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The Coming of the Maori

Post-European Influence

Post-European Influence

The addition of European weapons to the Maori armoury was disastrous. The Maori, after experiencing the better results obtained from firearms, were eager to be on the butt end of a gun. Early voyagers, as a rule, had been humanitarian and refused to barter firearms but the later traders regarded them as their most profitable objects for sale. The Bay of Islands was early established as a haven of call by whalers and traders and hence the neighbouring Ngapuhi was the first tribe to be supplied with guns. They proceeded to exact vengeance on neighbouring tribes for past defeats and having squared their debts of honour, they proceeded to pile up a page 281credit account by touring the North Island with weapons which made them invincible.

Defeated tribes realized that they stood a risk of being annihilated unless they could obtain the new weapon so as to fight on even terms. The acquisition of firearms became the absorbing purpose of life and traders were welcomed with open arms. As the price for a musket was from 5 to 8 hundredweight of dressed flax fibre, numbers of people camped on the edge of swamps where they worked feverishly in scraping and scutching flax fibre by hand to make up the tallies for the guns which would bring them safety. Inter-tribal wars increased to an extent not hitherto known and bullets with resulting stampedes killed more than would ever have been possible with weapons of wood, bone, and stone. The missionaries, who did their utmost to bring about peace, estimated that in the 20 years ending with 1849, 80,000 people were killed or thed as a result of the inter-tribal wars.

The Maori made their own cartridge cases out of wood and also their cartridges for the charge of powder and ball. Stones were used for bullets when the supply of lead ran short and Best (16, vol. 2, p. 286) states that in the later war against the pakeha, peach stones were used by some. In the war dances, guns were held by the barrel with the butt upward. The name coined for guns was pu, probably because it had a long tube and made a sound like the wind instruments bearing the name of pu. The old flintlock muskets were named ngutu-parera (duck's bill) from the fancied resemblance of the hammer holding the flint. Single-barrelled guns were called hakimana and double-barrelled guns, tupara.

A war development was the conversion of trade tomahawks into weapons. Some were attached to long handles with a carved head and a proximal spear point after the pattern of the pouwhenua (Fig. 76e). Others were attached to short handles of wood or preferably bone with a knob at the butt end carved into a human head. A hole was made near the butt knob for a hand loop after the style of the native short clubs. The long-handled hatchet was termed a toki-kakau-roa and it became a favourite weapon for close fighting. The short-handled tomahawk was a toki-kakau-poto and like the mere class of club it was used for close infighting. Another conversion on a limited scale was the lashing of the old triangular-section bayonets to wooden shafts for use as spears.

The old Maori weapons ceased long ago to function as means of destruction but as works of art they were retained as heirlooms by those families who were able to avoid selling or giving. Such are usually displayed on the breast of a corpse lying in state or used by the family orator to punctuate his speeches. An orator must hold a weapon in his hand while speaking and failing a club, he holds a modern walking-stick, which, however, he holds the right way as he would a club.

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The conversion of the tribes to the Gospel of Peace ended the intertribal wars and the guns were laid aside for the time being. Guns came into use again later against the pakeha owing to mistakes on the part of the Government of the day. Again they were laid aside until the Maori as a united people took up arms as members of the New Zealand Expeditionary Forces in World War I and World War II. However, the guns had travelled a long way in development from the flint-lock muskets with duck-billed hammers used by tattooed ancestors to the modern rifles and machine guns handled so ably by their smooth-faced descendants on the far-flung battlefields of distant continents.