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Maori and Polynesian: their origin, history and culture

Their Weapons are strikingly Primeval

Their Weapons are strikingly Primeval

(13) There is a strange antithesis to this picture in the character of the weapons employed, not only in New Zealand, but throughout Polynesia. The fundamental weapon is the club, as that for Africa is the slashing weapon, and that for America is the piercer; and the club is the most primitive of them all, another of the features of Polynesian culture that takes it back to earliest man. The most characteristic weapon of the Maoris, the merea short, flat, battledore-shaped instrument of bone or stoneis a modification of the club or braining weapon rather than of the sword or axe, or cutting weapon. It is peculiar to the Maori in the Pacific; but specimens like it are reported from Peru and North America. The onewa, or war-club of basalt, has more resemblance to those of Polynesia, except in material, the latter being generally of wood. But there are wooden modifications of the club in New Zealand toothe taiaha and the tewhatewha, one modified towards the spear or piercing weapon, the other towards the axe or cutting weapon. Both of them, as tending to be marks of rank in battle and of office in peace, probably came with the conquerors from Polynesia.

(14) Then there were spears proper, or thrusting and piercing instruments, both short and long being common to all Polynesia with New Zealand. The short were for close combat, the long for throwing, and sometimes for thrusting through palisades. They were of the most primitive type page 170simply a long rod with point hardened by fire. It was only occasionally that it was barbed like those of the Melanesians and other more savage races. A bone or wooden dagger is spoken of, but it was evidently little used.

(15) Of cutting weapons there was but small development in Polynesia or New Zealand. The chief's short-handled green-stone battle-adze was more a mark of office than a weapon. And the miratuatini, or shark's-tooth sawing knife was not so much a battle weapon as an instrument for cutting up human flesh. A sword-like wooden weapon is reported as having been dug up in the Waikato, but, if it is a weapon, and not an eel-killer, it probably belonged to the pre-Polynesians: the Maoris did not use it.

(16) As little development is there of projectile weapons. One of the most singular things in this respect is the practical absence of the bow from all Polynesia and Micronesia, in spite of its almost universal use in Melanesia and Papuasia, and in fact on both sides of the Pacific, and in spite of the elastic withy bent over and used as a spring in the rat-trap showing the way to the bow. What are called arrowheads have been found in New Zealand; but they are as likely to be spearheads as arrowheads. It is as striking a phenomenon as the absence of pottery or the use of the fire-plough. Its sporadic appearance in Tonga, Hawaii, and Tahiti makes it even more striking. For the war-bow of Tonga came in during later times from the neighbouring Fiji. The Hawaiians, and by some it is said the Maoris, used it for old men and boys to shoot rats with, whilst in Tahiti it was used only in an annual ceremony, when a bow was brought out of the temple, and the men tested how far they could shoot the arrow, without thinking of directing it to a mark or target. The Hawaiian use implies scorn, as of a weapon once seen in the hands of despised foes; the Tahitian use seems to indicate it as the legacy of some honoured individual, who page 171could use it, but did not wish its employment extended to war. A Melanesian bow has been found embedded in clay on the northern coast of New Zealand; but that is evidently an incident of castaways. The Tahitian ceremonial bow is a simple one like that of the Ainos and some of the Americans. Clearly this phenomenon bars all possibility of there having been Mongol or Mongoloid or Melanesian immigration into Polynesia, as the absence of the blowpipe and poisoned arrows of Malaysia would alone disprove Malay immigration.

(17) The substitute for the bow was the throwing-stick, or kotaha, which, by means of a lash, discharged a dart or spear (kopere) sometimes as a torch to set the pa on fire, sometimes with a notched head made of the poisonous wood of the tree-fern, and intended to break off in the wound made. This was used chiefly in sieges, and had a resemblance to a weapon of the Incas. There were also one or two retrieving projectiles, the curved hoeroa of whalebone, the reti of the Ureweras, a quadrangular staff, and the kuratai, a stone dagger, each of them attached to a cord, so that it might be drawn back when it had done execution. A wooden barbed hook was sometimes thrown over a war-party to drag out members of it and disorganise it; the same was accomplished by casting a net. Both customs reveal the instinctively fishing race. But there was not so much trust put in these projectiles by the Maori as in his clubs and spears. This is emphasised by the singular absence of the sling, which, with round beach stones, was used all over Polynesia. And this subordination of cutting weapons and projectiles in war is probably a mark of the primitive culture that preceded the South Asiatic immigration.