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The Māori
Settlement in the new land

The new settlers used their excellent skills for adze fabrication. Woodworking adzes were the main tool used by early Māori. These were "core tools", and were made by hitting one piece of stone with another, in order to remove chips and flakes. The core remaining after this process became the tool. The "flake tool" was used to remove chips or flakes from the core tool, and the flake tool was commonly used as a knife.

After the arrival of the Europeans, metal became available for trade. The first metal items included mainly ships' nails, and hoop iron bands from barrels.

Often, before a tool was used for fabrication or working purposes, a ritual chant was performed in order to ensure the effectiveness of the tool concerned.

The Polynesians introduced the sweet potato (kumara), a quick maturing crop, and which was able to be cultivated particularly well in the warmer northern region of New Zealand. The kumara, staple diet of the Māori, were stored in deep cool pits on sloping hillsides. The pits had doorways, and the kumara were stacked on platforms within the pit. Extra food was stored in a "pataka" (storehouse), generally decorated with carvings which made reference to fertility, or to a generous food supply.

The pataka was mounted on piles, usually several feet from the ground, and situated within the marae area. Within the pataka were stocked preserved goods - dried fish, flesh, and also weapons or mats. It symbolised the rich resources of the tribal chief, and was a source of great mana (prestige) to the tribe. Only war canoes were second to the pataka in prestigious ranking. The pataka was usually tapu (under sacred protection).

Right : a pataka

This image is protected by copyright and must not be reused without the express permission of Focus New Zealand photo library.

A pataka
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Other crops imported by the Polynesians were the taro, yam and also the paper mulberry, which was used to make bark cloth.

For the tribes further south, living in a much cooler climate and where crops were less easily cultivated, hunting the Moa and the seal remained the main activities for food resources.

When the Moa and other species of flightless birds eventually became extinct a few centuries later, fish and shellfish become the staple diet of the Māori, in supplement to the kumara. Seals and whales were also hunted. Fishing was a very important economic activity, and fishing rights still take extreme importance today.

With diminishing resources in other areas, the major food resources now became the Weka (flightless aquatic bird), the Barracouta (fish abundant in the southern hemisphere and related to the great mackerel family), eels, and the Titi (muttonbird). The roots of the Ti kouka (cabbage tree) were baked, producing a sweet sugary substance.

Food was preserved in various ways. The Barracouta, and other fish, would be baked and then hung on very high poles, in order to dry out and then preserved for the winter months. Birds were dried and then packed in fat within large bags. The bird flesh was able to be preserved for up to several years by this method.

Before the advent of the "Pa" (a fortified village), the early settlers lived in small undefended settlements known as "kainga". These were mainly established in sheltered coastal locations, often near to harbours or estuaries.

The kainga consisted of one or more inhabitations, and included structures for storing food and an area for communal food preparation. Food was cooked in the ground, on hot stones, a typically Polynesian feature. The food would be either cooked out in the open, or under a sheltered area which would be separate from the main dwelling house.

Kainga house plans have been located in New Zealand on sites at Palliser Bay, in the North Island, and have been dated back to the 12th, 15th and 16th centuries.

The most famous of these sites is situated at Wairau Bar, in the northern area of the South Island, and is dated between the 11th and 13th centuries. It appears to have been a centre of stone adze fabrication.

As time went by the kainga became larger, including some defences. This began to happen when tensions started arising over rights to areas rich in food resources.

Construction of the larger and more fortified "pa" has been recorded as commencing over 500 years ago. A pa is a fortified settlement, including ditches, banks and palisades as protection. The fortified pa included a much more complex internal organisation than that of the smaller kainga dwelling. Whereas the kainga had only one cooking area, the pa had several. Pits for storing food were established outside of the perimeter palisades. The well fortified pa were practically invulnerable to attack. Each pa was dedicated to a tribal god.

Inter-tribal warfare became frequent, and with the arrival of Europeans and muskets, leading to the inter-tribal Musket Wars, the pa took on a new type of fortification in order to adapt. As the British troops discovered, during the New Zealand wars, a well-fortified pa was extremely difficult to take. The battle of "Gate Pa" was a perfect example.

Prominent landmarks indicated the boundaries of a tribal territory - mountains, lakes or rivers.

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Main source of research :

"Māori Prehistory" - Janet Davidson
"New Zealand Encyclopedia, 4th Edition" David Bateman
"Māori art and culture" - Bateman
"Taonga Māori" - The National Museum of New Zealand
"The New Zealand Historical Atlas" - David Bateman
"Two Worlds" - Anne Salmond
"An Illustrated Guide to Māori Art" - Terence Barrow (Reed)

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Related Links
New Zealand Archaeological Association New Zealand Archaeological Association


 Please be aware that this website is a personal homepage. It would therefore be wise to cross check information which I have presented here. A list of many official New Zealand history sites may be found within my Links section.