Jun 22, 2012

Weapons & Warriors: The Māori Behind the Masks

The Māori warriors started training at an early age. They specialized in a martial art called Mau Rakau, which included training in the various weapons they used. In one on one combat, a Māori warrior was quite formidable. They did not fight like savages as some might have suspected when they stumbled across these warriors while exploring New Zealand. The Māori are a proud people and more than just powerful proud men, they are spiritual and intelligent. They are excellent astronomers, navigators of the seas, as well as amazing wood and stone carvers.

The history of the Māori people was only recorded orally for many generations until Europeans came to New Zealand and began writing down everything they learned. The first encounter by Europeans with the Māori was not pleasant and friendly. More than likely it was a misunderstanding of the Pōwhiri.

The Pōwhiri is a welcoming ritual and part of it involves three warriors advancing and showing off their skills before making an offering to the newcomers. If the offering is picked up, then the strangers are considered peaceful. If it is not, then the strangers become hostile or untrustworthy to the Māori. Four sailors and only one Māori were killed in that encounter. Apparently the story that was told to the rest of the world was frightening enough that no explorers returned for decades.

Despite many of the Māori now living a more modern lifestyle in cities, they never lost their culture or traditions. The Haka has become one of the most popular pieces of Māori tradition. One of the reasons more people have become aware of the Haka is because the New Zealand Rugby team, performs a Haka before each game. Youtube it, there are dozens of videos.

You’ll notice often during a Haka that the chanters are bulging out their eyes and sticking out their tongues. Some people might even laugh and think they are just making funny faces, but anyone who battled the Māori would tell you that those are threats and they are for real.

Another prominent piece of culture that can’t be missed when meeting a Māori is the facial tattoos. Still today, the Māori tattoo their faces, which is more of a rebellious taboo thing in European or American cultures. The Māori tattoos, however, are not a rebellious tradition to go against the influence of European culture but more of a spiritual embrace of their ancestors and traditions. It’s not meant to be cool to a Māori to be tattooed. It is a symbol of who he is as Māori. Many of us Americans and Europeans are fascinated by the tattoos and let’s face it, they are cool looking. I think they are even more awesome now that I know more about the culture.

There are tales of cannibalism being practiced by the Māori as well. I was unable to verify that in my research as anything more than tales, but I’m guessing the tongue sticking out symbolizes that concept whether it was followed through with or not, I am in the dark. Maybe the Māori wanted others to believe they were cannibals to spread fear towards their enemies in the same manner the Zande warriors of Africa did. Or maybe they might have eaten their enemies.

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.


  1. That video was freaking AWESOME! Love that the guy blew the big blokes away with his haka. He really was impressive. :-)

    Thanks for another great Weapons Weekly! Sorry I got behind on these, but I'm catching up. ;-)

  2. No worries. We all get busy. I'm pretty behind on a lot of stuff these days myself.

  3. You are one of the few writers that don't instantly laugh at our customs. To this i thank you good sir!
    And your website is amazing. Love it

    1. Thanks! I really enjoyed writing about the Māori. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

  4. the cannibalism, was only restricted to certain iwi (tribes) it wasnt practised by the maori as a whole.