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Object: Taiaha (long fighting staff)

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Title Taiaha (long fighting staff)
Production Unknown (carver), 1800, New Zealand
Materials wood, muka, dog hair
Classification edged weapons, Taiaha
Technique woodcarving
Dimensions Overall: x 1235mm (Length)
Credit line Oldman Collection. Gift of the New Zealand Government, 1992
Registration number OL000069.S/51

A taiaha is a hand weapon usually made from hard wood, or sometimes whale bone, and usually about 1.5 metres long. Taiaha have one end carved in the shape of an upoko (head) with a face on each side. The eyes of the two faces see all around, reflecting the alertness of the taiaha exponent. An arero (tongue) protruding from the upoko forms one end of the weapon. The upoko is adorned with a tauri (collar) of feathers and/or dog hair, the tassels of which form the awe. Below this, the tinana (body) provides the grip. The other end of the taiaha has a flat smooth blade, or rau, usually about five to seven centimetres wide, which is the main striking blade.

Details
This taiaha is intricately carved on both sides of the upoko with carefully notched päua (large New Zealand abalone with blue-green inner shell) shell rings inlaid around the eyes. In a conventional treatment, the arero has double rauponga (spirals) with double haehae (parallel grooves) and päkati (dog tooth pattern) notches. The tauri consists of feathers, muka (flax fibre) cordage, and a dog skin awe.

Significance
This taiaha was part of the large W O Oldman repatriation of taonga (artefacts) from Britain in 1948. The collection was purchased by the New Zealand Government and dispersed to the main metropolitan museums, thereby forming a major part of the country's taonga Mäori collections.

Mätauranga Mäori (Mäori knowledge)
Mau taiaha (an ancient form of stick fighting) is still taught and practised in New Zealand by both sexes. Some of the teaching philosophies and methods go back hundreds of years, often in unbroken lines of succession. On special occasions, such as large public functions, taiaha exponents still perform the ancient challenge called the wero. The person being challenged must have strong nerves to withstand the fury of a properly executed wero.

Related information

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