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A year among the Maoris: study of their arts and customs

Chapter VI — The Maori Pa or Citadel

page 78

Chapter VI
The Maori Pa or Citadel

When Europeans first went to New Zealand, they found the Maoris living in strongly stockaded villages set on terraced hills. On the broad flat summit of the hill was the marae—the village green or civic centre. Around this were erected the principal whares—that of the chief, the priest, the guest house, and the patakas or carved food houses and treasure stores. The stockaded terraces were just wide enough for the small sleeping houses. Such small cities set on a hill, often in tribal groups, were to be found dotted all over the North Island, the principal strongholds being built beside the waterways. Upon the women devolved the work of constructing the terraces, the debris being carried away by them in large woven baskets, borne on the back and held by braces of woven reeds, which passed over the shoulders to the hands—a comfortable way of carrying a load, though the weight was lower than in the methods adopted by hod-carriers. To-day the Maoris have abandoned the hill-side towns, and are segregated on the lowlands, living for the most part like poor white folk in any American or European village. Their pas are always enclosed with light stockading made of the manuka scrub, and within are to be found only a few houses still having some of the old Maori characteristics and carvings. More often than not the carvings are of a modern design and execution. But the village is their own, on their own tribal land, and there is a tendency to resent the intrusion of the white man.

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Model Pa on Lowland

Model Pa on Lowland

page 79

At the gateway of one of the Wanganui River pas I saw a sort of bulletin board on which was posted the names of some white folk of Wanganui whose presence in the pa would be unwelcome. One of the names was that of a well-known lawyer to whom I carried a letter of introduction, and I afterwards learned from him that he had been counsel for the Maoris, who had lost a suit in the land court. After the judgment was delivered, he said, the natives held something in the nature of a tangi and sang old dirges very similar to those sung by the Hebrews on their Day of Atonement.

It was my good fortune in New Zealand to be directed and most generously assisted in my research work by the eminent scholar, Mr. Elsdon Best, F.N.Z.Inst. At the Dominion Museum at Wellington, under his wise and ever generous counsel and advice, I reconstructed a model of an old-time pa, and afterwards by field work I supplemented my study of the subject.

At the top of the hill, in an old-time pa, was the ceremonial house, always elaborately carved and facing the east. In or adjacent to it all tribal or ceremonial events were held, such as the welcome of guests, dances, and preparations for war. These ceremonial houses I have described in the chapter on Maori architecture. The hill-top or marae, of well-beaten soil, like the terraces below it, was strongly stockaded, and every ten feet or so one of the heavy timbers of the stockade was cut so as to present a head-like top. At greater intervals, and in line with the stockade, but surmounting it by several feet, were carved posts page 80representing a fearsome human being with protruding tongue, a figure which was intended to inspire awe in the enemy and to mock him. Similar posts decorated each successive terrace, and were painted a red ochre, the sacred colour. The whole effect must have been picturesque and bizarre, and must have given an impression of strength until the white man came with his firearms. Here and there above these ferocious figures rose a monument to a chief made from the hull of a huge canoe stuck upright in the earth. What seemed to be bird houses perched on the leafless fork of a tree trunk rose well above the stockades. These in reality were small store-houses for the property of the priests. Store-houses, as well as the ceremonial houses, were always situated on the topmost terrace to give them the greatest possible protection, for they were precious works of art.

All the posts of the stockades were uniformly lashed together with strong creepers, a process which was performed by two men, one on each side, and a very strong wall was formed. Ladders of notched tree trunks or steps cut in the earth led from one terrace to the other, and openings were made in the stockades for ingress and egress. In the best type of fortified village the main entrance, invariably an elaborately carved gateway, was situated on the second or third terrace from the front of the fort. The pa was first entered by a smaller carved gateway in the outer stockade, and after passing along a stockaded maze and mounting two or three terraces the main gateway was reached. In this type of pa the lowest and outer stockade was usually slightly raised from the ground, page break
Corner of Pa, Showing Fighting Stage and Ordinary Thatched Living Whare. (The Round Thatched Hut is Raratongan, and was Occupied by Cook Islanders)

Corner of Pa, Showing Fighting Stage and Ordinary Thatched Living Whare. (The Round Thatched Hut is Raratongan, and was Occupied by Cook Islanders)

page 81in order that long spears might be thrust beneath it by warriors who stood in a trench. A few feet farther back was another stockade, the timbers of which were well sunk in the ground. The methods of attack and defence were many and ingenious, but that most feared seems to have been the throwing of fire-brands, which were designed to set the thatched huts on fire. Sapping was also resorted to by the enemy. Within the enclosure of a pa earthworks were often thrown up as a defensive measure, and fighting stages were erected at various vantage points.

Beyond the stockaded stronghold were the fields in which the crops were raised, and the huts for the shelter of the workers, who, of course, could take shelter within the fortifications in the event of an attack. At certain periods of the year the people went on fishing expeditions to the coast, or to the forest to snare birds. Both the fish and the birds were preserved, and feathers were used for the adornment of cloaks, weapons, canoes, and architecture. Expeditions were also made to the forest for the selection or collection of wood. On these occasions the hill citadels were very often entirely deserted.

Provision was made within the pa for the storage of food in case of a siege. Quantities of food were placed in a hole dug in one of the scarpings, and over this was fitted a wooden door. Water was stored in deep pits on one of the upper terraces, and descent into these was made by means of a ladder. It would seem that the plentiful rainfall of the country would ensure a certain small supply, but I heard of no old-time method of conserving it. When it is remembered that in times page 82of war a thousand people often sought shelter within the fortifications, it will be seen how important was the problem of the conservation of food and water. Sieges frequently lasted many months, and it is difficult to understand how the water supply held out. Several old Maoris to whom I mentioned this difficulty seemed surprised at my remark, for it seemed natural to them that the besiegers should permit the besieged to go out for water. We do not hear, however, of the beleagured people being permitted to go out to replenish their food supply.

Temporary shelters were erected by the natives when they were on trading, fishing, or other expeditions. In his account of Cook's voyages, Captain King says: "The facility with which they built those temporary habitations is remarkable. They have been seen to erect about twenty of them on a spot of ground which was covered with plants and shrubs not an hour before. Captain Cook was present when a number of savages landed and built a village of this kind. They had no sooner leaped from the canoes than they tore up the shrubs and plants from the ground they had fixed upon, or put up some part of the framing of a hut. When the men were thus employed, the women took care of the canoes, secured the provisions and utensils, and gathered dry sticks to serve as materials for a fire. These huts are sufficiently calculated for affording shelter from the rain and wind. The same tribe or family, however large, generally associate and build together, so that their towns are usually divided by palisades into separate districts."

How inaccessible these old-time pas were made and page break
Heavy Stockading of a Pa

Heavy Stockading of a Pa

page 83a good idea of their defensive structure is gained by the following description in Crozet's "Voyages":

"All the villages are situated on steep cliffs jutting out into the sea, and we noticed that where the inclination of the ground was not great it had been made steep by hand. We had much difficulty in climbing up, and the savages had often to help us by holding our hands. On arrival at the top we found, first of all, a palisade formed of piles driven straight and deeply into the ground, seven or eight feet high, and the ground well beaten down and grassed at the foot of the palisades. Then followed a ditch about six feet broad, and about five to six feet deep, but this ditch was only placed on the land side where an enemy might approach. There was then a second palisade, which, like the first, served to enclose the whole village into an oblong shape. The entrance gates are not placed opposite each other. After entering the first circuit, one has to go farther along a narrow path to look for the entrance through the second palisade. The gates are very small. From that side from which they fear attacks they have a sort of out-works, equally well palisaded and surrounded by ditches, and which will hold four hundred to five hundred men. This work is only a palisaded oblong, and is placed outside the village to act as a defence to the entrance."

Their methods of attack and defence have long been acknowledged as a highly developed art. Maning says:

"I learned something that day, and I, though pretty well 'up' in the noble science of fortification, ancient and modern, was obliged to confess to myself that a savage who could neither read nor write, who had page 84never heard of Cohorn or Vauban, and who was, moreover, avowedly a gobbler up of his own relations, could teach me certain practical 'dodges' in the defensive art quite well worth knowing."

In the marae were also situated the houses where weaving material, fishing tackle, weapons, and food were stored. On the lower land were racks on which fish and vegetables were dried previous to being stored. Sheds for the canoes were usually erected outside the village, but sometimes they were within the palisades, and the great war canoes were hoisted up the hill for safe keeping. The huts of the people on the terraces were sunk a foot or more into the earth for protection against wet and cold. They were small and low, with only one room, and contained mattresses neatly made of superimposed layers of grass and fern. Naturally, the size and general conformation of a pa depended upon the configuration of the hill. Some were broad and low, and others narrow and steep, as in the case of those built on promontories jutting into the sea, which would be the type Crozet saw along the sea coast. Platforms from which darts were thrown were usually constructed at corners. They were two or three stories in height, and each story or platform was stockaded. An ample supply of stones, darts, and other missiles were kept upon the platforms. A special platform was occupied by a sentry in time of war, and a wooden drum made from the hollowed trunk of a tree was suspended from the four supporting posts. It was the duty of the look-out man to beat the drum at such time as invaders were anticipated, to let them know that the inmates of the pa were alert and could not be taken by surprise.

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Old Pa Gate Overgrown With Bush

Old Pa Gate Overgrown With Bush