are round and sharp, the other ends are broad something like the blade of an oar [taiaha]; they have another sort about 41/2 feet long, these are shaped at one end like an Axe and the other is made with a sharp point [tewhatewha]; they have short Truncheons about a foot long, which they call Pattoo Pattoos [patu], some made of wood some of bone and others of stone, those made of wood are variously shaped, but those made of bone ai stone are of one shape, which is with a round handle broadish blade which is thickest in the middle and tape to an edge all round, the use of these are to knock mei brains out and kill them outright.... 8

Such weapons would have been used at close quarte with timing, great muscular force and requiring psychological conditioning of both attacker and attacked.

As we have seen from Cook's description, pā he earthwork ditches and banks and wooden palisades I protect the occupants against attack. 9 The ditches and banks comprised a number of elements: single, doub and even triple lines; intricate entrance ways which e: posed the attackers to spear thrusts; and finally, to the rear of the bank and palisade, fighting stages: tall pla forms built above the rear palisade line, or between palisade lines, at key points of weakness. The defender could occupy these stages with relative impunity, and from them rain down darts and stones (and even water to make the ground slippery) on an attacking party.

As seen today, the earthworks of a pā usually consi of defensive ditches and banks surrounding the natural] steep summit of a hill or a crest in a ridge or, more rarely, cutting off a point in a river. The location of pā tends to follow the natural defensive advantages of the landscape ridges and the summits of hills offered many opportunities for defence, with the defenders taking advantage ( naturally steep slopes. Pā were commonly built in loc; tions where a sudden steepening or narrowing of a ridge reduced the labour of constructing a ditch and bank. In hilly country, particularly on the coast or by lakes, headlands or the ends of ridges could be simply defended by a single length of ditch and bank. In areas where a longer occupation might be expected, this could be elaborated page 45
Te Awamate, a swamp pā on the swampy margins of the Rangitikei River flood plain, Manawatū

Te Awamate, a swamp pā on the swampy margins of the Rangitikei River flood plain, Manawatū

In this winter view in light, overcast conditions, the pā is marked by the bare branches of young poplar trees. Surrounding the pā is a raupō swamp. The linear marks in the foreground are probably eel channels, dug in seasonally dry sands to concentrate the passage of migrating eels. The pā was occupied by hapū of Ngāti Apa in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The pā is about 30 by 10 m in area; the view is to the south-east.

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Otumoana, Urenui River, Taranaki

Otumoana, Urenui River, Taranaki

The steep-sided, narrow ridge is defended by ditches, steepened scarps, banks and palisades (no longer showing) constructed across the ridge, often taking advantage of the naturally steep slopes. The pā may originally have been defended only by ditch, bank and palisade across the ridge. The pā lies in three main segments (O, M, K, on the interpretative figure, following Elsdon Best's illustration in The Pa Maori), divided by the two clear transverse ditches and banks. At some time after the initial defences were created, a ditch and/or artificially steepened scarp were created along the side of the ridge (showing on the west of platform 'O'). These connected with the defences running across the ridge.

into double or triple ditches and banks. Where the sides of a ridge were not sufficiently steep, additional defences would be created. These would be either a narrow terrace and scarp created along the side of the ridge, joining up with the ditch and bank that ran across the ridge, or an extension of the ditch and bank. Where the ditch is more or less continuous around the whole of the pā site it is known as a 'ring-ditch', although it is seldom perfectly circular. A defensive advantage was also sought by locating pā in swamps, and occasionally on artificially raised islands, many examples of which are known from the Waikato, Bay of Plenty and Manawatū/ Horowhenua regions.
In chapter 2, I stressed the importance of river or page 47
Katikatiaka, a headland pā on the high terrace north of Whitecliffs, north Taranaki

Katikatiaka, a headland pā on the high terrace north of Whitecliffs, north Taranaki

The site takes advantage of a point created by the intersection of the cliffs and a valley. It is defended by at least three, possibly four lines of defence. The interior of the pā is segmented, reflecting either social divisions or the need to be able to retreat from the outer defended parts of the pā to the inner. The view is from the north-west, taken in evening light.

coastal terraces in Māori settlement. In such localities, the edges of river terraces or the river banks themselves could be fortified. A narrow point formed between the main river and a side stream could be simply cut off by a short straight length of ditch and bank. The edge of a terrace could be enclosed by a rectangular length of defensive ditch and bank. A ditch and bank forming a dogleg in plan could be used to cut off a point where a simple transverse ditch and bank would be too long.
In recent years there have been significant original descriptions of the localities, defensive setting and forms of pā, notably those of Geoff Irwin on the Pouto Peninsula, North Kaipara Harbour, Bruce McFadgen at Tauranga, my work on the East Coast and at Whakatāne, and Nigel Prickett in Taranaki. 10 Such studies indicate considerable regional variation in the nature of pā. Irwin reached the striking conclusion that almost all the Pouto pā belonged to the few decades before 1820. Although this result need not apply to other regions, it suggests that warfare in Māori society might have been a spo- page break
A ring-ditch pā on the Iahar plain of the lower slopes of Mount Taranaki

A ring-ditch pā on the Iahar plain of the lower slopes of Mount Taranaki

Where the ridge or hilltop was rounded and not very steep, as on this lahar mound, the ditch, bank and palisade might encircle the whole of the hilltop, giving rise to the 'ring-ditch'. This type of pā is particularly common in Taranaki where there are soft, easily worked soils. At the time of occupation the flat country between the lahar mounds would have been swamp. Such ring-ditch pā also occur frequently in the Bay of Plenty and Northland.

radic but, once begun, fierce movement that swept up all the related groups of a region.

The number of pā is considerable—as many as 6,000 in total is a commonly accepted estimate. 11 There were as few as 100,000 people in New Zealand at the time James Cook's visit in 1769, although higher estimates have been made, 12 indicating about one pā for every 20 people at that time. Although some, perhaps a high proportion, would not have been occupied at that time, many of them would have been occupied at some point in the preceding 100 years, as I discussed in chapter 2. The number of pā therefore suggests an intense rivalry between groups as small as 20 to 30 people in the pre-European period.

Within the North Island, there are relatively few pā in the regions south of about Whanganui, including the lower part of the Wairarapa. 13 Those that do exist a sculpted to only a limited extent into the hill slopes. Hawke's Bay and on the East Coast generally north Cape Runaway, pā are common but they too are sculpted little into the ground surface. Soils on ridges in the regions are shallow, the rocks are close below the surface: as a result the sides of ridges may be steep, and need little fortification. 14 Pā on river terraces are more common on the East Coast than in many other parts with the exception of the Whanganui region and parts of the Waikato. This reflects the existence of large rivers with extensive and wide valley floors in these regions.

The regions with the highest density of pā and also the most elaborate and deeply dug defences are Whanganui, Taranaki, the Bay of Plenty, the Waikato, and Auckland and Northland. In the Bay of Plenty and Taranaki the hill forms are often rounded in profile, 15 for example on a lahar mound, and as a result the distinctive ring-ditch pā is common. 16 It was once argued that this similarity between the types of pā reflected a common cultural influence: people had migrated from Northland south into the Bay of Plenty and Taranaki, taking the ring-ditch 'style' of pā with them. 17 Today, it is generally accepted that common environmental factors, the presence of deep volcanic soils and softer landforms are the direct cause of this apparent cultural similarity. Adjacent regions can have very different styles of pā simply because of variation in the relative ease of working the soil.

page 49

Pā near Pakipaki, inland Hawke's Bay. The pā has strong lateral and transverse defensive ditches. A vertical aerial photograph of this pā is on pages 30-31.

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Pāwerawera, the pā of Māhaki, on the high Pleistocene terrace of the Waihuka River, East Coast. The pā has several defensive scarps on the steep slope to an old meander, and is effectively isolated as a terrace 'island' in the centre of the valley.

page 51

Storage pits on slump hillocks above the flood plain of the Whangaehu River.

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Pā with many kūmara storage pits, near Tūpāroa, East Coast.

page 53

Manuaitu, a pā on old dune country, Aotea Harbour in background. A ditch and bank fence cuts into the lateral defences at right nearest the camera viewpoint. A vertical aerial photograph of this pā is on page 118.

page 54

Middens on eroding dunes at Aotea north head. The middens show as white scatters; the brown patches are ash soils.

page 55

Rangihoua, outer Bay of Islands. The terraces of the pā are prominent, and horticultural trenches (some accentuated by tunnel erosion) run down the slope to the stream.

page 56

Trenches down lower slopes of a hill near Te Oihi (Marsden Cross), outer Bay of Islands. They were probably a form of irrigation for taro, grown in the groundwater trickling dowr the base of the trench. Kūmara were probably grown in the well drained ground between the trenches.

page 57
Pā with many storage pits near Tirau, Waikato

Pā with many storage pits near Tirau, Waikato

The density and regularity of kūmara storage pit construction is remarkable. The defensive perimeter is defined by ditch and bank. At either end of the prominent row of pits on the narrowest part of the ridge, at a slightly lower level and on the wider levelled parts, are house floors—large, shallow rectangular depressions distinctly different from those of the pits. The group that lived in a pā such as this may have been a single hapū with as few as 50 people, adults and children. Each pit (a minimum of 30 is visible) is about 4 by 2 m in plan and may have supported one or two people through the winter and early summer. A generally frosty inland climate (necessitating underground storage of the crop), a very warm summer growing season and large crops may explain the numbers of pits. The view is to the north.