National Army Museum, Waiouru, New Zealand : Military History & Army War Museum

Maori Weapons

Maori Weapons

June 16th, 2016

Before the Europeans came to New Zealand, the Maori were the only people on the islands. The pre-European Maori were warriors, and it was common to find conflicts between tribes. Projectile weapons, such as spears or arrows, were almost never used. Instead, the Maori were involved in hand-to-hand combat.

Large stone patu

Large stone patu

Maori warriors began training for combat at a young age. They would train for years to build up the strength and skills that were necessary to serve as a warrior for their tribe. The young males knew the importance of training specific parts of the body, too, such as the wrists. To do so, they would use tools, such as Poi, which are traditional balls on long strings, to not only strengthen the wrists, but to also give flexibility to the joints. In addition to training these areas, the young boys would play games in order to improve their physical strength and stamina. One such game, ti rakau, was a traditional stick game where a line of people would sit face to face and throw sticks to each other in time with a traditional Maori song. “E Papa Waiari” is one such song that was good for these games as it had a good beat that the players could follow.

From youth, the training of war was one of the most important things to the Maori, and the use of weapons was only one of the important skills that the young warriors were taught. For instance, one important lesson was to learn to keep the eyes from moving from strategic points when in battle, such as the shoulder or the big toe’s point. They do this as they would be able to predict where the enemy would move by seeing the clinching of the toe. Though the warriors only had a split second to react, this time was enough to move out of the way. In addition, the twitch of the shoulder muscles signalled to the warrior that the enemy was moving to attack.

After many years of training their bodies and minds, as well as learning how to use weapons, the warriors were ready to enter the fray. To the Maori, the greatest honour was to die in battle, and their worst nightmares were filled with dying in their beds, as they considered that to be weak.

Most of the time, a Maori warrior would take two weapons into battle, a short, striking one and a long weapon, which allowed him to stand further away from his enemy.

Here are some of the weapons they used:


Patu Onewa (Basalt)


Patu Ōnewa

Patu Ōnewa

One of the main weapons that pre-European Maori used were patu onewa, which were made from basalt, which was a local resource. This was a hand weapon that was used to attack the upper body of an enemy by using a thrusting motion. These weapons were also used to hit the head as a mortal blow to a fallen enemy. You can view the patu onewa in person at the National Army Museum in the New Zealand Wars Gallery.


Patu Paraoa (Whalebone)


Patu Parāoa

Patu Parāoa

The patu parāoa was a pre-European weapon made of whale bone, which again, was a local resource for the Maori. This weapon was used as a club, and the warriors would attempt to hit their opponents shoulder in hopes that it will break or dislocate, causing them to drop their weapon. At this point, a blow to the head would be unopposed. You can view the whalebone patu in the New Zealand Wars Gallery at the National Army Museum.






The taiaha is another weapon used by the pre-European Maori, and it is the equivalent of the quarter staff. This weapon was a “weapon of authority,“ which was used by chiefs in both attacks and defence. The taiaha was used to distract an opponent thanks to the tufts of feathers that were placed around the neck of the weapon.

Taiaha head in detail

Taiaha head in detail

Maori warfare was almost always hand-to-hand combat, and it was a major activity for the Maori. It was an emotional and strenuous activity, but it was also full of ceremony and ritual throughout the process. There were major incentives for war for the Maori, and some of them included slavery, food and land. There was also revenge, which was an incentive for many Maori. You can see traditional Maori taiaha in the upper gallery of the New Zealand Wars Gallery at the National Army Museum.


Mere Pounamu


Mere Pounamu

Mere Pounamu

Another pre-European Maori weapon was the mere pounamu. A mere is a basic thrust weapon that was used to target the vital points of the body, especially the head and ribs. Skilled Maori warriors would give horizontal thrusts to the temple, or target the ribs with an upward thrust. The mere pounamu was the most revered of all the Maori weapons, and some were even buried with the owner. Most, however, were passed along from one generation to another, along with the prestige of owning a weapon that a great warrior once held. Many meres were named, and the Maori believed that these weapons, over time, developed certain virtues. For instance, the famous Maori chief and war leader, Te Rauparaha, had a mere named “Tuhiwai,” and it was believed to be able to tell the future by changing its colour. You can see the collection of mere at the New Zealand Wars/Colonial Gallery, which is located in the upper area of the National Army Museum.




Wooden Wahaika

Wooden Wahaika

The wahaika was a pre-European weapon that was traditionally used in hand to hand contact. Wahaika, which means “Mouth of the Fish,” was mostly made from wood or whalebone. The wooden wahaika is often carved with intricate designs. These weapons have a concave back and have a carved notch on the edge of the back of the weapon. Many also have carvings on the reke, and many have carvings of small human-looking figures near the handle. The weapons were used in battle, of course, but also used in speeches and ceremony to accentuate the delivery of a particular point where Rangitira wanted people to pay attention. As with the other Maori weapons, the wahaika were used in hand-to-hand combat. The warrior would thrust the wahaika into the body of their enemy, and since the wahaika has a sharp edge, much harm could be done. You can see examples of these weapons at the National Army Museum in the Roimata Pounamu Memorial Area.

Here are some resources for more information about pre-European Maori weapons:

  • – links to folk songs, such as tītī tōrea, sung when playing tī rakau.
  • The Journal Surf database, which features back issues with information about Maori weapons and songs.
  • Jeff Evans’ book, “Moari Weapons in Pre European New Zealand” ISBN 0-7900-0826-2
  • Richard Wolfe’s book, “With Honour – Our Army, Our Nation, Our History” ISBN 978-0-67-004565-5
  • You can also view these weapons in person at the National Army Museum.

2nd May 1945

May 2nd, 2016

New Zealanders in Florence  (NAM DA 9746)

New Zealanders in Florence (NAM DA 9746)

On this day in history the 2nd New Zealand Division captured Trieste and the Germans surrendered Italy.

The closing stages of the war in Europe saw the New Zealand Division attacking up the north-eastern edge of Italy, finally into the city of Trieste. It was here that the New Zealanders found themselves involved in one of the first confrontations of the ‘Cold War’ with the Yugoslav partisans determined to stay and claim Trieste and the surrounding area as their own.

Tension between the New Zealand and Yugoslavian partisan forces began very quickly and even resulted in the tragic death of a kiwi soldier when partisans opened fire during negotiations between New Zealand and German forces. The threat of violence increased as a Yugoslav demand for the Allies’ withdrawal was stoutly refused by the New Zealand Commander Freyberg. As a result, when VE Day (7th May 1945) was announced there was little jubilation amongst the New Zealand troops who were still standing at arms and facing a very uncertain peace.

Thankfully, a month after VE Day the Yugoslavs agreed to withdraw and the Allies assumed control of Trieste. The threat of hostilities gone, the New Zealanders spent their last few weeks in the area peacefully and pleasantly.

Artefact of the Week: WWI Turkish POW Hand Crafted Purse

April 7th, 2016

Handcrafted beaded purse  made by a POW from the Ottoman  forces (Turkish).

Handcrafted beaded purse made by a POW from the Ottoman forces (Turkish).

During the World War I campaigns in Sinai and Palestine, prisoners from the Ottoman forces (Turkish) were captured and held in camps or hospitals until the end of the desert battles. 

A popular item of their handicraft was beaded objects which would often take the form of animals – with snakes, lizards and frogs being the most produced. These items would be traded for cigarettes, food or medicines and found their way back to New Zealand at the end of the war. 

This intricately crafted purse was thought to have been brought back to New Zealand by 12594 Trooper Arthur Douglas Fabian, New Zealand Mounted Rifles.

Museum Benefits From Energetic Intern

February 17th, 2016

Natalie immerses herself in Education fun at NAM

Natalie immerses herself in Education fun at NAM

Kia ora! I’m Natalie, a student of Museum & Heritage Studies at Victoria University.
I have a background in anthropology and used to work as an archaeological technician in my home state of Illinois in the United States of America. Before getting confused by a Santa that wears board shorts in December or listening to the call of the bugle at all times of the day, I spent three years teaching English and cultural studies in Fukuoka, Japan.
To me, museums are akin to the feeling I imagine every companion of The Doctor feels when walking into the tardis for the first time. There is so much more inside than you can fathom from simply looking at the outer façade. From the objects in the exhibitions, to all the individuals who take care of and research each artefact, there are millions of stories floating around the place, waiting only for you to stop and experience them.
I am currently on placement, here, at the National Army Museum. It’s really exciting to be working with the education and marketing departments particularly because I love hearing all the interesting bits of New Zealand history. You can find me helping with the tours of visiting school groups and assisting in the creation of a new program about the role of animals in the army. Animals have been really important to the troops for a variety of reasons. While I can’t give away any secrets about the program, there is something fun that I can share with you.
Just a bit of information that came scurrying across in my research.
RATS! Of course, if you’ve walked around the museum, you know that rats have been a huge problem for troops in the field. Just have a look a look at the trench exhibits of WWI and you can see these little pests eating soldier’s rations and climbing over everything, which meant they left poop every where! Ugh! GROSS! Rats also have a pretty bad wrap for spreading diseases.  So imagine my surprise when a National Geographic article popped out of the google search on a particular breed of rat that is being trained to find landmines. The African Giant Pouched Rat has a stronger sense of smell than even man’s best friend, and most common service animal, the dog. With their strong olfactory senses, light weight and agility, these once huge pests could actually save lives!  It’s a concept that is slowly being adapted by armies around the world. Pretty neat, huh? If you have an interest in animals and want to learn more about how they have been used in the army, you should definitely check out all the other stories being told about horses, dogs, even donkeys here at the museum. Just keep a sharp eye, as they can be easy to miss!

New Intern for the National Army Museum

February 16th, 2016

Shiloh on the Centurion Tank outside NAM

Shiloh on the Centurion Tank outside NAM

The Museum is excited to have intern Shiloh Dobie working with the exhibitions team for 3 months. Shiloh started before Christmas and has been utilising her expertise working as an Exhibitions Designer, a Display Artist and a Graphic Designer where required. Shiloh has trained and works as a Freelance Spatial Designer and is also a Territorial Force soldier so is well suited to our museum.
Shiloh assisted with the installation of the latest ‘Balls, Bullets and Boots‘ WWI exhibition and has also been working on a WWI exhibition design project as well as assisting with some remodeling of the Kidz HQ trench. She will be with us here in Waiouru until mid-March.
You can keep up with her adventures on her blog – see some of the projects she has been working on, as well as a bit of a ‘behind the scenes’ insight to the Museum and some of it’s hidden artefacts.

Artefact of the Week: Souvenir from Egypt

June 11th, 2015

WWI era embroidered silk cloth of Queen Alexandra’s 2nd (Wellington West Coast) Mounted Rifles

This week’s artefact is an embroidered silk cloth ‘souvenir of Egypt’ sent home during World War I. This type of cloth was a very popular souvenir during the war.

The cloth of Queen Alexandra’s 2nd (Wellington West Coast) Mounted Rifles, is attributed to 11/1815 Trooper Harold George Hanman and is machine embroidered in chain stitch. It includes a special embroidered message “To Mother With best love” and “From Harold” and was sent home to his mother.

The World War I era rectangular red sateen cloth has a narrow has a narrow white, gold and blue machine laced border.

Harold was a framer from New Plymouth who left New Zealand bound for Egypt in 1915, aged 26. He was discharged from service on 21 May 1916 due to appendicitis. He died in New Plymouth on 15th January 1963 aged 73 years.

Find out about our other museum artefacts and recent acquisitions.

Artefact of the Week: Japanese Aikuchi ‘Suicide’ Dagger

March 25th, 2015

Museum Artefact: WWII Japanese Aikuchi 'Suicide' Dagger

Museum Artefact: WWII Japanese Aikuchi ‘Suicide’ Dagger

This week’s aretfact is a Japanese World War Two Aikuchi ‘Suicide’ Dagger which was acquired by Lt Col McKenzie-Muirson while serving in the Pacific Islands during World War Two.

Japanese Kamikaze pilots were allowed to carry a small dagger or in Japanese known as an Aikuchi. This was meant to be used should they need to commit suicide. Aikuchi daggers were given to Japanese Navy pilots who manned suicide torpedoes in a special ceremony before setting out.
The blade inscription in Japanese reads “Go forth and conquer and your deeds will live in history”.

Lieutenant Colonel McKenzie-Muirson had served during World War One with the Australian Imperial Forces (AIF) on Gallipoli (won the Military Cross), Ishmalia and France where he won a Bar to his Military Cross at Polygon Wood 1917. He also served on the North West Frontier with the Duke of York’s Own Lancers. He enlisted during World War Two serving with the Wellington Regiment, NZ Scottish Regiment and Commanding the 36th Battalion in the Pacific (including Mono Island). He continued to work for the Defence Department post World War Two until his retirement in 1960. His Military Cross and Bar are understood to have been gifted to the Australian War Memorial (AWM), Canberra.

Find out about our other museum artefact’s and recent acquisitions.

Artefact of the Week: World War I German Pontoon

March 16th, 2015

World War I German-made bridging pontoon

World War I German-made bridging pontoon

This week’s Museum artefact is a German made bridging pontoon used during World War I to cross the Suez Canal.

The New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF) arrived in Egypt in December 1914 and entrained to Zeitoun Camp to start the tough training regime of long route marches, musketry drill and bayonet fighting practice.

Boredom was relived by excursions into Cairo to see the sights, both touristy; the Zoo, Botanical Gardens, theatres, the Sphinx and Pyramids, and a little seedier; the Haret el Wasser (brothel and drinking area).

This did not change the fact that the men were keen to engage the enemy and they got their first taste of action on 3 February 1915. The Kiwis were sent to the Suez Canal in response to a strong Turkish force that had trekked across the Sinai desert and luanched an attack on the canal at Ismailia in the early hours of the morning.

Inscription panel on the side of the pontoon

Inscription panel on the side of the pontoon

The Turkish troops used German-made Pontoons to cross the canal but they were repulsed by the New Zealand and Indian troops. The Turks suffered heavy losses and New Zealand had its first World War I overseas’battle’ casualty, Private William Ham, 12th (nelson) Company, Canterbury Infantry Battalion.

The pontoons were taken as ‘war trophies’ and four of them were transported to New Zealand. It appears three have suffered the ravages of time while one has been in storage at the National Army Museum and is soon to go on display at the Great War Exhibition in Wellington.

Find out more about our other museum artefacts and recent acquisitions.


WWI Soldier Private John Henry Thomson

February 10th, 2015

The WWI medals of Pte Thomson

The WWI medals of Pte Thomson

The National Army Museum is trying to find a relative of 3/453 Private John Henry Thomson of the New Zealand Medical Corps.

We know he was originally from Dunedin and after seeing action at Gallipoli and Western Front, he became very sick in April 1918 and passed away on 5th April 1918 at No. 3 Canadian Stationary Hospital.

If you are related to Pte Thomson please contact the Museum.

Artefact of the Month: Loyd Lindsay Challenge Cup

January 29th, 2015

Canterbury Yeomanry Cavalry Loyd Lindsay Challenge Cup

Canterbury Yeomanry Cavalry Loyd Lindsay Challenge Cup

This month’s artefact is the Canterbury Yeomanry Cavalry Loyd Lindsay Challenge Cup.

The competition for this cup was started in Britain by Colonel Sir James Loyd-Lindsay around 1873. It involved a team of four horsemen jumping over a series of hurdles and firing their rifles in unison. Points were awarded for speed, accuracy and style. The competition was sometimes held during A & P Shows.

The cup is a Sheffield silver trophy with ornate handles and circular black wooden base. The Canterbury Yeomanry Cavalry saw service in World War I as part of the Canterbury Mounted Rifle Regiment.

Find out about our other museum artefacts and recent acquisitions.

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