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The Pa Maori

The Modern Gun-Fighter's Pa (From Notes supplied by the late Tuta Nihoniho)

page 367

The Modern Gun-Fighter's Pa (From Notes supplied by the late Tuta Nihoniho)

The introduction of firearms into New Zealand was soon followed by a change in the native methods of warfare and fortification. This was a necessary and inevitable result of the acquisition of missile weapons of precision. In pre-European days the missile weapons of the Maori were of an exceedingly primitive and short-flight nature, hence the fighting was practically a hand to hand business. A man might stand a hundred feet away from a besieged pa and do so in safety. Men stood on elevated stages to defend a hamlet. All this was altered when muskets were obtained. The advent of the flint lock musket put a stop to primitive methods of fighting, and firearms gradually forced the old native weapons out of the field. The days of the old time rakau maori (native weapons) were numbered, the fierce charge of the Ika a Whiro was seen no more, the gun fighter had arrived upon the scene.

One change that was soon made in regard to the pa maori, or native fort, after the introduction of guns, was that in many cases the people moved down from the hills to the flat land, abandoned their hill forts and constructed new ones on level ground, often on the brink of a stream or river, thus lessoning the chance of having any trouble over the water supply. The reason given for the above change of location is that a hill pa was more easily approached by an enemy than one situated on a flat. The hill formation afforded cover to a hostile party enabling it to approach and, in some cases, to dominate the fortress, facilities that were not vouchsafed it on level land. In approaching the latter type of fortified hamlet, no cover in many cases, was obtainable, and thus the garrison had the advantage over their assailants.

The modern gun fighting pa had, as a rule, but two stockades or rather one true stockade and an outer screen, nor were the timbers of the stockade, in many cases, so large in the modern pa. The kiri tangata, or innermost stockade, was no longer needed, and was dispensed with. A trench was made inside the stockade, as a place of shelter for the gun fighters. The outer screen of the aparua was usually wholly detached and vertical, a light stockade or fence erected about thirty inches in front of the main stockade so that the old-fashioned long-barrelled muskets thrust through the uprights of the main fence, and under the screen, often projected beyond and outside the latter. The defenders crouched in the ditch, and, having fired, could duck down and reload their pieces in safety. The bottom of the pickets of page 368the outer screen did not reach the ground by about a foot or eighteen inches.

The earthwork of a modern pa was utilised as we sometines use ours; the defenders were stationed on the banquette and fired over the top of the parapet. Loopholes for firing through were sometimes made by placing two rows of sand bags on the top of the parapet, the first layer a little way apart, to form the loophole, the next row close together, and breaking joints over the first row. This usage was borrowed from Europeans. Bags about three feet long, woven of green Phormium leaves were used for this purpose.

Fig. 105—Interior of Te Putiki Pa at Whanganui, as it appears in Gilfillan's famed painting. (See p. 369.)

Modern earthworks are often alluded to as parepare, more especially the smaller ones, such as a short one in front and outside of the entrance to a pa, as a protection for the gateway, a form of ravelin. Small detached earthworks were also erected in other suitable places as earthworks.

Another new feature in the modern pa was the flanking angle, called pukoro. A common form of flanking angle on the East Coast was the enclosure of a small space at an angle of the pa by means of a stockade or palisading. Along the middle of this enclosure, extending from the angle of the pa to within a few feet of the outer fence, page 369was an earthwork wall about five feet high. Between this wall and the palisade, all round, was a trench about five feet deep, in which the gun fighters stood to fire through the palisades. The trench was continued under the defences of the pa to its interior, so that persons might pass to and fro through a kind of subway below the stockade and earthwork. There were no niho or kotikoti, i.e., traverses, left in the ditch of this bastion work, as such were not needed, and might serve to shelter an enemy if he gained admittance to the work.

The palisades of the modern pa were somewhat wider spaced than in the pre-European fortified places.

In many cases where the inmates of a pa, such as non-combatants, might be in danger from the fire of an attacking party, and in cases where cannon were employed against them by Europeans, subterranean chambers to serve as shelters and dwelling places were excavated, and covered with low pitched roofs covered deeply with earth. A similar form of dwelling pit was occasionally seen in a pa in pre-European times, the object being to obtain warmth.

Sentries in a modern pa were stationed at suitable places, and usually remained silent; in some cases a man was appointed as a chanter of koko, or watch songs, though it does not appear that he actually performed the duties of a sentry. Other and minor changes were made in the pa maori on the introduction of firearms and European customs.

The best village scene of Maori life that we have is an interior view of the Putiki pa, a stockaded village at Whanganui, the work of Mr. Gilfillan in the early 'forties' of last century. It will be noted that some European features appear in the scene, viz., blankets, shirts, an iron pot, a cap, the game of draughts, and a young pig being nursed by a woman. See Fig. 105, p. 368.

Darwin gives us the following brief note on Maori forts.:—"I was surprised to find that almost every hill I ascended, had been at some former time more or less fortified. The summits were cut into steps or successive terraces, and frequently they had been protected by deep trenches. I afterwards observed that the principal hills inland in like manner showed an artificial outline. … That these pa had formerly been much used was evident from the piles of shells, and the pits in which, as I was informed, sweet potatoes used to be kept as a reserve. As there was no water on these hills, the defenders could never have anticipated a long siege, but only a hurried attack for plunder, against which the successive terraces would have afforded good protection. The general introduction of firearms has changed the whole system of warfare; and an exposed situation on the top of a hill is now worse than useless. The pa in consequence are, page 370at the present day, always built on a level piece of ground. They consist of a double stockade of thick and tall posts, placed in a zigzag line, so that every part can be flanked. Within the stockade a mound of earth is thrown up, behind which the defenders can rest in safety, or use their firearms over it. On the level of the ground little archways sometimes pass through this breastwork, by which means the defenders can crawl out to the stockade to reconnoitre their enemies. The Rev. W. Williams, who gave me this account, added that in one pa he had noticed spurs or buttresses projecting on the inner and protected side of the mound of earth. On asking the chief the use of them, he replied that, if two or three of his men were shot, their neighbours would not see the bodies, and so be discouraged.

"These pa are considered by the New Zealanders as very perfect means of defence; for the attacking force is never so well disciplined as to rush in a body to the stockade, cut it down, and effect their entry. When a tribe goes to war, the chief cannot order one party to go here and another there, but every one fights in the manner which best pleases himself."

In describing his visit to Kaipara in 1820, the Rev. Mr. Marsden says:—"We passed a pa on a commanding spot, but the chief told us it now afforded them no protection against their enemies since firearms had been introduced. He showed us where their enemies had fired into them with ball, and the distance was too great for them to throw their spears."

The Rev. G. Clarke speaks of Kororipo, the pa of Hongi, as being a perfect network of pits and palisaded ways inside. He also writes:—"Let me try and give you some idea of this Maori fortress, as I knew it in its strength. It was a double stockade of upright posts from fifteen to eighteen feet high, with a chain of pits between the two fences, and another chain of pits inside the second of them. The posts at the angles, and at certain intermediate distances, were, in fact, logs about two feet in diameter, the intervals being split logs, and they were surmounted by grotesque and carved hideous human figures, mostly head, with goggle eyes and protruding tongues, all looking outward as if in defiance of any hostile approach."

In the account of the voyage of the French frigate Venus in 1836-39 appears the following description of a pa at Kawakawa, Bay of Islands district:—"The pa of Kawakawa is situated on a rise of average height and buttresses itself on the side of a high mountain cut steeply, and surrounded on all other sides by a swamp and by the course of the Kawakawa river. In addition it is page 371strengthened by a high stockade about four or five metres high, the palisades of which are very close together, merely leaving spaces between them to serve as loopholes; the palisades are of unequal heights. From point to point, but more especially at the angles of the pa, there are posts of much greater size than the others, of these the tops are so carved as to represent heads, to which they have given the most terrible expression that one could possibly imagine. All of them had their mouths open, and tongues thrust out to an inordinate length, while still others among them seemed to be gnashing their teeth. The teeth and the eyes are formed of pieces of shell, the tongues are coloured red, and some of the heads are also of the same colour. Others of the heads are painted in many colours and are tattooed in imitation of those of the natives. They have not been satisfied with representing on these posts the heads only, here and there they have carved the whole figure of personages to whom they have given the most enormous and grotesque figures, in order to answer the purpose of terrifying scarecrows. In case of war with another tribe, these figures received from the people in the pa, as evidence of contempt, and as a means of insult, the names of the most notable chiefs on the side of the enemy.

"Immediately on the inside of the stockade of the Kawakawa pa, and at special angles, the trenches took the form of covered paths; the besieged stationed in them would find themselves almost entirely safe, because the stockades were further strengthened at the bottom to about the height of a metre at that place. In brief this kind of native fortification, though not constructed after any rules of art, was nevertheless planned for defence with remarkable cleverness. The strong angles were intentionally formed so as to project outside the line of the enclosure, which was of great assistance in the defence of the stockades, and much in the same way as, in regular fortifications, the bastions defend and protect the curtains.

"There was no gateway by which to enter the pa, but at an angle was a moveable post which they raised by day and replaced by night, thus allowing a narrow passage by which we entered by means of a pile that served as a step. As soon as we entered the pa we found ourselves as it were in a labyrinth. We followed a narrow and winding path squeezed between two palings, for each house is surrounded by its own special paling, lower in height and less substantial than those of the general enclosure, and enclosing paths extremely narrow and difficult. The general aspect of the village is peculiar but little pleasing, and the curious feature is the construction of the houses."

page 372

In these covered trenches and projecting angles we see the effect of the introduction of firearms. The narrow entrance passage blocked by means of a movable post illustrates one of several methods of closing such passages.

Of the Waitaha-nui pa at Taupo, Wakefield, who visited it in 1841, remarks:—"On this bank [between swamp and lake] is built a very strong pa called Waitaha-nui. Across the eastern end of the bank, a strong double fence, 15 ft. high, runs from the swamp to the lake, and a like fence protects the western point. In the pa are the finest native houses that I have yet seen. … There was no one in the pa on the occasion of my visit, and the fences were ruinous in many places, but they talked of renovating the fortification … to provide against an apprehended invasion from Wai-kato. … The whole force of Waitaha-nui amounts to little more than 400 fighting men. … The pa is 500 yds. long and 100 yds. broad, and is used as a city of refuge by all the inhabitants of Taupo and Roto-a-ira. Each division of the tribe has its own separate quarters."

Of this same place, Dieffenbach wrote that the stockade extended about half a mile along the banks of the lake:—"The village, although full of well constructed native houses, had no inhabitants, as it was a pa used only as a place for the tribe to assemble in in times of war. I had leisure to examine it, and found most of the houses ornamented with carvings, and containing the usual domestic utensils of the proprietors. In some boxes which stood upon poles were the bones of children and adults. In the vestibule of one of the houses I found the head of a young girl in a basket, prepared in the manner which has long been so well known. … The high posts which surrounded this pa were carved at the tops with human figures in a defying position."

Of a pa at Te Puna, Bay of Islands, Dr. Marshall wrote as follows in 1834:—"This pa … is in comparative disuse at present, and, consequently, out of repair. It covers the whole top of the hill, and is composed of a series of circles, surrounding one another, and mutually protecting the several enclosures, which they fence in by a high stockade, the stakes being about twelve feet from the ground: Each of these fences or stockades requiring to be separately scaled or the whole to be successively thrown down, before the capitol or inner circle could be gained by an enemy, who at every accessible point would be commanded by the defending party, and exposed to an increasing risk at every advance."

In his report on the Wellington district of November, 1841, Mr. Halswell says:—"The native pa, the crying evil, are a mass of filth and vermin; disease, in various shapes, always prevails. There is … a distressing cutaneous disease … and as long as they herd together page 373in these wretched holes, it will be next to impossible to eradicate it." He speaks of the Pito-one pa as a 'loathsome place.' Several early writers speak of the dirtiness and slovenly appearance of the native hamlets in the Wellington district in the 'forties.' These natives were apparently inferior to those who preceded them in this district in such respects. Cook speaks of the superiority of natives of this district over those of Queen Charlotte Sound, where he saw some visitors from this side. These latter folk were later expelled from this district.

It is a noteworthy fact that the Maori was, as a rule, more particular in regard to his surroundings in former times than he has been of later years. His villages were usually kept in a much neater and more cleanly state, his cultivations were marvels of neatness, and he paid more attention to sanitation than he does now. Writers such as Colenso and Nicholas have drawn special attention to these facts.

"Not far from Te Ruaki (a pa three miles E.N.E. of Hawera) is another old pa, named Ohangai, which, when I stayed there in 1858, was fully fortified in the old fashioned way with ramparts, fosse, etc., besides being palisaded with great posts, many of them carved in the usual manner with grotesque heads. A large number of people were then living there, who kept the place beautifully clean and neat. It was surrounded by karaka groves, many of which trees grew in the pa itself and furnished a grateful shade … never, in the extensive course of my travels, did I ever behold so charming a site, or so complete and beautiful an example of an old fashioned pa." Maori History of the Taranaki Coast, by S. Percy Smith.

In a letter received from Mr. S. Percy Smith in May, 1921, he makes a few further remarks on Ohangai pa, as he saw it in 1858:—"I fear that there is not much of the old pa left, as I knew it in 1858, when I spent a Sunday there with my companions on our return from Taupo. At that time it was a fully palisaded pa, with excellent carvings, full of people under Te Hanataua (I think that was his name), who insisted on the pa being kept neat and clean. It was certainly the most beautiful pa I ever saw, with delightful views over the distant country. Karaka trees grew in the pa and cast a fine shade. The next time I saw Ohangai was in 1867, when I went there with Colonel McDonnell in order to receive the submission of some of the Hauhau, who handed over a lot of useless old firearms. The palisading and houses were all gone, indeed I think our troops had burned the place."

In some cases the Maori occupied such sites for defence in modern times as he did in pre-gun days, even though commanded at fairly short range by other hills, but, as British troops seemed to have a page 374strong objection to acting from such commanding hills, the Maori was pretty safe.

The Wai-pukura pa, on a hill top on the left bank of the Whanga-nui river, below Upoko-ngaro, was commanded at fairly close range by other hill tops round it, yet the British troops who attacked it did not succeed in dislodging its garrison, though they are stated to have expended 10,000 rounds of ammunition in the attempt.

In the attack on the Maori position at Wai-kotero, Horokiri Valley, in 1846, no attempt was made to occupy the higher ground a few chains north or N.W. of the enemy's rifle pits, the attacking force being sent up a steep and narrow spur top to face the concentrated fire from the enemy's earthworks. Not only so, but, as they advanced, the pioneers cleared the bush, the only cover, from the narrow ridge as the soldiers advanced. Comment is needless.

We have seen that, in late times, when big guns were used against them, the Maori used much lighter stockades, and relied more on earthworks, rifle pits, trenches, underground chambers and passages, dry and bomb proof, that is after they had learned the uses, effect and limitations of big gun-fire. Thus such fire had really but little effect beyond destroying a trumpery palisading, the real defences were elsewhere, as our troops found at the Gate Pa, where the gentle savage crumpled up the British force and sent the survivors thereof flying in confusion.

We know that small detached earthworks, a ditch and bank, as also pit shelters, were used by the Maori in inter-tribal fighting, after he acquired guns, likewise in his fighting against us. These breastworks, or parepare, were used in attacking pa, and in other situations. A good example exists, or did exist thirty years ago, in the garden of the old Lorne homestead on the Wai-kohu river. It commanded a bend in the river, and was occupied by musketeers at a time when the pa on the opposite bank was being besieged, thus preventing any canoes passing up or down stream.

The natives soon acquired some of the European arts of fortification, as we have seen, and casemates and traverses were two of the most important of these. A traverse was referred to as a kokoti or kotikoti, also as a niho. Some of the earthworks formed by natives, even as early as the 'forties' of last century, were distinctly European in form and arrangement, such as those of Okaihau.

Major-General Alexander, in his work on Bush Fighting describes how the Maori, finding that their detached rifle pits were jumped over by the attacking troops 'covered them with a line of palisading, a space being left between the bottom of the palisades and the ground (except at intervals) to admit of the men firing on the ground level, page 375after the usual way of defending pa,'. He also speaks of the hostiles defending a position against troops 'with long rows of palisading, flanked at intervals, besides a square pa or redoubt which commanded the approach.' There would be rifle pits behind these palisades, and these were really the main defence, not the redoubt itself.

The following remarks are from Wilkes' account of the Bay of Islands in 1840:—"The natives, for the most part, have their permanent residence in towns, or what are here termed "pas," which are generally built on high promontories, or insulated hills, and fortified in a rude fashion with a palisade of upright stakes, about ten feet high: the houses or huts are all built closely together. Pomare's pa, being near our anchorage, was frequently visited. It contained about three hundred huts. There was a main entrance through the palisade, near which are two posts, the tops of which are carved into distorted representations of the human figure.

"Within the main enclosure are other enclosures, each containing five or six houses, with alleys of two feet wide, that traverse the town … the 'pas' of the natives are not in reality strong places, but are little more than insulated and commanding situations. … The natives, in time of peace, do not live constantly in these pa, but are mostly occupied at their plantation grounds."

This account shows the natives of those parts as apparently still occupying old time hill sites, as is also shown in the following description of a Taranaki coast pa examined in 1834, which, however, was a cliff fort and not situated on a hill peak.

Describing the Orangi-tuapeka pa, on the Taranaki coast, as seen by him in 1834, Dr. Marshall says:—"This pa was the strongest of the three that had fallen into our hands, being built at the extremity of a peninsular commanding the Wai-mate and all the neighbouring country; but, on account of its great inclination towards the point at which it terminates, commanded in its turn by both. Like its fellows, it occupied a high, rocky, and triangular shaped position, having a perpendicular face to the sea, and two very precipitous land faces. It appeared to be of more recent date than the others, and was certainly far more beautiful. If its fortification were not so elaborately constructed as those at Te Namu, the advantages it derived from natural causes were much greater. The space occupied by it was detached from the high land adjoining by the manual labour of the natives, who had hewed off the solid rock at a part where it was narrowest, to the depth of several feet, and scarped it away on the land side to a still greater depth, and smoothed and edged the ridge at top so as to form a saddle between the country and the town, which none but a madman would attempt to cross. page 376The slope from the top of the pa to where it faces Wai-mate, is considerable, but this only served to call forth the ingenuity of the natives, whose several enclosures, divided from one another by various kinds of fences, occupy as many terraces, the effect of which from without was singularly pleasing."

The Orangituapeka and Waimate fortified villages were situated on the north and south sides of the Kapuni stream, at its mouth.

In Captain Collinson's account of military operations at Porirua and Horokiri, he speaks as follows of Te Rangi-haeata's pa at Paua-taha-nui:—"It was in a well chosen position, being on a small hill close to the water's edge, and nearly surrounded by a creek [two creeks], but with the thick forest within one hundred yards of it. The pa was about 80 yds. by 85 yds., broken into flanks, and having a double row of palisades about two feet apart, the inner one being formed of trees one foot in diameter, with a ditch inside of all about four feet wide and deep, and crossed by numerous traverses; in fact, similar to those in the north, only not quite so strong." See Fig. 106, p. 377.

The name of the above pa was Matai-taua. In his report on the evacuation of this place in 1846, Sir George Grey said:—"Upon examining this position I felt much gratified that I had not uselessly thrown away the lives of those brave men … by directing an attack on this pa." The pa was situated 20 miles from Wellington, on a small spur overlooking the village of Paua-taha-nui (misspelt Pahautanui by us), and its site is now occupied by a church.

The two accounts given of the dimensions of this fort do not agree. The illustration given is taken from a rude woodcut that appeared in the Wellington Independent, August, 1846. Apparently two flanking angles were not included in the original sketch, and the sketcher certainly failed to depict the stockade correctly. The writer is indebted to Mr. Haylock for an excellent plan based on the above mentioned woodcut and its explanatory notes. See Fig. 106, p. 377. The corner near H overhung a steep descent to the creek up which McKillop took his boat when reconnoitring the position. The other side sloped down to a small rivulet and swampy flat.