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The Pa Maori

The Melanesian Region — Fortified Places of Fiji

The Melanesian Region
Fortified Places of Fiji

According to Basil Thomson the Fijians had something not unlike the simpler form of Maori pa, a custom of surrounding villages with an earthwork about 6 ft. high, surmounted by a stockade of reed fencing, or cocoanut trunks, and surrounded by a muddy moat, or, in some cases, a double or triple moat with earthworks between. This writer states:—"Almost every important hilltop in western Viti-levu is crowned with an entrenchment of some kind. Though there were generally from four to eight gateways, defended by traverses, and surmounted with a lookout place, some strongholds had but one gateway, and that so difficult of access as to be impracticable to the besiegers." Traverses seem to denote the use of firearms here.

Williams, in his Fiji and Fijians, speaks of native villages being fortified with an earth rampart, about 6 ft. thick, faced with large stones, surmounted by a reed fence or cocoanut trunks, and surrounded by a muddy moat. He also remarks that they had strongholds erected on precipitous places that were most difficult of access. "Some of these strongholds have, in addition to their natural difficulty of access, strong palisades and stone breastworks pierced with loopholes. Sometimes a fortress has only one gateway, with a page 425traverse leading to it, but from four to eight entrances are generally found. At the top of the gateway, on the inside, there is sometimes a raised and covered platform for a lookout. The gates are formed by strong sliding bars inside; without, on either side, are substantial bastions. Visitors capable of judging give the Fijians credit for skill in arranging these several parts so as to afford an excellent defence even against musketry. The garrisons are often well provisioned, but ill-watered."

In the above account the loopholes, bastions and traverses look very much like a late innovation, since the introduction of firearms.

An interesting allusion to a Fijian fortified place appears in the Journal of Commodore Goodenough, as written by him in December, 1873. This fort appears to be situated on Wakaya, an island near Levuka. He writes:—

"December 3rd, 1873.—Believing Dr. Brower to be over at Wakaya, went over there. … He was in Levuka. … We went up to the highest point of the island. There is a regular fort, with double ditch, nearly circular, on top. … The foundation of a temple (square) and a round foundation still stand; it is curious as having been the stronghold of a party who used to plunder the richer land, and precisely like what we should call a British encampment. … The interesting part of this fortification is, that the lower ditch has a covered way extending from this hill to another along a ridge, and to two others in another direction, which shows a considerable advance in the science of fortification."

As usual, there is an irritating lack of explanation and detail in the above brief allusion, matter that might easily have been obtained at that time.

The same writer speaks of another fortified place, apparently near the Rewa river, as follows:—"January 22nd, 1874.—At Na Koro vatu … went off to see the site of Soro vako velo; it came on in torrents of rain, but we went on and saw this fortified town, in which a great deal of art is shown in the construction, including a covered way from promontory to promontory, little outwards, etc. They held out here for two months, and their works were certainly not to be despised. The general plan seemed to be to take in every hill top, and to surround with bank, ditch, and wattled fence. The best ditches 8 ft. deep, the best bank 3 ft. high; the earth soon washed down. The fences in places of fern stem [? trunks of tree ferns], and in others wattled cane."

The following notes are from a paper on the hill tribes, of Viti-levu, by the Rev. A. J. Webb, published in the Report of the Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science, 1890:— page 426"Their villages were mostly perched on most inaccessible peaks and precipices. … These eyries were skilfully fortified with palisades and galleries for sharpshooters, which, with their well chosen strategic position, rendered some of them traditionally impregnable, and until the introduction of European arms of precision … they were never taken. I have even seen fortified places on a plain so surrounded by moats, where the mud was armed with stakes and split bamboos, and so encompassed with clay ramparts and stout palisades line within line, that the very taking of them in purely native warfare was a very tedious or very fatal undertaking. I saw one village, called Waini-makutu, where the stream had been most ingeniously diverted into the circular moat, in which it was swirling round the town on its onward progress … and thus formed a perpetual defence to the people. An officer in the English army, who had taken some of these forts of the hillmen, expressed to me his surprise at the skill and science of the engineering they displayed. Covered galleries and lanes, and curious platforms for sentinels and marksmen, were also features in these works."

The hill forts seem to have been of a different type to those situated on the plains. The wet moats of the latter were an unknown feature in Maori forts.

In Major Harding's Diary of the Na Dawaran Campaign of 1874, published in the Transactions of the Fijian Society for 1916, appears an account of an attack on a native stronghold having five tiers of earthworks backed by a strong bamboo stockade.

In his narrative of the U.S. Exploring Expedition, Commodore Wilkes gives us the following particulars concerning the fortified villages seen at Fiji:—

"The towns are usually fortified with a strong palisade made of breadfruit or cocoanut trees, around which is a ditch partly filled with water. There are usually two entrances, in which are gates so narrow as only to admit of one person at a time. The village of Waitora, about two miles to the north of Levuka, is justly considered by the natives as a place of great strength. This was visited by Messrs. Hale and Sandford, who give the following description of it: "It is situated upon a hill, and can be approached only by a narrow path along the sloping edge of a rocky ridge. At the extremity of this path is a level space of about an acre in extent, which is surrounded by a stone wall, and filled with houses. In the centre is a rock about 20 ft. high, and one hundred feet square. The top of this is reached by a natural staircase, formed by the roots of a banyan tree. … Some of the principal towns are not fortified at all. … The fortifications of which we have spoken, whether pali-page 427sades and ditch or stone walls, are constructed with great ingenuity, particularly the holds to which they retire when hard pressed. For these a rock or hill, as inaccessible as possible, is chosen, with a small level space on the top. Around this space a palisade is constructed of upright posts of cocoanut tree, about 9 in. in diameter, and about 2 ft. apart. To the outside of these wickerwork is fastened with strong lashings of sennit. Over each entrance is a projecting platform, about 9 ft. square, for the purpose of guarding the approach by hurling spears and shooting arrows. The gates or entrances are shut by sliding bars from the inside, and are defended on each side by structures of strong wickerwork, resembling bastions, which are placed about 15 ft. apart. When there is a ditch, the bridge across it is composed of two narrow logs. The whole arrangement affords an excellent defence against any weapons used by the natives of these islands, and even against musketry."

In his description of the hot springs at Waicama, Savusavu, Wilkes says:—"On the hills behind the springs there has been one of the strongest forts in the Fiji islands. It has two moats, and in the centre was a high mound that had evidently cost much labour in its construction. These hills were bare of trees."

In his account of an attack made by his company on the native village of Sualib, on Malolo isle, in 1840, the same writer remarks:— "Its defences evinced no little skill in engineering. A ditch 12 ft. wide and full of mud and water, surrounded the whole; next came a strong palisade built of cocoanut trunks, placed 4 ft. or 5 ft. apart, among which was here and there a living tree; this palisade was united by a fence of wicker-work, about 10 ft. high, so strong and dense all attempts to penetrate or even see through it were vain. Inside of the palisade was another ditch, recently excavated, the earth thrown up from which formed a parapet about 4 ft. in thickness, and as many in height. In the ditch the defenders sheltered themselves, and only exposed their heads when they rose to shoot through the loopholes left in the palisade."

In speaking of the Fijian town of Rewa, as seen by him in 1840, the above writer states:—"It is everywhere intersected by narrow lanes, closely shut in with high reed fences."

In his work on Fiji, Seeman, who sojourned in that group in 1860-61, gives the following brief notes on fortified places. Of one on an isle near Viti-levu, he remarks:—"There may be about one hundred inhabitants, who lived in a town defended by a deep ditch and high earthen mounds."

In describing an attack on Solevu, on the south side of Vanua Levu, by an allied force of Fijians and Tongans, he writes;—"The page 428allied forces appeared before the town of Solevu, which, being strongly fortified, held out against the invaders three whole months. At the end of that time, the besieged were in extreme want of fresh water, the besiegers having diverted a rivulet supplying the town from its course, and all the wells being dry. Unable to hold out any longer, Solevu surrendered."

Again, in describing Fijian life, he writes:—"The houses are never isolated, but are crowded together in towns, or koro, which are frequently surrounded by a ditch and an earthen mound."

In T. R. St. Johnston's work on the Lau Islands, which lie east of Fiji, mention is made of hill forts on the isles of Ono and Doi.

Introduced features, owing to the acquisition of firearms, were noted in the Fijian hill forts, but the old time usage of stationing defenders on elevated stages erected over each entrance was a pre-gun form of defence. These, and the sliding bars to close entrance passages, were common features of Maori forts, as also was the projection of the platform outside the line of stockade mentioned by Wilkes. This is the kotaretare of the Maori. These fighting stages were also employed in New Guinea. The rampart surmounted by a stockade, fosses, stone faced ramparts, sliding bars across narrow gateways, and covered ways were also features of old Maori forts.

In his account of the cruise of H.M.S. Havannah in 1849, Captain Erskine gives us a few remarks on fortified villages of Fiji:—"During my walk on shore I had visited the fortified village, or kolo, of Levuka, about a mile distant from our landing place, but within a few hundred yards of the beach. It consists of a considerable number of huts, huddled together without regularity, and enclosed by a mound of earth 3 ft. in height, which is surmounted by a reed fence; the whole being surrounded by a narrow and shallow ditch, serving both as a defence and a garden for taro. The ditch, as at Lakemba, is crossed on the trunk of a cocoanut tree, thrown across it as a drawbridge, and the mound is entered by a low gate, which can be hastily barricaded with timber."

Apparently this was an inferior place, and the following description of Nateva Savana portrays a much stronger position:—"It was a large town, well fortified with wood and stone walls. Outside of these was an embankment about 12 ft. high and almost as many thick, and a deep moat entirely surrounding everything, leaving one narrow entrance which was approached by a path from the beach, very narrow, with a deep ditch on each side full of water. All along the bottom of the ditches were stuck stakes sharpened at the upper end and hardened in fire, so that if you fell into either ditch these page 429stakes would enter the body, but on account of the thickness of the water they would not be observed."

So far as we are aware such defences as these pointed stakes were never employed by the Maori folk. The dimensions of the wall or rampart given above seem to show that the defenders were stationed on the top when repelling an assault, a mode of defence practised also by the Maori, as we have already shown.

We are also told in the above work, that some of the Fijian villages situated on level land were surrounded by a defensive maze of ditches. The narrator was unable to find his way through this maze in an endeavour to reach the village of Tokotoko:—"I was surprised to see the intricate, crooked paths that led round innumerable moats and ditches so constructed as to baffle and perplex the enemy. These ditches extend at least four miles round and beyond the suburbs of Tokotoko, and have taken, I should say, the labour of this last century to complete. One can see the remains of old ditches for seven or eight miles, and in fact all over that part of the land which is low and affords no natural defence. At last I reached a plantation, but, for the life of me, could not get out of these winding paths so as to make any headway in a straight direction, but invariably came out at the same place I started at."

Of another fortified village about four miles from Tokotoko, he remarks as follows:—"I saw nothing worth noticing except the neatness of the fences inside of the moats, which run from one end of the town to the other, quite straight and parallel to each other, forming narrow streets or broad paths, with other fences crossing them at right angles, forming numerous cross roads and dividing the whole town into squares and parallelograms, with stiles to enter each."

This sub-division of a village resembled that of a pa maori save that, in the latter case, the paths and fences were crooked and showed no regular plan.