Wars are not Won by Waging War!

Many thanks to Wendye and Café Babylon for allowing me to post this small piece.

The maori haka is famous for its use at the beginning of rugby games, and sometimes other places as well, such as ceremonies to welcome important visitors to the marae. This particular version, put up by a Russian site no less, is the classic and maybe original haka, though many other types came to be used as tribes moved about New Zealand and took territory or not, often after terrible conflicts with very gruesome outcomes. (ISIS has nothing on our maori ancestors.) Even in the wars with the British, whose weapons one would think vastly superior, maori fought the invaders to a standstill. The Treaty of Waitangi was born out of this, a time when the chiefs met as equals with British officialdom to parlay.

Have a good look at this haka. The words that stand out are: It is death! It is life! The story that goes with this chant is that the original composer, Te Rauparaha, much like the composer of the American anthem, Francis Scott Key, was in prison when he wrote the song, quite literally down in a pit, filling himself with the volition to get out of there, (which I imagine he did.)

I wrote down the words a while back:

Ka mate, ka mate
(It is death, it is death)

Ka ora, ka ora
(It is life, it is life)

Ka mate, ka mate
Ka ora, ka ora

Tenei te tangata puhuruhuru
(This is the hairy man)

Nana i tiki mai whakawhiti te ra
(Who caused the sun to shine again for me)

Upane, upane
(Up the ladder, up the ladder)

Upane, kaupane
(Up the ladder, to the top)

Whiti te ra!
(The sun shines!)

In early times, roaming militant maori tribes approached peaceful villages to conquer them, but first each side would perform a haka, facing one another like a team of fighting cocks. Sometimes the haka was enough to prevent bloodshed; the village would lay down its defences. I have an oral history of one incident that turned out differently. It happened in missionary days to an ancestor on my father’s side. He was a missionary minister, Methodist I think, though I am not certain of that. He lived with a North Island maori pa or village. The chief came to him in great distress because the fiercest tribe in the region was intending to conquer the village. He had no defence, no mighty haka to perform that might cow the invaders.

The ceremonial weapon of status which the chiefs carried was a long spear pointed at one end and shaped like a blade at the other end. The version called taiaha has elaborate carving on the pointed head end, with perhaps a tuft of pigeon feathers dangling from it. During the haka the chief flourishes it much as a marching band captain uses his baton.

My ancestor decided to innovate. He must have been good with a penknife, or else he had a maori friend who was an expert carver. At any rate, somebody set to and carved not just the head of the taiaha but the entire length of it, and not with symbols of war, but with symbols of peace. I have seen and touched the taiaha myself as a child. My great-uncle had it in a glass case, and I think by now it would be in a museum.

The reverend also composed a different haka, one of peace, and I’m sorry to say I don’t have a record of that haka. But the new taiaha and haka together were sufficient to astound the invaders and instead of annihilating the defenders, they made peace and went home.

…Our Maori ancestors have endowed us with a rich heritage,
and we cannot take credit to ourselves by basking in the sun
of their reflected glory. We must be up and doing. Work
is the keynote to success, physically and mentally. Each
generation must develop leaders whose ideals make for the
common good. In the selfish world of today, we may be able
to contribute something of the spirit of kindliness,
hospitality, and toleration that are in danger of being
extinguished by the current standard of material gain.
We must hold to something of the spirit, toward both things
celestial and things terrestrial…

[Sir Peter Buck,1949]

Upane !

Kaupane !

Whiti te Ra !!

17 responses to “Wars are not Won by Waging War!

  1. I will add Sir Peter Buck’s explanation of “the hairy man” here, for further understanding of the original haka:

    “When Maui laid rope snares around the opening through which the sun emerged for the daily round, he instructed his brothers not to pull on the ropes until the sun’s head and shoulders were above the noose. Thus, when he gave the signal, the sun was rendered helpless because his arms were pinioned to his sides. Maui beat the sun with a club formed of the lower jaw-bone of his grandmother, Muriranawhenua, whereat the sun cried out in pain, ‘Why are you beating Tamanuitera (Great-son-the-sun)’ ? Thus, the personal name of the sun became known for the first time. As a result of his beating, the sun moved more slowly across the sky and man had more ample time to procure food. Maui was the first to introduce daylight saving for the benefit of man. The myth shows that the sun was personified and was given a personal name, but it is devoid of that respect and awe which would lead to his being worshipped as a god.”
    [The Coming of the Maori – Sir Peter Buck]

  2. I’d greatly endeavor to locate that peace haka and send it to Baracka.

  3. you mean all this time it’s been the maui who originated the cursed notion of daylight savings time? ay yi yi.

    fun stuff, and i love the haka! i loved in ‘the whale rider’ first, then ‘invictus’, oh my. as i said, i do the face in the bathroom mirror often, lol. i’ll have to remember to add the arm-‘guns’ (as they cal them in discussions of ‘buffness’)

    i really do like peter buck’s first quote, save for the prominent position of the protestant ethic, which i don’t endorse for a number of reasons, even though mr. wd and i have loved to work hard all our lives. (maybe the early lessons ‘took’ all too well, lol.

    thanks, juliania, for posting this. and x2 on bruce’s comment. he made a wee poem, he did.

  4. Gee. wendye, I thought that ‘work ethic’ thing had a Marxist flavor ;) But you may be right in thinking of it as ‘protestant’. Interesting, wasn’t it, that he pegged 1949 as already ‘the selfish world of today.’ I just saw it as prophetic insight into the moral mess we currently face.

    Good idea, Bruce – I’m on the hunt!

  5. Love this post juliania, thanks for bringing it. Seriously, I need to add some primal vocalization in the form of stories to my morning workouts.

    My cultural heritage is more along the lines of dazzling accordion riffs and circling the floor to a fast polka with a partner. That always feels a bit contrived compared to the more ancient, pre-accordion traditions. This is brilliant, a welcome addition any day.

    Many of the posts here are too many notches out of conventional mainstream ‘progressive’ thought, lately.

    Oh and hello wendyedavis, *ducking* ;)

  6. good couplet from bruce, too, eh, nonquixote?

    no ducking needed, sorry no he-mails nor she-mails; can’t manage it these days. oops, not quite so. it’s been so long since we’ve heard from ‘____ commie’ (ludwig at fdl), and after he became actually conversant and all, that i did email him to ask if he’s okay. somehow, i had the impression that his health wasn’t good, though i can’t say why. but i’ve never heard back, sad to say.

    oh, and as to my work complaint, i reckon if juliania thought it through, she and many of us would grasp that work (esp. for $, which it always means) leaves little or time for contemplation an the arts, which are often the highest marks of a healthy society. imo, at any rate. obey’s post at my.fdl described an initiative in Sweezerland that we would consider akin to a guaranteed annual income, but sad to say, it failed with the voting populace.

    nice to see you, amigo.

  7. Thanks for responding, I got a good laugh when I saw your ‘progressive,’ thought comment at the other site. Nobody around here in groks that their ideas of the meaning of, ‘progressive,’ really aren’t so much so. Tis the season to mark my reserve energy, take care of the little things and count down to the equinox.

    Humans are amazing per Ludwig, I agree. Hope nothing unfortunate happened. On the work thing I retired at age 21 and have been trying ever since to occupy myself with fulfilling activity. I think I understand your take on the work ethic. I ‘inherited,’ it and try to direct it rather than it directing me, but a useful personal asset.

    Running on empty, mental function right now, pillow time I think.

  8. well, phooey; i never got email notification of your comment. i’m so sorry not to have looked in. can’t remember the comment, really, but those labels scarcely connote anything great any more; just kinda status quo garbage in, garbage out, lol.

    yes, i know about conserving energy, and i loathe it and winter. mr. wd is gettin’ a lot done around here, workin’ is ass off.

    yeah, i hope ludwig the commie’s okay. he sure did used to bedevil southern dragon, didn’t he? “quit calling me your comrade, dammit!”

    Occupy yerownself: and at 21? you were a man before your time! :)

  9. Thanks very much, nonquixote – feel free to add some accordion riffs!

    I mentioned the Treaty of Waitangi (equivalent of 4th of July in New Zealand historical celebration) in my first paragraph – I must have been getting inner vibes to post this piece (definitely was an impulsive effort) as I’ve just read that the Waitangi Tribunal – which has been investigating what was really agreed to originally – just came out with the initial report of two concerning the first and northern most signings – what the chiefs who did sign then understood they were agreeing to. A very interesting conclusion.

    Here’s the link to their press release:


    My maternal great-grandfather lived in the north. Maybe he was giving me a nudge?

  10. Taking into consideration your comment here, wendye:

    “oh, and as to my work complaint, i reckon if juliania thought it through, she and many of us would grasp that work (esp. for $, which it always means) leaves little or time for contemplation an the arts, which are often the highest marks of a healthy society. imo, at any rate. obey’s post at my.fdl described an initiative in Sweezerland that we would consider akin to a guaranteed annual income, but sad to say, it failed with the voting populace.”

    I’ll just go back to the Sir Peter quote – and maybe it would help for me to say he is speaking as a maori, not as a European. His admonition against ‘the current standard of material gain’ I think does define what he means by ‘work’, so I probably shouldn’t have agreed to the term ‘protestant’ as a definition of his mindset. His recording of traditional maori ways in an era when they could well have left national consciousness was very comprehensive and well done.

    Probably should jettison my glib ‘Marxist’ definition also – Sir Peter’s not talking about anything like that. My reading is that he very much wants maori to ‘work’ to build upon their prideful heritage. Which I think they have been doing. Nothing about monetary gain in that.

  11. I did find this beautiful epilogue to another Peter Buck book, “Vikings of the Sunrise” (which I so wish I had, but it is linkable through wiki – yay!) – says the same thing only in a different way:

    “The old net is laid aside;
    A new net goes afishing.

    maori proverb

    The old world created by our Polynesian ancestors has passed away, and a new world is in the process of being fashioned. The stone temples have been destroyed and the temple drums and shell trumpets have long been silent. Tane, Tu, Rongo, Tangaroa and the other members of the divine family of the Sky-father and the Earth-mother have left us. The great voyaging canoes have crumbled to dust, and the sea captains and the expert craftsmen have passed away to the Spirit-land. The regalia and symbols of spiritual and temporal power have been scattered among the museums of other peoples. The glory of the Stone Age has departed out of Polynesia.

    The old net is full of holes, its meshes have rotted, and it has been laid aside.

    What new net goes afishing?”

  12. It just came to me that perhaps you are confusing my ancestor (early 1800’s) with Sir Peter Buck (1949) and reading his quotation as from a Methodist minister – hah! Sorry, wendye. I’d love to claim that ancestry but no, t’aint so. ( If you wiki Sir Peter Buck, you’ll see a lovely photo of him with a taiaha.)

    The north dwelling maternal great-grandfather is a different chap also. My ancestors got around Aotearoa, maori and pakeha. But that’s another story…

  13. hmmm. you seem to have shown me that sir peter wasn’t talking about working for money, thus i was wrong about that. i just do favor daydreaming and the creating of arts and ideas as terribly valuable to society, although producing those arts and other creations would definitely take ‘work’.

    my bias may come from a point in my life during which i almost killed myself working on projects for our community and neighbors, aside from my professional and home work and chirren.and all of it was due to the protestant work ethic, which i had internalized deep within me as:: i am not just good enough sitting on a shelf, but must be constantly working (for the good, even) at the expense of my health and sanity.

    so…thank you for the further elucidations. :) spiritual dreaming also counts, no?

  14. Indeed it does!

    I perhaps need to elaborate that at the time of Sir Peter’s writings, Maori culture was at an ebb and it looked as if the European way of life was taking over. Even when I was growing up, maori place names (and there are a lot) had ‘anglo’ pronunciation. When I came back to the country as an adult, the careful maori pronunciations were a joy to hear (very pure musical syllables, the way pure Spanish is.) I think this is the kind of ‘work’ he meant. Lots still to do, and the issue of the foreshores is a hot topic…

  15. shorter: the work of imagining a better, more just world, then…implementing it as we can. or something. i agree about so many languages being so rich in melody, cadence, and ease. i love italian, even, the best of the romance languages. made of love. ;)

    • lol! andy: “no, ya fight fire with a hose.”

      juliania is awol, sadly. well, at least her laptop went to its great reward in the mountains of dead tech rubbish in china or somewhere. as she’d not been here in awhile, i emailed her to see if all were okay enough, never heard back…then remembered i had a phone number for her. “this number is no longer in service.” (in a lily tomlin voice) ay yi yi.

      so i emailed her sister in new zealand and she said yeppers, dead machine, she now has a cell phone, but…her kids may get her a new laptop for her birthday on aug. 10. sure hope they do. kinda wanted to put up a happy birthirthirthday (thanks, owl) greeting for her.

care to comment? (no registration required)

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s