Maori Warriors and Warfare
Maori warriors were fierce, undaunted warriors. With their guerrilla tactics and their typical close-combat, carved weapons they were masters in surprise attacks and ambushing. Their territories have never been conquered by other nations. There were many battles and wars about prestige, honor, land, and possessions among Maori tribes. These tribal wars were fought in the summer period, between November and April.
It was an ultimate goal to defeat the strongest enemy of the opposing tribe because this would result in the most mana (spiritual power) for the warrior and his tribe. The war dance (haka), preceding the battle, is characterized by defiant movements, sounds, the rolling eyes, and a protruding tongue. This was to fear the enemy and was an essential part of Maori warfare.
Picture, Two Māori men demonstrating a position in the traditional Māori martial art, using taiaha (fighting weapon), New Zealand, 19th century, from The Ancient History of the Maori
The tongue also functions as an insult. It means, I will eat you after I have defeated you. By eating an opponent Maori warriors thought to consume their mana. By eating an opponent, drinking his blood, crafting fish hooks from his bones, and preserving his head a Maori warrior gained prestige. Victories on the battlefield were also a means to uphold the reputation of ancestors. These ancestors lived on through the Maori weapons which carvings represented ancestors.
Maori warriors with a considerable amount of mana possessed power and authority. (Mana is spiritual, or living power, the vital essence of all things.) When they triumphed in battle they gained extra mana which would eventually be passed on via the weapons to next generations. In this way these carved weapons were imbued with the sacred power of their predecessors and gained authority over time.
Before the Europeans set foot in New Zealand warfare between Maori tribes was commonplace. From a young age male members of Maori tribes were educated in warfare and combat tactics. Later on the British colonial troops personally experienced how fierce and powerful these experts in guerrilla warfare were.
“The British soldier found the Maori warrior the grandest native enemy that he had ever encountered. Gurkhas and Sikhs were formidable before them: Zulus were formidable after them, but all these had copied European discipline. Tha Maori had his own code of war, the essence of which was a fair fight on a day and place fixed by appointment”
Sir John Forescue, ‘The History of the British Army’ 1927. Source: zealand.org