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Old 03-28-2017, 02:33 PM
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RickI RickI is offline
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Default OT - UTU, Ritual Revenge & Kindness and Smoked Heads in New Zealand

I was looking for an old transcript last night and came across the above engraving. It depicts a gang of Maori tribesmen engaged in a haka during the "Musket Wars" from 1807 to 1845 on New Zealand and the Chatham Islands. More about the wars at:

I usually don't buy prints taken out of books but picked this up nine years ago at a fleamarket in Georgetown, Washington, D.C.? I just figured out it came from "THE STORY OF NEW ZEALAND : Past and Present - Savage and Civilized" (1859) by Arthur S. Thomson. You can see a copy at:

The print reminded me of a haka scene involving Maori soldiers from an old favorite NZ cult movie classic of the 1980's "UTU." Utu is a complex Maori concept for the maintenance of "mana" or power, prestige through the reciprocation of harm and even kindness. Someone does you wrong, give the same back in buckets to maintain your mana lest you lose face and spiritual prominence. This seems to have led to Captain Cook's death for fishing in forbidden waters but that is another story. The movie UTU describes collaboration, attacks and retribution in a colonial period following the Musket Wars by a few decades. More at

Utu had a central role in NZ's past resulting in numerous wars, wholesale slaughter of tens of thousands, slavery, general subjegation and a lot of cannibalism. Western concerns fed the chaos, because ... not real clear on what the ultimate good was in all this despair. Utu, conflict and muskets even prompted a trade in "smoked heads." Yes, you read that right and smoke 'em if you got 'em, lest they fester and decay. We, westerners introduced the muskets to curry favor with the tribes and even created a demand for smoked heads often in exchange for guns and ammunition, imagine that. Once one tribe had them, the rest naturally wanted their own, so it goes. You can see a collection of Mokomokai or smoke dried heads and related information by clicking the image below. Mono are class or status related facial tattoos worn by the Maori. The process of preparation of the heads is described as: "When someone with moko died, often the head would be preserved. The brain and eyes were removed, with all orifices sealed with flax fibre and gum. The head was then boiled or steamed in an oven before being smoked over an open fire and dried in the sun for several days. It was then treated with shark oil. Such preserved heads, mokomokai, would be kept by their families in ornately-carved boxes and brought out only for sacred ceremonies."

These heads were collected by Major General Horatio Gordon Robley, show in the image with his friends at the link. I understand these remains along with others were recently returned to NZ via Natural History Museum of New York.

Haka are described as: "The haka (plural haka, as in Māori, so in English) is a traditional war cry, dance, or challenge from the Māori people of New Zealand. It is a posture dance performed by a group, with vigorous movements and stamping of the feet with rhythmically shouted accompaniment. War haka were originally performed by warriors before a battle, proclaiming their strength and prowess in order to intimidate the opposition, but haka are also performed for various reasons: for welcoming distinguished guests, or to acknowledge great achievements, occasions or funerals" Haka have gained a lot of prominence in rugby games in recent years.

Somehow, I imagine the intensity and intimidation factor might have been greater than achieved in the UTU scene in the case of the original haiku depicted from the dozens of Maori going off in the engraving above. When you think about it, Thomson's title from way back in 1859 was apt, "THE STORY OF NEW ZEALAND : Past and Present - Savage and Civilized." We all have our checkered pasts, it seems, somewhere back in the woodpile, this chapter from NZ history is an impacting one. So, the next time you see a haka, give some thoughts to its martial origins, there is some depth there.

FKA, Inc.

transcribed by:
Rick Iossi

Last edited by RickI; 03-28-2017 at 03:20 PM.
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