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No. 36 (September 1961)
– 54 –

ROLE OF WAR IN MAORI LIFE

Warfare, for all its horror, fulfilled some necessary functions in Maori society. As we have just seen, it was through wars that the tribes were spread out and occupied the large areas of land needed to provide sustenance. Furthermore, in the absence of regular forms of public justice in the relations between Maori communities, war was advantageous to redress wrongs and deter offenders. It discouraged thefts and murders of members of other hapu. War also strengthened the bonds of unity between the participating hapu.

Before the musket was introduced and Maori society became thorough disorganized through the early impact of European settlement, war was not allowed to interfere seriously with economic life, that is, the ensuring of the food supply. There was mostly a set season for warfare and this fell from November when the crops had been planted until early autumn when they had to be harvested. That period might be dedicated to the war-god Tu, but the rest of the year was usually under the tutelage of Rongo, the god of agriculture and the pleasures of peace. This deity, although lacking Tu's ferocity, was equally imperious, for without food and the hard work of procuring it, man would starve.