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The Coming of the Maori

The Throwing Stick

The Throwing Stick

The kotaha was described by Smith (81, p. 73) as a handle with a whiplash which was wound round the spear stuck in the ground. Williams (106, p. 322) describes the pere as an arrow or dart projected from the ground by means of a thong attached to a rod. Thus pere, kotaha, and whiuwhiu have been used by Smith as synonyms for the throwing stick and Williams applies pere to the dart. The well-authenticated kotaha was a throwing stick with a short cord tied to one end. The dart or spear was stuck lightly in the ground at an angle in the direction of flight. The free end of the cord was knotted and the cord was passed around the dart so as to cross over itself on the near side of the knot. The forward tension of the cord kept the knot in position on the dart and so gripped the dart. The dart was propelled by jerking the throwing stick forward in the line of the dart and as the dart passed forward in its flight, the cord was automatically released.

The throwing stick was used on occasion to propel darts against individuals but its chief use was to propel darts carrying lighted material to set fire to the roof thatch of houses in besieged forts. Tradition states that the Arawa canoe was burnt by Raumati who propelled a fire-carrying dart across the river on to the roof of the canoe shed. Some finely carved sticks in the British Museum remained a mystery until a short knotted cord on one of them led to their identification as kotaha throwing sticks.

The automatic release with a knotted cord was widely known in Polynesia. Simply wrapped around the right forefinger, it has been recorded from the Cook Islands, Marquesas, and Samoa, and with a throwing stick from the Cook Islands, Hawaii, and Samoa. In those parts, it was used as a pastime to throw darts for distance but with the throwing stick, the dart was laid on the ground instead of being stuck into it. The throwing cord was merely an accessory to the game of throwing darts by hand to ricochet off the ground. The throwing stick was any stick of appropriate length and was not important enough to receive a specific name but the dart received the name of teka.

The Maori ancestors evidently brought the game of teka with them page 274from central Polynesia and it continued as a game. They must also have brought the accessory use of the throwing stick and besides using it as a pastime, they also converted it locally into a weapon of war. The throwing stick thus rose in status to the extent of being carved and receiving specific names. The dart which remained a teka in the game, was evidently given the name of pere when it was made a missile in war. Thus the tradition that the throwing stick was used by the early settlers appears to be founded on fact.