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The Maori Race


page 300


Amaori village of old days was, if of importance, always a pa or fortress, although small temporary abodes might be made among the cultivations on lower lands. The positions were generally chosen for strategic purposes, and combined, if possible, the command of surrounding country with impregnability of site. Of course the more commodious they were, with access to water and means of communication, the more they were favoured as homes, but security was the primal necessity. For the purposes of observation and of the power obtained in hand-to-hand combat by the defence being conducted from the higher ground they generally occupied the summit of hills, and they thus had the advantage of fine views, a fact not without æsthetic value to the Maori mind. Pure air and good drainage resulting from dwelling on the hills had no little effect in preserving the health and stimulating the energy of this freedom-loving people.

page 301

The Maoris were born military engineers and in their wars with the English showed by their rifle-pits and masterly system of entrenchments how quickly they could adapt their ideas to the necessities of modern fortifications, but in the ancient days such elaborate works of protection were unnecessary. They relied on natural defences, such as were afforded by steep cliffs, rapid rivers, deep swamps, etc., but supported these by artificial means for the erection or completion of which no labour was considered too great and much cleverness expended. The hill on which the pa stood was terraced, ditched, and palisaded. The outer ditch (awamate) was dug outside the principal palisade the posts of which, set closely together, were often of immense size and strength. The outer fence was composed of large trees firmly set; about every sixth post (tukumaru) was larger than the others and was carved into a grotesque human figure of a warrior (kahia), or the top was rudely shaped to resemble a man's head. A beautifully carved main entrance (waha-roa) occupied a position in the outer palisade. This outside fence was called peke-rangi and was the fourth in a very large pa, but generally the third, the second being the hukahuka, and the inner the kiritangata. There was a ditch (awakari or waikari) between each row of palisading, the earth from ditches being used for embankments (maiore). The posts of the palisades were not only sunk deeply and firmly into the ground but were bound together by strong forest vines. Egress was made in war-time through small loop-holes in the outer page 302 palisade and through sliding doors in the inner; such door being formed of a solid piece of wood, and was fastened with strong bars. Earthworks were sometimes thrown up within the pa itself, these serving not only to render the fort more difficult to take, even should the outer defences be passed, but also were of use to separate on sub-tribe from another and thus to prevent quarrels. Under the principal posts of the outer palisade the bodies of sacrificed slaves were buried at the time of the dedication or first occupation of the fort. Some of these forts (pa) were of immense extent. One of these known as Whaka-witi-ra in the Waiapu Valley, was a mile along its river-side fence. Te Uruhi, at Waikanae, was one mile in circumference, and another fort in the Pelorus Sound enclosed 12 or 15 acres.

There are very few examples to be found in New Zealand of fortifications other than this ditch and fence protection. A few walled pa existed in the South Island; one of immense extent, having three miles of defensive works. It is supposed to be the work of the Waitaha tribe, of which the proverb says, “Waitaha, swarming like ants.” In the North Island, at Koru, about nine miles south of New Plymouth, there is a fort whose walls are built of rubble-work run up in places to the height of 15 feet; all the smaller outworks are faced with stone taken from the Oakura River. On the Great Barrier Island, near Auckland, are to be seen the remains of stone forts; the stones are set without mortar, and in the rockiest places are of large loose stones. In this locality, too, the page 303 hill-slopes are terraced, and stone facings prevent the terraces from slipping, while all around are traces of old cultivation and settlement. The walls of enclosures are still standing straight and true, as if built by Europeans, but trees a foot in diameter are growing within the enclosures. Tree defences were seldom used, but one instance of such a fortress is in evidence. It was situated at Whaka-horo, near the present site of the town of Levin, about 30 miles north of Wellington. It was constructed in the tops of three fine trees of white pine (kahikatea: Podocarpus dacrydioides.) A platform, 50 feet from the ground, was laid upon beams resting in the forks of the trees, and on this platform houses were built within an encircling palisade. Upon the platform were kept piles of stones to be used as missiles, and stores of food and water were kept in the fort. The only approach was by ladders, which were hauled up on the approach of any enemy. Another unusual means of defence was to be found in the construction of artificial islands in lakes. An excellent example may be found in Lake Waiwiri (near Horowhenua, Wellington). This lake contains two islands, one natural, known as Papaitonga, and the other artificial. The former was fortified and held by about 800 people. The latter was made by driving piles into the bed of the lake. “Negroheads” were brought in immense quantities and cast between the piles till a mound level with the water was formed. Then from the kitchen - middens heaps of old mussel-shells, the refuse of past page 304 generations, were put upon the tufts of negro-heads, and then many canoe loads of negro-heads and rubbish till the island took shape.

The villages were kept clean by sanitary laws of exceeding strictness, for they were of a religious (tapu) character. The common latrine (paepae) was in as secluded a spot as possible, and was hidden from view by devices of creeping plants, etc. Often the edge of a steep cliff was used for this purpose, with a horizontal spar solidly set, on which the person using it had to creep out, an arrangement of danger in a gale.

Mention should be made that among the defences of a pa were towers (taumaihi) used not only for purposes of observation but for active hostilities against a besieging force. On these towers large stones were kept, in order that they might be hurled on the attacking warriors.1 In a sketch made many years ago the features of this kind of defence have been preserved, the drawing showing two wooden towers, one six and the other four stages high.2 Some forts had stages (puwhara) like balconies overhanging the main palisade; from these missiles could be hurled down on an attacking party.

The number of forts to be found in New Zealand argues the occupation of the country by a very numerous population. From the top of Mount Eden, for instance, hills that have been terraced as pa are to be seen on every hand. Mr. S. Percy Smith gives the names of 25 forts near Auckland, each with at least 500 people, and Mount Eden with 3,000. page 305 If we allow 15,500 population for these, it is, if anything, too few, for (counting out women, aged persons, young people and infants) not more than one-fifth would be fighting men; and 3,000 warriors were few to defend so many palisades and earthworks. No better idea of the number of pa could be obtained than by quoting the words of Mr. J. Cowan relative to different fighting stations on the small island of Mokoia in Lake Rotorua. He says:—“The several hilltops on the little island are crowned by the remains of old fortifications, relics of the days when might was right and the weakest tribe went to the wall and into the stomachs of the other fellows. At a spot called Paepaerau, a pretty little slope, overshadowed by groves of glossy green karaka and wharangi and mahoe trees, above the landing-place at the Maori village, there is to be seen a tawa tree, in whose trunk there is embedded, in a singular manner, the bones of a man, which were placed there some 70 years ago, since when the tree has quite encircled the bones. That Mokoia was thickly populated in past years is shown by a number of ancient pa and the cultivation-grounds at the foot of the hills. On the south-side of the tree-clad island stood Te Koutu village in olden times, and further eastward, toward the landing place, there stood, on a little hill now covered with karaka and karamu (coprosma trees), the pa known as Kaiweka, which overlooks the hot bath called Wai-kimihia, of romantic memory. Here it was that Tutanekai tootled on his little bone page 306 flute to Hine-moa across the lake. Then on the steep eastern face of the island stood in former days a large pa known as Pukurahi, which extended over a considerable area, and the old terraces, ramparts and ditches of which are still visible. This pa, like the other forts on the island, was easily taken by Hongi, for there was, it is said, only one musket on the island at that time, whereas Hongi and his Ngapuhi marauders had over 300 guns. On the top of a wooded hill looking over to the eastern side of the lake there once stood another strong palisaded pa called Rangiahua, and close by on the hill tops were the ancient strongholds of Tokanui and Puke-maire. On the north-east side stand the ruins of an old pa known as Tarawera-manu, which was established by Uenuku, the great founder of the Ngati-Uenuku-kopako tribe. On the north side, on the top of a steep fern-clad hill, my veteran guide pointed out the site of the celebrated Arorangi pa, the earthworks of which are overgrown by fern and tupakihi. It is worth noting that this name, Arorangi, is one of the numerous place-names which the Maoris brought with them from their old homes in the South Sea Islands, for it is a name of a village on the Island of Rarotonga. The chief of this pa was also named Arorangi, and he was head of the Kawa-arero hapu, who were attacked and killed several centuries ago by Uenuku's warriors, when they were all ngenge (weary) with much watching and fighting. These fights arose over the killing of Uenuku's dog, and it will be thus seen that on this little islet page 307 the people were sometimes at war with each other. The summit of the island is known as Te tihi-o-Tama-Whakaikai, and a steep rock face, called Taupiri, is a conspicuous object near the highest point. All the above-named strongholds were captured in 1823, when Hongi took the island, killed and ate about 700 of the defenders, and captured hundreds of slaves.”

One of the few remains in New Zealand having archæological interest is that of the great earth-mound in the shape of a lizard formed on the banks of the river Waitio. It was many yards in length and represented the lizard in a wriggling attitude. The Maoris carefully kept its outline scoured clean of weeds and bushes, as the English keep their celebrated “White Horse.” It was formed about 500 years ago, according to legend and genealogy, and was originally one of three, but two of these have disappeared.

In the South Island there are rude drawings in red and black on many of the overhanging rock shelters or shallow caves. They are said to have been executed by the Ngati-Mamoe tribe when taking refuge in these shelters from the hot pursuit of their enemies.