The Dutch Armoury
Tasman’s written instructions explicitly described the danger involved in engaging with natives.
“In landing with small craft extreme caution will everywhere have to be used, seeing that it is well-known that the southern regions are peopled by fierce savages, for which reason you will always have to be well armed and to use every prudent precaution, since experience has taught in all parts of the world that barbarian men are nowise to be trusted, because they commonly think that the foreigners who so unexpectedly appear before them, have come only to seize their land “
The VOC wanted Tasman to establish amicable relations with anyone they met, so that they could be engaged in trade, but they did not leave Tasman unprepared for trouble.
Tasman didn’t record how the Maori responded to meeting firearms, except to say that they backed off when the big guns were fired, but James Cook provided this insight.
“Musquetry they never regarded unless they felt the Effect; but great Guns they did, because they threw stones farther than they could Comprehend.”
The Maori Armoury
To repel the Dutch, the Maori had quite literally “Sticks and Stones”.
The Maori used no projectile weapons (with very limited exceptions); no slingshot, catapult or even bow and arrow. James Cook recorded seeing bows and arrows in Tahiti, but was told that these were not fighting weapons, but boys’ playthings. Similarly, a dart launched from a stick and string existed, but was not used as weapons. The Maori had a larger version of this for throwing spears into Pa’s, but that is the limit of their projectile weapons.
Maori fighting was almost exclusively hand to hand.
This engraving is from a sketch made by Sydney Parkinson on Cooks first visit to New Zealand in 1769-70. It is captioned “A New Zealand Warrior in his proper dress & completely Armed, According to their Manner”.
It shows only two weapons.
In the Warriors right hand is a Tewhatewha. This is the style of staff most commonly shown in early illustrations of Maori. One end has a carved blade, and the other is sharpened to a point. It is used like a club or hammer, and the end blade can be thrusted into the enemy, or used as a crook.
Once the enemy was close, the weapon was reversed, and the point used for stabbing.
The Pouwhenua is a similar weapon, but has a broad blade instead of the quarter moon shape. The Taiaha was a similar length, but carved to a spear like point.
The neck area was a primary target with this type of weapon.
Tucked into a strap around the warriors waist is a patu. These were made of wood, whalebone or stone. Whalebone was favoured over wood as it didn’t crack or splinter, and it is likely that some of the Ngati Tumatakokiri had these; herd strandings of whales on the inside of the spit in Golden Bay, is relatively common.
In some districts patu are also known as ‘mere’, but in other parts this term is exclusively reserved for a patu made from pounamu.
Patu and mere have the end and sides sharpened, with a hole behind the handle part for a wrist loop.
This video demonstrates use of the Pouwhenua and Patu.
On the morning of December 19th, 1642, while the day was still young, nine boats full of Maori Warriors paddled towards two huge ships intending to engage their foe.
Whilst they were similar in numbers, the Maori were armed only with oars, sticks and clubs.
The two ships they were paddling towards were brimming with gunpowder and steel.