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A Taiaha (pronounced as IPA: [taiaha]) is a traditional weapon of the Maori of New Zealand. Usually between 5 to 6 feet in length, it is a wooden close quarters weapon used for short sharp strikes or stabbing thrusts. Unlike the quarterstaff and similar stick fighting weapons, one end of the taiaha is flattened to a broad blade, and the other narrows to a point with a carved face defiantly sticking out its tongue which represents “I’m going to eat you!”.
Mau rakau is the martial art that teaches the use of the taiaha and other Maori weapons in combat. As with other martial arts styles, students of the taiaha spends years mastering the skills of timing, balance and co-ordination necessary to wield the weapon effectively.
The taiaha is widely known due to its use in the wero— the traditional Maori challenge. Tradition says that when a visiting party approached a Maori pa (fortified homestead/village) they would be challenged by a warrior with a taiaha to see if they were friend or foe. A wero is commonly given to heads of state and visiting dignitaries welcomed to New Zealand.
Among modern Maori the taiaha is one of many cultural items which are used to introduce youngsters in school to some of the traditional ways. Contests and competitions take place with schools fielding teams not for fights or matches but as “dance” or ritual.
The New Zealand Army now incorporates the image of a taiaha into its official badge.
The taiaha was also featured in two video games for the PlayStation 2, The Mark of Kri and its sequel Rise of the Kasai as a weapon for the games’ hero, Rau. In The Mark of Kri, the taiaha is plunged into the ground; however, in Maori culture, this is an offense as it is considered to be stabbing the earth mother.
As a symbol of traditional Maori ways, the taiaha was featured in the award-winning 2002 film, Whale Rider – and more briefly in the film Once Were Warriors.
Other Maori weapons: