Issue: 10

Maui the Trickster
by David F Stuckey


I have been following with interest the mainstream wargaming interest in the Maori/English wars that took place here in my country over a century ago, particularly as I live within hailing distance of a number of the sites of battles. However I, as an SF gamer and having had an education in the Mauri legends and magics, am rather disappointed in the neglect of this side for the members of the SFSFW. Now the subject is a broad one but I hope to make a few interesting suggestions and, with any luck, strike a few points against the Australians (They keep doing the same to us I assure you!)

Colonialism in the South Pacific: a quick guide

New Zealand was discovered over a period of two centuries by the Spanish, the Dutch, the French and the English, because a) it's so small, and b) most explorers thought it was part of Australia (a nasty thought). At the time, the indigenous peoples, the Maori, had organised themselves into tribal groupings that varied from co-operative traders to outright raiders across the two major islands. The major chiefs were concerned about the increasing number of Pakeha (foreign) settlers arriving in the country, although whaling settlements had persisted for over fifty years beforehand, and this was their motive for seeking to become Crown citizens under the Treaty of Waitangi. The English saw a chance to keep out the Dutch, French, and Germans and consolidate their colony of Australia. Some of the tribes didn't care for the fine print in the document, and thus the conflicts of the l860s began.</>

Australia was of course a British Colony (Prison: Only 45 deported felons were sent to NZ, all under 16 years old), and was the largest population base available in the region. The French possession of New Caledonia was in the North, and the Islands around the Pacific Basin were a mixture of English, American, Dutch and German protectoorates. Thus, when NZ and Australia made Dominion status at the start of WWI, the situation in the southern ocean earned us the reputation of the "Prussians of the Pacific" for our raids against German islands and our urge to protect the Commonwealth.

Maori Gods and Magic

The Maori had many gods and goddesses, but the most significant in some ways was Maui the Trickster, who was reputed to have caught the Great Fish (The North Island) and dragged it to the surface for men to live on. He was not an immortal, but more along the lines of Hercules in that he was immensely strong, like Loki in that his tricks involved changing shape for elaborate practical jokes, and like Finn McCool in that he was often a warrior with a task to perfom. His exploits included stealing fire from a witch, capturing the Sun in a net to make it travel more slowly across the sky, and the killing of notable Taniwha (river-dwelling monsters). He was also a magic-user, though these tricks ran to shape-shifting, enchanting tools to work by themselves, as when he dug a trench by the use of magic digging sticks, and the ability to speak to animals.

Magicians in the Maori style, or Tohunga (Note: Maori words are their own plurals), usually performed magic in conjunction with natural forces, rather than elaborate pyrotechnics; Summoning waves was about the moat spectacular magic ever used, so the spells of the Druids are good parallels. In fact the rituals involved in cutting down trees to build canoes or buildings - asking the permission of Tane, God of forests and birds - would strike many a cord in the heart of any Druid or Wood Elf!

Taniwha were the Maori version of dragons, and their real-life influence may have been the salt-water crocodile of the Pacific. Taniwha would range in size from a few feet long to several hundred, and vary from friendly children's playmates to highly territorial monsters: Maui once fought a Taniwha that tried to kill his wife, and caught it in net strung across a canal he had dug using an army of enchanted digging sticks. The body parts of the large Taniwha, when dismembered, would take on their own lives as eels, fish, river plants and lizards. No Tohunga was ever really successful in taming a Taniwha for any purpose, and sections of river said to be a Taniwha's were either avoided or sacrifices of food were sent on ahead of waka (canoes) that had the bad luck to navigate that stretch of waterway.

Control of animals by Tohunga seems to be very limited in the main, in Moari magic: Charming whales to come ashore appears to be the greatest feat ever attempted by any Tohunga, and this would excaust the magic-user for quite some time after. Perhaps magical energy is not as strong in this region of the world. One skill of animal control does recur in the in the Maori mythos, that of the giant birds many chiefs used to carry themselves and others across the seas to the Islands, whose chiefs also used such arcane airpower. The purpose of these visits were mostly romantic in nature, although any situation could justify the use of flight.

Nonhuman Maori Races

According to the legends of the Maori, many other races equal to themselves lived in NZ: The People Of The Mist, humans with white skins and red hair (Celtics?), dwelled in the mountains whose tops were often overhung with fog. These people would enchant and enslave the unwary travelling at night and were likely to be found by hunting parties, whose sole food was the Morepork or native owl. Yet, the People Of The Mist when found, were often friendly or at least indifferent to human activity.

The Mareora, or Little People, could be described as leprechaun without such a mischievous attitude (Perhaps because they had no gold for humans to steal) and existed in parallel with the Mauri. Their green-skinned cousins, the Poekerekere, were not as friendly, taking humans as slaves to cook their meals and guard the Whares (Houses) where they slept at daylight, after hard nights doing Cthulu knows what evil in the Ocreans!

Other marine humans also appear, It was from them that certain Maori learned the art making and using fishing nets.

Animals in NZ were also believed to posses the ability to communicate with certain humans and each other, but the intelligence of the birds was considered limited and on a single track. Keas, for example, beacuse of their still present habits of stealing human possessions (and if not disturbed, going so far as to tear open boxes, enter tents and houses, and pulling the wipers and aerials off parked cars!!) and loud cries, were considered vain and crafty thieves, while the Tui, whose blank plumage, white tufts of feather beneath its throat and a declaiming and sharp way of singing gained it the name of Parson bird by colonials, was thought by the Maori to be the boss of the forest.

A practical application of all this

As a new culture, the Maori are an interesting people to consider for large scale fantasy campaigns. Recently discovered islands in your game world could have Maori inhabitants, including peaceful trading tribes and hostile raiders. Or, to enlarge the scope, suppose Alternative Armies Napoleonic elves got to this part of the world or it's equivalent first. The resulting interaction and historical parallels would generate dozens of new and exciting conflicts, and given the interesting terrain of the New Zealand environment, it should wake up a few commanders to new tactics and strategies.

(An aside: as I write this, I am sitting within 26 kilometres of the crater lake of an active volcano, while two dormant and one active volcano lie another 20km north of that. To my east a valley river that used to carry up to 2,000 tons of cargo a day over 200km of navigable waters winds through the bush and mountains to the ocean. About 40km east is a zone of rain shadowed desert and tussock savannah to rival anything in Argentina, and 80km north-east is the volcanic mud pools and lakes of the Taupo region. Through this terrain was fought the running battles that culminated in the Maori-English wars; variety enough for anyone!)

For interest, imagine a campaign based on the Maori Wars with magic added, and suppose the English had the foresight to enlist Irish druids from the penal colony of Australia as Tohunga! Not only would it remove the advantage of English mortars, the tendency for the druids in "go native" would add even more uncertainty to the battle! As the colonial age was at its height in this area at the time, how about a hypothetical invasion of New Zealand by a (new) foreign power... Take your choice: Spanish, North American Traders, French, German, Dutch there is a good choice and if you fancy it, combine these forces with allies of the non-human kind - a German imperial army with Maori scouts versus an English colonial militia backed by a druid controlling several Taniwha, fighting a Mekorrg Delta style campaign?

A whaling and trading station being raided by Poekerekere (think of them as amphibious goblins) under the pay of the Dutch Australiasian! Company? Or, to get back to more real (?) possibilities suppose ex-Confederate and/or Texas Republicans decided that the gold fields of New Zealand could just supply them with the cash they need to secede from the Union again... after all, the Australians actually did have American ex-soldiers involved in an abortive revolt against the government (the Eureka stockade), why should New Zealand miss out? Anyway, it's a good excuse to pit American Civil War equipment and tactics against the Empire's best in a situation that disadvantages both aides equally.

This article is not designed to be air exhaustive examination of the possibilities, but I hope it will open a few minds to the idea of gaming in this part of the world. For further information on the New Zealand wars, the last few months issues of Wargames Illustrated have carried several interesting articles on the tactics of the Maori and English forces, and several nice 15mm ranges of Maori warriors are being produced.

It's only a matter of approaching a "straight" historical gamer and asking to find out more - who knows? You could tempt them to a game based upon the Maori legends of the wars with the People Of The Mist, using Wood or Dark Elves...

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