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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 70

Weapons

Weapons.

The stone axe, or hatchet, was a weapon of war, and no doubt axes of greenstone, as well as of other stone, were thus used. The mere, the most famous weapon of the Maoris, which in ancient times was generally of white whalebone, was in later times—that is, in the last few centuries—often made of greenstone. There are also many in collections made of black trap and similar hard rocks. A greenstone mere is an object of great value. It is usually about 13in. to 15in. long, sometimes longer, and is to be found figured in many books—for instance, Sir John Lubbock's "Prehistoric Times;" while Hochstetter figures the famous mere of Te Heuheu, shown to him by the chiefs successor, cut out of the most beautiful transparent nephrite, an heirloom of his illustrious ancestors, which he kept as a sacred relic. It was taken from a hostile chief in bloody combat,' and had five times been buried with its owner's ancestors. A notch on one side denoted the last fatal blow struck at a hard skull. The mere was not used like an axe, for a downward hacking stroke: if used thus and parried it might be broken, and thus the labour of years lost. It had a hole through the handle, through which was a strong thong of dogskin, made into a running noose through which the thumb would slip readily. It was carried thrust into the belt, The first contact of the fighting forces was with the hani, or taiaha, a sort of staff, used, however, ordinarily as a walking-stick. This was not pointed, but was used for page 30 striking as a quarterstaff, As the fighting got closer these had to be laid aside, and the mere was then taken from the belt and fastened to the right hand. The thumb was thrust through the loop of the thong, and then one turn made round the hand. To have thrust the hand through would have exposed the warrior to the risk of being dragged into danger by any one who could successfully grasp the blade of the weapon—a risk never run. The left hand now grasped the hair of the enemy, the fingers being twined among the long locks, The probably describes a moment when the enemy had already been reduced to inactivity by many blows, or had been thrown down. Then the blow was struck, rather as a stab, if possible, at the side of the head, where the bones are weakest, and it was thus driven into the brain. Whare-kino, a West Coast chief, had a spear run through his arm by Tuhuru, and, being violently pushed, fell upon his face. Before he could rise Tuhuru caught him by the hair, and was just about to smash his head with his mere-pounamu when he recognised him as his own cousin, and spared him.

Dr. Shortland describes the mere-pounamu to which in the South Island he finds the name rakau-pounamu given. This word means timber, or perhaps club, and may be derived from the use of a wooden club in olden times. There is a highly-ornamented wooden mere, sometimes shaped like an ordinary mere, sometimes like a bill-hook, Tasman, de scribing in 1642 the attack upon his boat, says that the natives were armed with short thick clubs like clumsy parangs. He does not say of what they appeared to be made, but had they been either of white whalebone or of greenstone he would probably have noticed it.