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The Aborigines of New Zealand: Two Lectures

Customs in War

Customs in War.

The Polynesians generally are a people addicted to war. Christianity has effected a remarkable change. Where its influence has been but partially received, and its peaceful and benevolent precepts but partially submitted to, the passion for war is held in check; and when it has burst forth, it has been marked by a subdued ferocity, and its results have been much less sanguinary than formerly:—where Christianity has established its rule and obtained entire approval and submission, the war propensity is well nigh extinguished. It has given place to a love of the useful arts, has inspired proper regard for the rights of property, and created earnest desire for domestic improvement and social progress. Such have invariably been the happy results of the introduction of the Gospel. Whenever it takes hold of a sword it converts it into a ploughshare, and turns the spear into a pruning hook; it creates a love of the peaceful arts, which supplants the love of war, and substitutes the implements of husbandry for the weapons of the battle-field.

But originally the New Zealander was a warrior—war, in fact, was the principal engagement of his life. He loved sons better than daughters, that he might have men to fight his battles and avenge his wrongs. The greatest wish he had in reference to his sons was, that they might grow up brave warriors. When taken to the priest to receive a name, and be baptised, it was not to dedicate them to the God that made them, and seek his blessing, but to seek from the demons that delight in blood the spirit of inhuman warfare; to pray that they might be brave to bear the weapons of war.

“Let this child be strong to grasp the battle axe,
To grasp the spear,
Strong in the strife,
Foremost in the charge,
First in the breach,
Strong to grapple with his foe,
To climb lefty mountains,
To contend with the raging waves.”

“May he be industrious in cultivating the ground,
In building large houses,
In constructing canoes suited for war,
In netting nets.”

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Such were the prayers offered to the gods on behalf of their children—so that the New Zealander was literally baptised for the battle field. As he grew he was taken to the camp and trained in all the horrid practices of savage warfare. They sometimes laugh at us, and say, we leave our fighting for men in red coats, and don't know how to fight for ourselves; but every tangata Maori is a man of war.

The occasions of war among them were numerous. The principal causes were land and women. They have a proverb to this effect, which they often quote, “He wakine, ke oneone, nga mea i ngaro ai te tangata.” (“Women and land have been the great causes of the destruction of men.”)

They often made war upon each other for the sake of territory, lands, fishing grounds, &c., and the proprietors would defend their property to the last, and part with it only with their lives. Nor has this feeling been extinguished; the New Zealander is as tenacious of his possessions as ever he was, and as much disposed to defend his rights against aggressors, whether native or foreigners.

A woman marrying into a different tribe without the consent of her friends, or a case of adultery, frequently raised a war. If a woman gives herself to a man of another tribe, her friends go and demand her. She is placed between the parties, and after some korero a trial of strength takes place, first between the husband and a near relative of the female; perhaps her brother goes to drag her away, and the husband firmly grasps his prize to retain her. If sufficiently brave and strong to throw his antagonist, another comes and he has to encounter a second. Friends on both sides look on for awhile, till by and by a general scuffle ensues; the poor woman is most cruelly treated, all but torn to pieces; perhaps blood is spilt; they retire, muster their forces, and war is the result. To obtain slaves, they often made war on weaker tribes. The Waikatos were constantly returning to Taranaki for this purpose, until a most populous district became all but forsaken, and stripped of its inhabitants. Men were slain, women and children enslaved. Christianity has produced its usual results in reference to slavery. When the tribes embraced the Gospel, they gave their slaves leave to return and occupy their own lands.

The crime of murder was generally the cause of extensive wars—it was a “take nui” (a great cause), and would enlist the sympathies of many tribes. The friends of the murderer never thought of giving him up to be punished; nor would the friends of the murdered expect it. Their practice was to seek satisfaction in a general war.

The greatest slaughter that ever befel the Waikato tribes originated in a murder. A man called Koperu, of the Ngapuhi tribes, was on a visit to the Ngatipaoa at Tamaki, at a pa where Panmure now stands. Tiniwai, for some cause or other, by singing a song induced Te Paraoa-rahi to kill Koperu. They often conveyed their wishes in this way. Paraoa-rihi understood it, and killed him instantly. As soon as Hongi heard of it he brought down his army and cut them off. Some children belonging to a Waikato chief happened to be in the pa and were killed; this led the Waikatos to page 34 seek utu, and they went to Wangarei and destroyed the principal chiefs. This brought Hongi again to the south, just after his return from England, whence he had brought so many fire arms. The Waikatos had not received fire arms, and they assembled at Mata-kitaki, on the Waipa, to die together. There Hongi slew many hundreds; as many as could, escaped to the mountains. The event is recorded in several songs. The following is a specimen:—

“The morning breaks, Tawera bites the moon.
A memento of the death that has befallen the tribes.
Alas! my son of noble birth and greater valour,
With his fathers all are gone.
Prepare a canoe, let us embark
To seek revenge, for the death of Whara-ate Hinu,
And reap satisfaction for the offspring of Kokako.
Their death was noble—
It was the end of the brave.
By the tides that flowed from Kaipara,
And crossed the Manukau in hosts,
Were they outnumbered and slain.
Koperu died by the murderers band;
But that sin was not ours.
And the death of Taubata
Was just; for Tuhoehoe was slain,
And Kaipiha; Ae and Taiheke
Who was eaten as canoes paddled off.
And Hika and Hope consumed
By plebians of the Rarawa tribe.
And thou, Houtaewa, Hongihika was thy grave.
Alas! the children of Waikato are fallen,
They sleep in death.”

The following was composed by an old chieftess returning home after the slaughter of Matakitaki.

Te Iro's Love of Home.
“It is love for my grandchildren
That draws me onward.
In days gone by, my step was light,
When in the bloom and vigour of my youth;
Now I perish, I am going to decay,
I hasten to the land of spirits.
As nestling birds intensely listen for their dam's return,
That they may feed,
So wait I for thy voice, O Pehirangi, that calls to food,
That strengthened we may swiftly tread
The lengthy path of Mawete;
The path that Hikatamure,
Thy ancestor, so often trod,
When journeying to the rising sun,
To Nukutaurua and the coasts of Maru,
To visit on the eastern shore.
O for the wings of a Matataketake*
To speed us on our way,
And swiftly bring us to the waves

* A boy's kite

page 35 That o'er the floating rock of Tu
Throw their white foam.
We are on the mountains yet,
But home draws nigh.
Alas! no friends are left to welcome our return.
But hark! the sea birds cries I hear—
The Gull that hovers o'er the river's mouth;
The Gannet, skimming ocean's waves;
These join the rippling tides that wash the shore
To call us home,
And welcome us to the leved land
Of our illustrious sires,
The land of Kaupaea and Parepare,
Of Rua-te-mahue and Tau-te-paoa,
The men who were the terror of their day.
O, Hurakau! though potent is thine arm,
Too late thou hast arisen to avenge our wrougs.
Return thy weapon to thy bosom,—
Rautatiti, who should feel its stroke,
Now dwells with death.
He drove me to the mountains.
For him we saw Maramataha,
And stood unfed at Oburakia,
And sought repose on Tongariro,*
And shivered with the cold of Ruapahu
Till our limbs were blue.
Say, was it in derision of the tatoo's hue
Thy snows, O Paretetaitonga, stained my limbs,
That thus adorned,
I might tread the sands of Tapiu.”

Cursing was a great offence, and often the cause of war. Cursing an enemy was a very ancient custom. It consisted in devoting them to destruction, and was practised in early times. The prophets or poets were supposed to have the power of cursing persons and places, so as to confound all their designs, frustrate their counsels, and fill them with terror and dismay. Hence the attempts of Balaam to curse the Lord's people. We have many instances in history, as at the destruction of Carthage, when the Romans devoted the city to destruction, with all its inhabitants, and called upon the gods to forsake them.

Tacitus observes, that when Suetonius Paulinus prepared his army to cross over into Anglesea, where the Britons and Druids made their last stand, the priestesses, with dishevelled hair, white vestments, and torches in their hands, ran about like furies, devoting their enemies to destruction.

The New Zealander generally connected his cursing with cannibalism. He took offence or became envious and jealous, and in language that implied he wished his enemy killed and cooked for food, gave vent to the feeling. Perhaps saying, “tou upoko” (thy head), “upoko kohua” (head cooked), “taku kai” (food for me).

* A volcanic mountain.

A snow-clad mountain at Taupo.

A mountain.

page 36 Sometimes the curses were uttered in the form of poetry: as Topeora's cuse—

“Oh, my little daughter, are you crying; are you screaming for your food—here it is for you—the flesh of Hekemanu and Werata. Although I am surfeited with the soft brains of Putu and of Rikiriki, and of Raukanri, yet such is my hatred that I will fill myself fuller, with those of Pau, of Ngaraunga, of Pipi, and with my most dainty morsel the flesh of the hated Te Ao. Leave as food for me the flesh of my enemy Titoko, I will shake with greedy teeth the bodies of Huhikahu and of Ueheka. My throat gapes eagerly for the brains not yet taken from the skull of Potukeko. In my great hatred I will swallow raw the stinking brains of Taratikitiki. Fill up my distended stomach with the flesh of Tiawha, and Tutonga, &c., &c. Is the head of Ruakerepo indeed considered sacred? Why it shall be given to me, as a vessel for boiling kaeos in at Kawau.”

A violation of the Tapu sometimes occasioned war. This singular custom was described in the last lecture. Its regulations were regarded with the utmost strictness, and no one dared to break them with impunity. The penalty for a breach was generally a robbery; if this was resisted, war followed.

Everything connected with the planting and harvesting of the kumera was tapu, and all the paths leading to the plantation were marked off; if any strangers dared to travel over them, a war might be the consequence of his temerity.

Such were some of the causes which led to their desolating wars. It has been said, and I have seen it written too, that they love war. I question this; I do not think that love of it was a passion among them. I should rather say they were impelled by pride and revenge. They are naturally proud, and haughty; they have keen sense of honour; pride would not allow them to brook an insult; their honour trampled on, a degrading epithet applied, a chief called a taurekareka, or familiarities with his wives, were insults not to be passed over. The feeling of revenge, too, was deep. We generally find, however, if the New Zealander could honourably pass by an insult he would, so that no one thought him base or called him a coward. Some of the tribes have embraced Christianity that they might have a pretext for not going to war. But when the demon was once aroused he was not easily satiated.

When war was determined, the next thing was to find out by divination the probable results. The Waikato tribes used to resort to a sort of divination they called a Tuahu or Tahuhuroa. Rods were planted as representatives of the demi gods, Tiki, his sons, Wakamaru, and others, to represent the tribes. The latter was tied to the former with flax. A solemn fast was observed, no food cooked, no fire lit, but karakia performed till noon. When the sun had reached the zenith they went to breakfast, then returned to learn the result. If they find the rods representing the tribes on the ground, the pa will be taken, if dug about, some are to fall, if only dug about the outside the leader will be slain, if Wakamaru lies low, no success is to be expected, and the army is dispersed. Of course the priest can arrange matters to meet the wishes of his friends, and no doubt did so.

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If the answer from the gods were favourable, and success promised, the expedition started in full confidence that they should realise the promised victory.

Tribes expecting war generally chose the most inaccessible spots for their pahs or fortifications, often on the top of a hill protected by swamp, or river, or precipice, perhaps with all sides inaccessible save a narrow pass. Fences were erected, trenches dug, breastworks thrown up, and other defences prepared, adapted to protect against invaders with native weapons. I once passed a pa in the Mokau district of this description, situated at the bend of a narrow stream, precipitous on all sides save a narrow defile forming the entrance to the pa, which the natives said had never been taken, and was quite a refuge for their children in times of war. It was under siege on one occasion, and the inhabitants being nearly perished of famine, had to send out the men to dig fern root. They threw a tree across the river to the opposite bank, and so went out unseen by the enemy. While the men were out on one occasion the enemy well nigh succeeded in making a breach, when a heroine rushed out and danced in native style in the face of the foe. The warriors sat down to look at her, and she thus kept them at bay till the men returned, and saved the pa. The feat is related with great admiration by her friends.

An army would sometimes keep up the siege for months, till the besieged were reduced to the greatest straits, compelled to dig for clay, and cat it as food. They sometimes attempted to deceive the foe by cutting up the stem of the tutu to resemble fern root, which piled in stacks, as though they had subsistence to enable them to withstand a long seige. They generally kept watch. A sentinel “was appointed, who sang the livelong night, that the enemy might not attempt to take them by surprise.

Song of the Sentinel During a Siege.
Whilst the moon shines brightly
The weapons are placed in battle array.
Lo we rest as for awhile.
Our spears were not uplifted.
Ye came not nigh.
Are ye coming to the contest?
Are ye approaching to the battle?
Oh! get you hence.
For even the drowsy ones
Await your attack.

When the armies met in open field, they were drawn up by their respective leaders in deep columns face to face, with the hideous war dance. The Toas, i.e., the men of valour and bravery, rushed out between, while the principal body rested on their arms and flourished about, defying each other, as Goliah did the armies of Israel, aiming, at distinction by slaying the first man. The leaders generally exerted themselves to excite the passions of their army by addresses. The reasons of the conflict are set forth with all the peculiar powers of maori oratory, and by the most impassioned appeals to the excited feelings of the untutored savage. The pride of the tribe, their page 38 honour, their wives, their children, their lands, the bravery of their ancestors, the spirits of the departed, their own lives now menaced,—every fact and circumstance dear to them is invoked, and all the power of their wild poetry and savage rhetoric employed to inflame the passions for war, and stimulate to bravery. The eloquence and prowess of their chiefs as displayed at such times is often celebrated in their laments. The following is a specimen.

Lament of Ikaherengutu for his children.
As I sit my heart strings are convulsed
 For my children.
Behold me, O my friends,
Tane has transformed me,
Till I resemble the foliage
That droops upon the shore,
And bend like mourning tree fern
 For my children.
Where now, thou favoured one,
Whom every tongue saluted,
And every home bid welcome?
He is gone over the great descent.
I am left, my friends.
I sit upon a generation crushed.
Like a plain stripped of its trees,
A plain cleared of every blade,
A plain swept completely,
With nothing left, to look upon the sun
That flings his beams across it.
Like a mountain that stands alone,
To catch the breeze that tells of home,
Which we loved so much to feel,
As it wafted from the south.
Have they been hidden in that house
By Whiro the thief?*
My heart is ignorant
Of the doings of the hundred;
Say the moon is a thief,
For she does not always shine.
Say the cliff, too has stolen,
Hence its land slipped away;
That the seed has decayed
Because of its theft.
Had theft been the cause,
Hosts of demons would have
Crushed us all, and our end
Have been like that of the Moa.
Leaves only are left to weep
Over the descendants
Of Pani, and of Rongotau,
The fathers of the ruddy roots;

* It had been said that some theft had been committed, which was the cause of his children's death.

A gigantic bird, now extinct.

The kumera.

page 39 Riches over which your sires exulted
In olden times, and distant lands.
From Hawaiiki I brought you,
And here you grew to men.
Your ancestors exorcised
Every spirit of the deep,
The breath of pestilence,
And the wasting famine.
But they returned,
With death and mourning in their train.
By thy fathers at Kairau
Thou wert charmed.
With the charm of Tutorohakina,
And of Tu te-nganahau;
To shield thee in war, my son,
To preserve thee from revenge,
To ward off the stroke of thy foe,
And invest thee with the strength of an host,
That single-handed thou might'st
Plunge into the midst of battle,
Like the greedy cormorant,
Who dives 'neath mountain waves,
And brings up his prey
From the dark blue sea.
Thy fame was planted on Haumatau.*
Admiring tribes, as they saw thy prowess,
Asked, amazed, Whose son is this?
Thou wert mighty in battle,
And thy deeds are heard on every river.
Men stand upon the prow of their canoes,
And catch the sound of thy glory,
As they float along the stream;
For every tribe bore away thy fame,
And exalted thee above the fellows;
Thou, whose flesh eat every ball
While in close encounter with thy foes.
Oh! had I but left my son at home!
Then Totara-i-ahua could not
Have viewed him along the barrel of his gun.
And ye would have made a fleet
To sail the waters of Manukau,
And I should not thus have wept for you.

Their weapons were not very numerous, but adapted to their inode of warfare.

The Meri, or Patu Pounamu, was the weapon of the chief, either suspended from his wrist, or carried in his girdle ready for application.

The Tumere, very similar, only made of Maire.

The Paraoa, cut out of a whale's jaw-bone, of same shape.

The Pouwhenua was a club-headed spear.

The Waha-ngohi a large flat weapon or battle-axe.

The Taiaha, or Hani, used for fencing, and as a spear, generally used as by the Toas. The Timata and Taoroa were long spears.

* The place where he fought.

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They had a projectile called a Hoeroa, made of the jaw-bone of the sperm whale, a sort of harpoon, resembling an ancient instrument of war, the dart, to the head of which was fastened a long strap, which the warrior retained when he discharged the dart in order to draw it back again. The Hoeroa was fastened to a rope held in the hand, with which the victim was drawn towards the person throwing it.

The Pere was for throwing or projecting short arrows, made of manuku, or slinging stones at the enemy.

The only defensive armour they used was a Pukupuku. A piece of cloth made of flax closely woven, and of most impervious texture; it was bound round the loins and chest. They had no helmet, but like the ancients, they endeavoured to protect the breast. It is said that this kind of defence originated with the Egyptians; among whom Meyrick says, “it was the only body armour. It was hung over the breasts and shoulders like a tippet; was made of linen several times folded, and quilted in such a manner as to resist the point of a weapon. These linen pectorals came into extensive use among the neighbouring nations, and those of Egyptian manufacture were particularly valued.” A linen thorax of this kind seems to have been worn in the Trojan war by the lesser Ajax, who

With a guard
Of linen texture light his breast secured.”

The New Zealauder steeped his Pukupuku (or pectoral), in the water to stiffen it, and convey a greater power of resistance. It was generally sufficiently hard to resist the Pere, or spear.

In attacking a pa they would sometimes form a long wall of flax leaves and raupo, fastened with vines, large enough to cover two or three hundred men; a party moving it forward, and the warriors advancing behind it protected from the missiles of the pa, and enabled to make a breach without much loss. Sometimes they would dig a subterranean pathway leading into the very pa. Such patience and perseverance did they display in seeking revenge, and to obtain satisfaction for real or imaginary offences.

Before the introduction of fire-arms, the method of fighting, after the onset was, each man choosing his individual antagonist; and the field presented the spectacle of a multitude of single combats, just as in the primitive wars, and indeed among the Greeks and Trojans, at the seige of Troy. Though the Greeks used both chariots and missiles, yet their battles and skirmishes usually resolved themselves into a number of duels. It was exactly the same among the American Indians.

The New Zealander had no weapons by which warfare could be carried on at a distance for any length of time. It soon became necessary to enter into close combat. A mode more adapted to the tempers and feelings with which they came into the field, than any which would have kept them at a distance from each other.

The introduction of fire-arms greatly tended to change the original character of war. It may not have diminished the destructiveness, but it necessarily abated the rancorous feeling with which it was originally carried on; it converted it from a contest of fierce and page 41 diabolical passion, into an exercise of science. The dreadful waste of human life involved in war by any method is lamentable, but the displacement of brute force and those other animal impulses by which it was mainly directed, even by the musket, was something gained. It is impossible that war could be so debasing to those engaged in it, when chiefly a contest of skill, as when wholly a contest of passion.

The first introduction of fire-arms among the New Zealanders was most destructive. Hongi had great advantage over other tribes that could only meet him with native weapons; hence the sad havoc he made among the Waikato tribes at Matakitaki. When they were equally armed, their wars became much less bloody. They are all afraid of guns, and keep at a respectful distance, carrying on the war by straggling shots from behind trees, and fern, and doing but little execution.

But best of all, is the spread of Christianity,—the introduction of those “weapons which are not carnal, but mighty through God, to the pulling down of strong holds.”