The Taiaha was an effective weapon in combat, but not the only one the Māori cherished. Although the Taiaha represents the ancestors of the warrior, it does not declare status. A Mere was often used by a chieftain and was an expensive weapon to make that sometimes involved more than one generation of crafters. It is said that despite the Taiaha’s range, the Mere was the more deadly and reliable weapon.
The process to grind down a piece of jade, also called greenstone could take many years. It had to be done with perfect precision and care so as to make it’s surface smooth and at the same time the paddle had to be as thin as it could be. Jade is a very hard stone, so even once it is thinned and flattened, it will not break easily. This makes it one of the sturdiest materials available for the Māori who did have access to iron or steel.
Using a piece of jade, the crafter would chisel and shape the stone into that of a paddle with the wide end sharpened around it's edge. A hole drilled into the smallest end. The length was around a foot to a foot and a half, and then about half a foot wide. The weight of the weapon made it unsteady if it was made too long and narrow. With the perfect blend of weight and strength, the Mere could open a skull or smash a rib cage with ease.
A cord was tied through the hole and wrapped around the thumb and wrist. With the Mere strapped to the hand, the Māori could not be easily disarmed by his adversaries.
There are other club like weapons that resemble the Mere but were made with different materials, such as whalebone or wood. One of those was the Wahaika. Despite this weapon’s lack of Mere-like durability, the Wahaika was easier to make and often was decorated more than a Mere.
It was not as much a status symbol as the Mere, but the Wahaika was still deadly. It was sharpened at the end, just like a Mere, but had a notch carved halfway up its length that was used to catch the cutting part of an enemy weapon. With the twist of a wrist, the enemy would be disarmed as his hooked weapon is wrenched out of his hand by the notched Wahaika.
The Mere and Wahaika are both unique weapons and confusing to anyone not familiar with how the Māori trained to wield them. The Mere’s weight made it far more deadly if struck, but the Wahaika’s ability to easily disarm foes made it equally as dangerous.
In most parts of the world a club is used like an axe, where it is swung in arcs and chopping motions. The Māori actually thrust these club-like weapons straight forward, where the tip was flattened to focus the weight into a smaller blunt point. To anyone ignorant to their use, they would be caught by surprise by the short quick stabbing motion.
The Māori didn’t have to stop with cutting into their enemies. Once the weapon penetrated skin or bone, the warrior could twist the wrist. Depending on the location of the strike and the weapon used, this could result in additional serious injuries. For example a Mere to the side of the head and a twist of the wrist could literally pop open the skull in less than a second. I think you get the picture.
I hope you enjoyed this edition of Weapons and Warriors, click here to view the entire catalog of weapons and cultures. Thank you, see you next week.