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The Stone Implements of the Maori

Toki Titaha, or True Axe

Toki Titaha, or True Axe

A very curious statement was made by Te Tuhi Pihopa, of the Tuhoe Tribe, to the effect that the Maori had formerly a stone axe, with its cutting-edge in line with the handle. (See Plate XLII.)

The Rev. R. Taylor, in "Te Ika a Maui," mentions an old tradition to the effect that their forefathers were once in contact with a people who helved such tools by inserting the handle in a hole in the blade. So far as we are aware, no early writer speaks of the Maori having had true axes, though remarks were made by Cook and other writers to the effect that the natives had "axes and adzes". But this is a dubious statement. As a matter of fact, many writers term the adzes of the natives "axes," a somewhat careless expression. Our friend Te Tuhi cannot be termed a good authority on such matters, and we shall require a considerable amount of evidence in support of his statement ere we can accept it. He states that in his youth—say, in the early "sixties" of last century—he saw Tapui, father of Tuta-kangahau, of Maungapohatu (latter born about 1830) using a stone tool hafted as an axe. This was a toki tata (cleaving toki), not a toki tarai (adzing toki). The term tata means "to cleave or split," a purpose to which the adze is not adapted. These cleaving toki, says Te Tuhi, were of an axe-like shape—that is, the cutting-edge was in the axial centre of the tool, from a side view, and was formed by being equally reduced on both faces, front and back, to form the cutting-edge, being in a curved (convex) line, and not straight, as is the true wedge form. Such tools had no sharply defined shoulder, as it would have impaired their effectiveness as cleaving-tools. They were employed in canoe-making, to waimanu or hollow out the vessel. When page 153a hole was formed in the centre of the log these axes were used to cleave or split pieces off the side of such hole, in order to reduce the thickness of the sides. This was how the sides were reduced to a desired thickness by splitting, slicing, or hewing pieces off the inside, as our bushmen often square or flatten a log with a chopping or felling axe when a hewing or broad axe is not available.

The manner in which this axe was hafted, according to the above authority, is certainly peculiar. He states that the handle was similar in form to that of the stone adze, but that a socket or slot was made in the foot of the handle, into which the butt end of the stone axe was inserted. It was inserted so that the cutting-edge was in line with the handle, as in our steel axes, and secured by a lashing. Te Tuhi thinks that this tool was called a toki titaha, but is not sure, and that this name was afterwards applied to the introduced steel axes.

It seems doubtful if a Maori would evolve or use a double-bevelled tool for the purpose of hewing a face on timber. It is the most awkward form of tool for such work. If it were stated that the adze-shaped tool was hafted as an axe, and so used, the remark would be more credible. The axe-shaped blade is a good form for splitting wood, but not for hewing an even face thereon. The only way in which the axe-shaped or double-bevelled tool would have been useful in hollowing out a canoe would be because an adze could not be used to do the work in a narrow space. Thus the hollow might have been formed by splitting off pieces from the interior until the sides were nearly the desired thickness, and these could then be finished off with an adze, there being then sufficient room to work such a tool.

Tapui, mentioned above as the user of this quasi-axe, was probably born about 1790. Is it possible that he, having seen European axes and the fine work done by them, tried to helve a stone adze in a similar manner, so as to be able to use it as a squaring-axe is used ?

These axe-like tools, says Te Tuhi, were also used to split wood for fuel. This statement may be doubted.