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Ngā Tohuwhenua Mai Te Rangi: A New Zealand Archeology in Aerial Photographs

Māori fortifications

page 88

Māori fortifications

Pre-European fortifications had been located and built for immediate tactical advantage in the defence of a hapū and possibly its land; they were a defence against raiding practices by opposing parties of equal strength, not necessarily parties intent on territorial expansion.

From the 1820s muskets were keenly sought by Māori, and supplied by whalers and flax-traders. Muskets were used in a traditional pattern of fighting between tribes. The northern tribes had more muskets because they controlled access to the principal trading anchorages which were mainly in the north, particularly the Bay of Islands. Taua from there, from Ngā Puhi in particular, moved south down the North Island, inflicting severe losses on tribes in most regions except in places on the southern East Coast where accommodations with Ngāti Porou, Tūhoe and at times Ngāti Kahungūnu were made. 8 Smaller parties drawn mainly from the northern regions also moved throughout the North and South Islands. On the North Island's west coast, there was a subsequent movement of people from the Waikato into Taranaki, mainly Ngāti Toa and Ngāti Raukawa, and from Taranaki into the Wellington and Cook Straits region, mainly Te Atiawa, Ngāti Raukawa and Ngāti Toa. In these events, the Mōkau River, a major route from inland Waikato to Taranaki, was the site of major fighting between Ngāti Maniapoto (from the southern Waikato) and Ngāti Tama (from north Taranaki). On the East Coast, there was also intertribal fighting between Ngāti Porou and Whānau a Apanui, Tūhoe and Ngāti Kahungūnu, and Tūhoe and Whakatohea. 9

The comparative lack of historical documentation means that Māori fortifications of the nineteenth century are not always easy to date precisely. They were used over a great span of time, from the 1810s, when they were used in fighting between Māori groups, to 1881 (at Waiu on the Central Volcanic Plateau). Fortifications from the earliest period, the 'musket wars' (about 1810-1840), are sometimes difficult to distinguish from those of the earlier pre-European era. For example, Mātakitaki, near Pirongia in the central Waikato, attacked by Ngā Puhi under Hongi Hika in 1822 with much loss of life, 10 is not dissimilar to pre-European pā in similar settings, i.e., on a point created by the joining of two rivers. Māori adapted pre-European sites and an existing fortification was used if it was tactically acceptable.

Māori fortifications tended to be sited away from the traditional ridge locations for both tactical and strategic reasons. Tactically, the curve of a ridge at its crest means that attacking forces could readily creep up towards the defences without the defenders seeing them. Secondly, a defender's raised head and shoulders above the fortification was clearly exposed, on the skyline, to be shot at. As a rule, then, nineteenth-century Māori fortifications are not found on steep ridges but on broadly sloping ground or on the flat. This is a general rule only, however. Fortifications were also built, or pre-European ones remodelled, on hills. Pre-European fortified sites were also sometimes constructed on flat land, and are sometimes confused with their nineteenth-century counterparts. 11

The first stage of modification of pre-European pā, prevailing on sites on flat land in the 1820s and 1830s, was the addition of trenches or gun pits forward or immediately to the rear of the older ditch. I have observed such modifications in pā in the eastern Bay of Plenty. Such earthworks were probably coupled with rearrangements of the palisading. These features tend to get broken down by stock into an archaeological feature of amorphous plan, and are difficult to recognise. We see the final developments of this technique in the contemporary sketches of the fortifications of 1845 in the Bay of Islands, and it is also readily recognised from the aerial photograph of Ruapekapeka. (These fortifications were purpose-built at the time; they were not adaptations of pre-European pā.) Overall, the distinction between pre-European sites, on the one hand, and sites strictly of early nineteenth-century origin, on the other, is not easy to draw. However, it is generally easy to distinguish most mid and late nineteenth-century fortifications. 12 Their positions are also documented on maps and in the written record.

Māori were used to the effects of guns, even cannon, from the intertribal fighting of the 1820s and 1830s. They knew the benefits of returns in trenches and breastworks to protect against the potentially devastating effects of enfilading fire, and they also knew the importance of underground shelter against the effects of shells and mortars. Equally, by the late 1850s on the Imperial side, veterans of the Crimean War, such as Cameron, 13 knew well how to mount offensive assaults against such fortifications. From the mid-1850s, Māori sought a strategic advantage in blocking widespread European settlement, headed and enforced by military invasion, of the Māori homelands. This required more than the defence of lo- page 89
Te Wehengaiti rifle trenches, near Lake Rotoaira, Tongariro region

Te Wehengaiti rifle trenches, near Lake Rotoaira, Tongariro region

The rifle trenches were built by Tūwharetoa, probably for Te Kooti Arikirangi, in 1869. They form a distinct closed defensive perimeter but are more visible on the right of the photograph. The enclosed area is about 35 m across. The rifle trenches have been set on the edge of a low rise, but avoid skyline exposure and at the same time retain a good field of fire. The informal layout and the pronounced use of returns (the zigzag pattern) are characteristic of Maori fortifications. This photograph was taken after the trenches had been excavated and restored in the early 1970s.

cal territory. For Māori then, not only had strategic issues arisen, but there was also a new set of tactical difficulties to be dealt with concerning, on the opposing side, the use of heavy weapons, armoured river fleets and massive logistic capability, and on the Māori side, the coordination, leadership and supply of unprecedentedly large numbers of fighting men.
Māori made complex fortifications with gun pits, multiple defensive perimeters, rifle trenches, breastworks, flanking angles, underground shelter, and a form of stockade in the Bay of Islands (the first historical documentation), 14 the Waikato and Taranaki. In some areas, especially the Waikato, Taranaki and the western Bay of Plenty, pre-European pā (or general settlement areas) were adapted to gunfighting tactics. These would have had within them the cave-type storage pits (for kūmara). Such pits could be readily adapted as a form of shelter page 90
Mātakitaki, Waikato: a pre-European and gunfighter pā, site of a major defeat of Ngāti Maniapoto by Ngā Puhi in 1822

Mātakitaki, Waikato: a pre-European and gunfighter pā, site of a major defeat of Ngāti Maniapoto by Ngā Puhi in 1822

The site lies on the long tongue of land at the confluence of the Mangapiko (right) and Waipā Rivers, central Waikato basin. Ngā Puhi at this time had the advantage of exclusive possession of guns. They had arrived at this point deep in the Waikato without opposition. The pā relies to a great extent on the river and its banks for defence. It has been segmented in several parts, with the central defended perimeter around the first part of the point which is above flood level. On purely archaeological grounds, the defences are difficult to distinguish as being clearly of nineteenth-century origin. The pā complex is some 400 m long and the view is to the north-east.

page 91 against howitzer or mortar fire, where a burst of metal shrapnel explodes over or in the defensive position. An open trench is relatively useless against such munitions. However, it remained a formidable defence against lightly armed soldiers who were the only means, in the final event, of physically taking a strategically well-placed fortification.

In the western Bay of Plenty, Waikato and Taranaki, 'redoubts', comprising a knot of rifle trenches with long, interlinking sections between them, were thrown up over very extensive areas. Rangiriri and Pāterangi are examples where the objective was to prevent European incursion on to Māori territory. However, the tactical need to prevent outflanking movements was paramount and these complex fortifications simply did not serve that purpose. At Pāterangi, Māori failed in their strategic objective without any significant engagement at the major fortification itself. 15 There, some seven redoubts, each quite complex, linked by 2 km of rifle trenches arranged in a roughly pentagonal plan, were built. This elaborate structure was designed to secure the important ridge-line routes from the rapids at Te Rore on the Waipā River (restricting the movement of armoured boats further up the river) into the central and southern Waikato. 16 The ridges were tactically important because the surrounding ground was generally swampy and apparently impassable to heavily armed troops moving in regular formations. However, this was the Waikato Māori's first experience of significant troop movements over land, and they seemed to have misjudged the British response. The British troops outflanked (aided by a local guide), literally by miles, the fortified complex on the ridge and the only significant engagement was at Waiari, a pre-European pā, on a loop in the Mangapiko River. A redoubt was built subsequently to protect the river crossing here. 17

I found these locations readily when I flew over the southern Waikato in August 1991, but conditions were overcast. Waiari, the pā mentioned by Cowan, showed clearly, as did the redoubt by the river crossing. In the vertical aerial photograph used here, taken in oblique light in June 1943, the positions of some of the main fortifications can just be detected as indistinct humps in the ground surface near the upper edge of the steep slopes above the former swamps. The contemporary maps of Pāterangi 18 do not exactly fit the topography of the aerial photograph, and the schematic sketch shown adjusts both the available plans. 19

Elsewhere, Māori sites were informally constructed: an irregular perimeter rifle trench and breastwork with sunken house pits within. If the trench is inside, this contrasts with pre-European practice and fairly unambiguously defines the site as nineteenth-century in origin. The defenders would stand or kneel in the trench and fire over the bank. If the trench is outside, the site may be easily confused with pre-European styles of fortification on river flats. A rifle trench is just that: a trench in which defenders stood or knelt firing out. Because the trenches or combination of trench and banks are designed to enclose a single line of people, they are relatively narrow and shallow compared with the wide, deep ditches and banks of the traditional pre-European style of fortification. (Even this criterion, however, is not readily applicable in regions such as the East Coast where ditches of all ages are usually narrow.) This type of fortification is particularly common in areas which were suitable only for relatively mobile, lightly armed attacking forces such as those that operated in the eastern Bay of Plenty, the Urewera and the East Coast. Here the topography and the isolation were such that the campaigns were essentially policing in massed force, using kūpapa or the Armed Constabulary, rather than regular military operations.

Another feature of both Māori and European rifle trenches, remembering that Māori built mainly rifle trenches, is the presence of irregularities in the line of the trench. The line may consist of linked single pits; there may be a maze-type effect in their arrangement; or there may be short earth walls or changes of direction (returns) in the line of the trench. These all served the purpose of preventing an attacker from entering the line of the trench, or flanking the fortification from the outside, and firing indiscriminately along the line of it. This was 'enfilading fire', a devastating practice for the defenders, but sometimes also for the attacking force. Troops in a position to apply enfilading fire could hardly fail to hit someone, or several people, provided the general line of fire was accurate. This is precisely the type of fire that the flanking angles of the European fortification were designed to offer the defenders. An example of a Māori fortification created by a simple perimeter rifle trench with many returns is Te Wehengaiti, near Lake Rotoaira. 20

Generally, then, Māori fortifications were informal, reflecting a tactically different, more defensive warfare compared to the offensive tactics engaged in by Euro- page break
Pāterangi, a major fortification near Te Awamutu, southern Waikato

Pāterangi, a major fortification near Te Awamutu, southern Waikato

Vertical aerial photograph taken in 1943 of sites in the vicinity of Pāterangi. The Pāterangi fortifications occupied the fairly flat areas on the highest ground to the north of the photograph. The British forces had landed from the Waipa River at Te Rore some 5 km to the north-west. The Maori fortifications were placed across the broad ridge to bar access to the principal Maori (i.e., Kingite) settlement of Rangiāowhia some 15 km to the south-east. The line of the principal road crossing diagonally from left to right on this photograph is the same as that of the Maori cart road from Te Rore to Rangiāowhia. The British forces ultimately outflanked the Maori position to the south. A redoubt was then built in the middle of the original fortification, and served to protect the road which remained in use.

page 93

An oblique view of Waiari, the pre-European pā on the Mangapiko River, at which the British forces met some opposition in the earlier stages of the movement on Pāterangi. The redoubt was constructed after the fighting to control the river crossing here. Not far from it, under leafless Robinia trees, is a European redoubt, built to control a ford on the river.

page 94
Contemporary photograph of the rifle trenches at Pāterangi

Contemporary photograph of the rifle trenches at Pāterangi

This view shows the size of the defensive works. A major fortification, one of five linked by the rifle trenches, stands forward of the rifle trench at right. The photograph appears to be of part of the flanking defences of the south-eastern part of the main ridge, and the view is to the south.

pean forces. In the case of Māori to Māori fighting, both in the 1820s and in the 1860s when Queenites and kūpapa were fighting against Kingite and, later, Pai Mārire forces, the informality of the defensive fortifications can be readily shown, as at Te Tapiri in the western Urewera, illustrated in chapter 9. Te Kooti Arikirangi, for example, is said not to have mastered the art of fortification. 21 However, he had no need to. He had another defensive tactic of superior potency—to slip away into the bush, as he did on all occasions where he was fully challenged by European or kūpapa attack against his fortifications.

In summary, in the nineteenth century there was no simple change in Māori fortification with the advent of muskets. The principal changes were the adaptation of the old ditches to use as breastworks or rifle trenches, the addition of pits forward and rear of the ditches, the use of padding screens (under which fire was directed) forward of the breastwork, the use of solid stockades forward or in rear of the breastwork and, finally, the adaptation of pits within the pā against the effects of shell and mortar fire. This pattern of fortification is clear enough in a few surviving examples, notably Ruapekapeka in the Bay of Islands and Pukerangiora in Taranaki, but as a rule the elaborate Māori fortifications of the New Zealand Wars have not survived into the period when aerial photography can be used. Later, in the lightly armed conflicts of the late 1860s, Māori fortifications are more in the form of simple perimeter trenches and breastworks.

European fortifications survive in some numbers, partly because they had continuing use in the Armed Constabulary era. The period of the New Zealand Wars (1845-1872) was marked by a distinct change in the efficacy of weapons, largely denied to Māori until the successful raids on European settlements of the late 1860s, coupled with British military recognition that formed, tactical troop-movements in the open against entrenchments were impossible. This era saw the passing of the eighteenth-century 'Napoleonic' traditions of troop handling, and the advent in all European armies and theatres (including the United States) of the techniques of infantry warfare stalemated in the trenches that so marked the early twentieth century. That change cannot have been modelled on a response to Māori adaptations of warfare with the gun, but arises from wider causes, particularly the lessons provided by the later phases of the American Civil War.

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