Skip to content
  • 9am–5pm
  • Free general admission
  • Shop

We are no longer updating this page and it is not optimised for mobile devices.

You are in site section: Explore

Spear tao kaniwha, spear tao huata, spears tao

Spear tao kaniwha, spear tao huata, spears tao

Place: New Zealand
Category: War

Spear tao kaniwha, wood, New Zealand, l. 306 cm, Inv. Oz 1278; spear tao huata, wood, New Zealand, l. 270 cm, Inv. Oz 1280; spears tao, wood, New Zealand, l. 234–161.5 cm, Inv. Oz 1279, 1281

Spear tao, kaniwha, Inv. Oz 1278, Humphrey No. 331 (?): ‘a long ditto [lance], the end triangular and barbed, from New Zealand.’

Spear made of brown wood with barbs on three edges, irregular shaft with numerous knots in the wood. Maori weapons were generally used in close combat, and the various types of clubs are represented in the collections of Vienna, Stockholm, and Oxford. The objects here named ‘spears’ or lances tend to be an exception.

The kotaha or ‘whipsling’ (Kaeppler 1978a: 195) was used for the hurling of lances into besieged settlements. The lances were stuck loosely into the ground and were fastened to the kotaha with a strap, with which they were hurled upward. The kotaha were richly decorated; according to Hamilton however, they were not longer than 150 cm, so that seems highly questionable whether or not the Göttingen spears were used in this way. ‘The arrow or dart (pere), was simply a rough manuka [Leptospermum scoparium] stick, fairly straight, from 4 to 5 feet long, with one end sharply pointed, and the point charred, in order to harden it’ (Hamilton 1896: 224).

Banks described the lances as ‘8 feet long made of wood bearded and sharpned, but intended cheifly for the defence of their forts’ (Beaglehole 1963: 28). According to Beaglehole, these pere disappeared shortly after the onset of European settlement.

Best gave a large number of terms for spears as thrusting weapons, which presumably also relate to various regions, the classification of which remains unclear (Best 1924, II: 240-45). The dimensions quoted by Best sometimes greatly exceed those of the Göttingen spears. Best listed the term kaniwha for barbed spears, stating however that these were only infrequently used by the Maori. He gave the term tao for the usual spear, with a length two to three metres. Spears were often made of the wood of the manuka shrub. Long spears were used for attacks on fortified settlements. It is strange that so few of these spears were actually collected. This may have been because they were not decorated and were also considered by the Maori as not being especially suitable as gifts for strangers. Markus Schindlbeck

Spear tao, huata, Inv. Oz 1280, Humphrey No. 332: ‘A long smooth Lance, from ditto [New Zealand].’

Spear made of brown wood with smooth tip. Decoration at foot carved out of the wood.

Best (1924, II: 240) gave the term huata for spears bulged at the end, which he called reke, koreke, and purori. However, the handling of these long spears in combat is unclear; perhaps as described by Banks (Beaglehole 1963: 27). These long spears were used in attacks on, and for the defence of the fortified settlements. Markus Schindlbeck

Two spears tao, Inv. Oz 1279, Inv. Oz 1281, Humphrey No. (?)

Spears made of brown wood. Oz 1279 has an irregular shaft; Oz 1281 has a smooth tip. Markus Schindlbeck


Banks, Joseph, Journal of the Right Hon. Sir Joseph Banks During Captain Cook’s First Voyage in H.M.S. Endeavour in 1768-71 to Terra del Fuego. Otahite, New Zealand, Australia, the Dutch East Indies etc., by Sir Joseph D Hooker, London, 1896.

Beaglehole, John Cawte, The Endeavour Journal of Joseph Banks, 1768-1771, Bd. II [1962], Sydney, 1963.

Best, Elsdon, The Maori, 2 vols, Wellington, 1924.

Hamilton, Augustus, The Art Workmanship of the Maori Race in New Zealand, Wellington, 1896.

Kaeppler, Adrienne L, ‘Artificial Curiosities’ Being An Exposition of Native Manufactures Collected on the Three Pacific Voyages of Captain James Cook RN [Exhibition catalogue], Bishop Museum Press, Honolulu, 1978a.

Return to Top