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The Coming of the Maori

11 — Weapons

page 271


The principal polynesian weapons were the spear and the club. The spears, both long and short, had this in common that the point whether simple or barbed, was in one piece with the shaft. Exceptions occurred in spears pointed with the dart of the sting ray and separate points were lashed to the shaft in Niue and Mangareva. The one-piece spears offer a marked distinction to the composite spears of Melanesia, where separate points neatly and elaborately barbed were attached to the shafts. The Polynesian clubs, however, differed so widely in the various islands that it is difficult if not impossible to visualize some common form that accompanied the early ancestors into Polynesia. It is evident that each island group went its own way and developed local forms peculiar to itself. A certain amount of diffusion did take place between Samoa and Tonga and between the Society and Austral Islands but on the whole, the clubs of any island are readily identified from their local form. In central Polynesia, many of the clubs were pointed at the lower end as an additional offensive measure. The projectile weapon of Polynesia, apart from throwing spears, was the sling. The sling stones were usually natural, waterworn stones of appropriate size but in Hawaii they were also trimmed to an elliptical shape with pointed ends. Stones were also thrown by hand and early European voyagers have reported this form of attack more than the use of the sling. The bow and arrow while present in some groups was used for sport but not as a weapon of war. In Samoa, it was used to shoot pigeons, in Hawaii to shoot rats, and in the Society Islands, it was a chiefly sport in which archers clad in special costume shot for distance from raised stone platforms.

Early Maori Weapons

The long spear termed huata was stated by Te Matorohanga (81, p. 73) to have been used by the early settlers. It was 20 feet or more in length page 272and in later times was used principally in the defence of hill forts. It was a convenient means of remaining out of reach while stabbing at an invader trying to scale the defences. In my original Cawthron lecture (94, p. 27), I suggested that the use of the long spear by the earlier settlers was evidence in favour of the pre-Toi origin of the Maori fort. However, the Hawaiians used their equally long pololu spears as pikes in open battle and they had no fortified villages. Thus the long spear does not necessarily the up with forts.

The short spear termed tarerarere by Smith (81, p. 76) was stated by him to have been used by the early settlers as a spear or dart. Williams's Dictionary gives tarerarera as a short throwing spear so the two spellings evidently refer to the same type of weapon. The tradition that the two types of spear were introduced by the early settlers is probably correct for they were widely spread and required no great skill to make them.

Fig. 75. Hoeroa throwing club. a, front; b, side view; c, carved end.

Fig. 75. Hoeroa throwing club.
a, front; b, side view; c, carved end.

Three other weapons attributed to the early settlers by Te Matorohanga (81, p. 73) were the hoeroa, hurutai, and pere. The hoeroa was made from the lower jaw of the sperm whale and was between 4 and 5 feet in length. One end was shaped to a transverse, convex edge and the other which carried a long cord, was neatly carved with double spirals and decorated with seized tufts of white dog's hair (Fig. 75). The weapon was used mainly in pursuit and thrown with underhand movement to connect the edge with the spine or loins of a fleeing enemy without slackening speed, the pursuer hauled on the cord which was attached to his left wrist and the weapon came to hand without delaying the hunt for another victim. There is no weapon elsewhere like the hoeroa in material, shape, or method of use. It is so highly specialized that the traditional story of its early origin may be doubted in favour of a much later development in New Zealand.

The kurutai is stated by Percy Smith (81, p. 73) to have been "a stone weapon attached to a string, which was thrown." It may be more than a coincidence that the Hawaiians used a short club-like weapon (pi'ikoi) made of stone or wood with a long cord attached to it through a perforation and threw it at an opponent to entangle his legs after the manner of page 273throwing the South American bola at an animal. We have no details as to how the kurutai was used but if tradition is correct in this instance, such a weapon may have been introduced by the early settlers and so have provided the idea which later led to the development of the hoeroa.

The pere was listed in the weapons of the early settlers by Turaukawa (81, p. 70) and Percy Smith's translation of the native text (81, p. 73) reads, "and the pere, by which manuka spears were thrown." In a note, Smith adds that it was also called kotaha and whiuwhiu. This brings up the subject of 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.

The Bow and Arrow

The evidence for the bow and arrow in New Zealand rests to some extent on the translation of references in the Maori text of Te Matorohanga (81, p. 73), one of which runs "whakawhana ai te manuka hei pere." The verb whakawhana is the key word and it may mean either to propel or to bend. Thus the translation may be rendered as "the manuka was propelled as a dart" or "the manuka was bent as a bow." The first rendering refers to the throwing stick but even if the second rendering conveys more clearly what the informant had in mind, it does not necessarily establish the accuracy of the informant's statement. Maori children had copied the bow and arrow in play from pakeha children and their elders had named the bow pere from its propelling action. Hence it is possible that the bow and arrow idea may have been interpolated in post-European times instead of having been carried over from central Polynesia. Material support for the bow rests on a specimen in the Dominion Museum stated to have been found two feet below the surface in excavating a drain north of Auckland. It is said closely to resemble the bows from the New Hebrides but if so, it may have come from there as a curio in post-European times.

Long Clubs

The clubs, like the spears, may be divided into long and short types, and both classes show ample evidence of local development. The long clubs, averaging about five feet in length, consist of three types: the pouwhenua, tewhatewha, and taiaha or hani, all made of tough wood in one piece. The three clubs have the common features of a blade for striking and a proximal point for stabbing. The simplest in form and the most effective as a weapon was the pouwhenua. The blade was long, fairly wide, with the distal end truncated or slightly convex, and the sides somewhat bluntly edged. It narrowed gradually through the shaft to about 2 feet from the end where the shaft was carved with a human head (Fig. 76a). The tewhatewha resembled the pouwhenua in the sharp spear point and the position of the carved head but it had a flat, backward expansion at the distal end which somewhat resembled the blade of an axe (Fig. 76b). The taiaha resembled the pouwhenua closely as regards the blade, though it page 275was a little narrower; but the carved head was much larger and lower down on the shaft and the point formed a shorter, flattened tongue (Fig. 76c, d).

The combination of the functions of a spear and a club in one weapon seems an easy step in the evolution of weapons but with few exceptions, their development occurred mainly in central Polynesia, in the Society, Austral, and Cook Islands. The further addition of a proximal point to form a striking club with both ends pointed was the peak in development.

Fig. 76. Long clubs.a, pouwkenua; b, tewhatewha; c, d, taiaha; e, toki kakauroa. a, c, d, after Hamilton (46), b, e, Fuller coll.

Fig. 76. Long clubs.
a, pouwkenua; b, tewhatewha; c, d, taiaha; e, toki kakauroa. a, c, d, after Hamilton (46), b, e, Fuller coll.

A few of the Society and Austral Islands clubs were furnished with a blunt proximal point but in the Cook Islands, all the clubs, with one Rarotongan exception, were furnished with proximal points. In Atiu, the blades were narrow but edged at the sides and their evolution was undoubtedly a slight expansion of the upper end of a spear shaft for striking and so constituted a spear-club as distinct from the spears which were also in use. The Rarotongan weapons on the other hand were page 276distinct clubs with wide serrated blades but with the distal spear point retained. Some have unserrated edges and thus mark a stage of increased blade expansion from the Atiu spear-clubs. The Mangaian clubs, with one exception, dropped the distal spear point but retained the serrated edge and the proximal point. The sporadic appearance of clubs with the proximal point occurs in Niue and some have the distal point as well.

It is evident that the proximal point, which is such a marked feature of the Maori long clubs, was present in the area from which the Maori ancestors came but even if it were present there when they left, it remained a secondary adjunct to their spear-pointed clubs. In the development which took place in New Zealand, the Maori exploited the possibilities of the proximal point and dispensed entirely with the distal point if they ever used it. The clubs were made shorter and lighter for scientific; sparring; and lightning strokes and thrusts were aided by quick footwork. The expert instructors had an old saying, "He waewae taimaha, he kiri maku" ("Heavy feet, a wet skin"). The fighter with heavy feet ran the chance of getting his skin wet with his own blood. In combat, either end of the club was used as opportunity presented itself and it was held that the point was more dangerous than the blade. It is interesting to note that for many generations the European nations have used the rifle and the bayonet as a one-ended weapon for thrusting. It was not until World War I that the possibilities of the other end were realized and butt stroked were used scientifically.

The local evolution of the three types of long clubs is readily apparent The pouwhenua was the simplest form of the combination of the striking blade with the proximal point. With the increased use of the human motif in carving, a human head was carved on the shaft to break the monotony of the long line and form a boundary as it were between the shaft and the long spear point The carvers with characteristic aptness so arranged the human-head motif that the long point was made to issue from its mouth like a tongue (Fig. 77a-d). The tewhatewha merely added a back extension for probably ornamental reasons because the blow was struck with the straight front edge of the blade. A bunch of split pigeon or hawk feathers was hung from a perforation near the lower edge of the extension for further ornament but it is said that in combat the quivering of the blade and the feathers had a useful purpose in confusing the enemy. The club was also used on occasion by the chief of operations in signalling to his men. The taiaha was the latest development and probably instituted by the increasing importance attached to carving. The head motif was accentuated by increasing it in size and detail and the point was shortened and widened to make it more realistic as a tongue. It was also flattened into two surfaces to provide sufficient space for carving the double spiral motif which had become popular (Fig. 77e). However, the carvers in page 277improving their field for carving made a blunter point which is not so efficient for stabbing purposes as the spear-point of the pouwhenua and it is generally admitted that the taiaha is an inferior weapon to the pouwhenua. The taiaha was further embellished with a fringe of tufts of white dog hair and a cuff of red parrot feathers so that it rose in social
a, tewhatewha (Bishop Mus., no. 1422), side view; b, front view of a; c, expanded design of b; d, toki kakauroa (Bishop Mus., no. 1445), side view; e, taiaha (Buck collection).

a, tewhatewha (Bishop Mus., no. 1422), side view; b, front view of a; c, expanded design of b; d, toki kakauroa (Bishop Mus., no. 1445), side view; e, taiaha (Buck collection).

status to become both weapon and staff to chiefs (Fig. 76d). However, it was still to be reckoned with as a weapon for a Maori saying warns of the danger of the tongue of a woman in peace and the tongue of the taiaha in war.

Short Clubs

The short clubs (patu poto) have some features which are peculiar to New Zealand. They have flat blades with convex distal ends which are somewhat spatulate in shape. The grip or handle has an enlarged butt end which is carved. Near the butt, the handle is perforated for a loop of page 278dogskin. They are made in three types: the mere, kotiate, and wahaika (see Fig. 78). The mere type is the simplest in form and it was probably made first in stone (a), then whalebone (b), and last but most valuable of all in greenstone (c). Though the term mere is applied loosely to clubs of the mere shape regardless of material, the term should really be restricted to the most valued clubs made of jade, the stone clubs having their own distinctive name of onewa and the whalebone clubs carrying the descriptive name of patu paraoa (patu, club; paraoa whalebone), the whalebone clubs of other types receiving specific names. In the mere type, the butt expansion is carved with parallel grooves usually straight, sometimes curved. The kotiate type has a wider blade which is somewhat fiddle-shaped owing to a notch on each side (e). The handle is rounder in section and the butt enlargement is carved with a human-head motif. The correct material was whalebone but some were made of wood and many wooden kotiate with elaborate carving on the blade were probably made in post-European times for gift and sale. The wahaika resembles a unilateral mere with one side cut to form a concave recess for a complete human figure (f). A variation (g) is based on the kotiate type with a lower quadrant of the blade cut away for a human figure. The butt enlargements are carved with a human head. The material is whalebone but wood was also used.

The spatulate ends in all three types were ground to a sharp edge which extended down the sides. A strip of dogskin was passed through the hole in the handle and tied in a loop for passing over the thumb and around the hand. The clubs were used for quick in-fighting in which the fraction of a second was too important to waste in raising the weapon to strike a blow. Thus, the orthodox technique was a thrust or a half-arm jab in which the front edge of the club was brought in contact with the temple, neck, or ribs and as the enemy was falling, the butt or heel (reke) delivered a downward blow on the skull. The turns of the dogskin loop around the hand prevented the hand from slipping along the handle when the front edge connected and prevented the force of the thrust from being weakened. The Maori short clubs were not only unique in form but they were also unique in being designed for a forward thrust instead of the downward blow characteristic of other forms of clubs.

Two types of stone clubs present in the Chatham Islands, indicate that prototypes of the Maori short clubs had been developed in New Zealand before the arrival of the Fleet. One type (Fig. 78d) was evidently the precursor of the mere form and the other (Fig. 78h) was the ancestor of the wahaika. Both these early forms had a shaped grip with uncarved butt knobs and both were imperforated. They were evidently made for striking. The development which took place in New Zealand, possibly after the Fleet period, was associated with the change in use from striking page 279to thrusting. This led to the sharpening of the front edges and the boring of holes for the thumb loop. Of the series, the mere form followed the early form in being reproduced in stone with the butt knob ornamented
Fig. 78. Short clubs.a onewa; b, patu paraoa; c, mere; d, Chatham Is. stone club; e, kotiate; f, wahaika; g, wahaika with side notch; h, Chatham Is. a-c, e, f, after Best (16); d, h, after Skinner (71); g, Oldman coll., no. 63.

Fig. 78. Short clubs.
a onewa; b, patu paraoa; c, mere; d, Chatham Is. stone club; e, kotiate; f, wahaika; g, wahaika with side notch; h, Chatham Is. a-c, e, f, after Best (16); d, h, after Skinner (71); g, Oldman coll., no. 63.

with parallel grooves. In the later reproductions in bone from the lower jaws of whales and in jade, the blade underwent an increase in width but the butt knob ornamentation followed that of the stone onewa. The elaboration of the wahaika type seems to belong to a later period when page 280Maori art had established the human figure aad human heads as popular carving motifs. The origin of the kotiate form with its two side notches remains a puzzle.

The spatulate form of thrusting club is unknown in Polynesia but Easter Island has a short wooden club with a flat blade something like that of a mere and with the butt end of the grip ornamented with a carved human head. The head, however, faces directly down towards the blade whereas the Maori heads are transverse and face away from the blade. The butt end is not perforated and the clubs were probably used for striking. In Easter Island, there was also a longer wooden club with a blade like the Maori taiaha and the butt end ornamented with a human head similar to that of the short club. However, the taiaha head with its projecting tongue functioned as a stabbing point whereas the Easter Island head with its downward-directed vertex was purely ornamental. Though there is some general similarity in appearance, the differences in detail of structure and function are sufficient to indicate an independent origin in the two countries.

The Sling

The absence of the sling in New Zealand is somewhat surprising because it was present throughout Polynesia and was much in use as a projectile weapon in the Society and Cook Islands. At least, the settlers of the Fleet period must have been acquainted with it in their homeland and the fact that some sling stones now in the Auckland Museum were discovered in the Kermadec Islands not only supports the traditional stories of the Aotea and Kurahaupo touching at Rangitahua, but it also indicates that they brought the sling with them. It must have been abandoned early if used locally for it apparently did not function long enough to kill someone of sufficient importance to merit mention in tribal history. The specialization in clubs and the frequent challenges to single combat indicate that interest was directed towards close hand-to-hand fighting and hence a method of long-distance killing was likely to become ignored, forgotten, and lost.

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.

page 282

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.