War parties were usually composed of
males, although female tribal members were not exempt from this
The Māori warriors excelled in the art of ambush and surprise raids,
appearing and disappearing swiftly and noiselessly into the thick
New Zealand natural rainforest environment. They usually attacked
at dawn. The aim was to kill all members of the enemy war party,
so that no survivors would remain with the risk of "utu" (revenge).
If a lasting peace was considered with a former enemy, an inter-tribal
marriage between families of aristocratic or chiefly rank was arranged
to ensure the peace pact.
A war party was prepared with care, involving intricate ritual
and the abstinence of certain foods and practices. The war party
dedicated itself to Tumatauenga, the god of war, and special rites
placed a "tapu" around the warrior.
The fighting season was generally between late November and early
April, the summer months, when food and fishing was plentiful for
warriors on a long war trail.
A war party led by a chief (rangatira), would be made up of around
70 warriors, which was the average compliment of a war canoe (waka
taua). It was not uncommon, however, for a war canoe to carry up
to 140 warriors. This was a "Te Hokwhitu a Tu".
On arrival back home, a cleansing rite was performed to lift the