Jun 1, 2012

Weapons & Warriors: The Stingray Tete of the Māori

This was another weapon I saw on The Deadliest Warrior TV show. I don’t believe it was primarily a Māori weapon, but it was occasionally used by them. As you know, I don’t usually talk about spears unless there is more to them than a stick with a sharp end. This spear is definitely one of the wicked ones. I think this spear is almost as frightening as Makrigga to look at. Although it is less likely to disembowel you, it delivers its own kind of pain in the form of poisonous barbed stingers.

The word Tete is used by Māori for any short spear that is designed for the head to break off once it impacts its target. Most often these look like your average spear with the spearhead made of whale bone, sometimes the bone is carved into three points which allowed a wider impact point for striking at fast moving animals. The particular Tete I’m talking about today replaces the whale bone with several stingers from Stingrays. The stinger of one of these marine animals houses poison inside. Lucky for most people who are stung by a Stingray, the poison is not really lethal to humans. The incident with Steve Irwin (aka: Crocodile Hunter) was a freak accident. The stinger actually pierced his heart, and that is why he died, not because he was poisoned to death.

In a way, this spear is a miniature and less lethal combination of the Norseman Spear and the Zande’s Strychnine Arrow. It is a one shot weapon because once the thousands of tiny barbs that cover the stingers dig into a target, they will latch onto whatever they are pulled against. The stingers then detach as the spearhead is pulled free. As you can imagine, that would not feel very good. Any poison residue left in the stingers would only add to the discomfort and could cause more damage if it gets into the blood stream.

The stingers aren’t really meant to kill their victims, only to slow them down. Some Māori probably used these spears to hunt birds, which would be much easier to catch with a multi-pronged spear like this one. If a man was struck, he would still be able to function, but because of the stingers lodged in his flesh, he would be slowed. Any attempt to remove the stingers would only make the barbs grab onto more flesh. Like the Zande’s Makrigga, a struck victim would require some surgical help to remove the stingers and their barbs without ripping apart the wounded area. If someone was struck in a vital area, such as the neck or face, then they would most likely die painfully.

Since the Māori did not throw their other weapons or make use of bows, they would only use the Tete at the start of battle to weaken their enemies before running them down. They were excellent surprise attack tools so that Māori warriors could reveal themselves after an ambush while their enemies were still alive, but were not in any condition to escape.

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. I had a hard time getting into this post because I was too busy staring at the hot Maori guy with the spear at the beginning. I had several "squirrel" moments. HAHAHAHA!

    *VERY* cool about the stingray stingers. I had no idea they used them in weapons. Awesome weapon lesson, as always!

  2. Thanks! Glad you liked the warrior picture, I'm thinking they usually had more tattoos, but finding a good picture of the spear was tough enough. :-)