Maori Fortifications, Ian Knight

Maori Fortifications, Ian Knight

Fortress 81

This book looks at a topic I knew nothing about – the Pa, or Maori fortified enclosure. These wooden and earthwork fortifications, sometimes containing entire villages, were scattered in large numbers across New Zealand, especially the North Island, and remained in use for hundreds of years until the last Pa was constructed in 1869, at the end of the New Zealand Wars.

Knight covers a long time-period, starting with the Pa of the pre-gunpowder age, and ending with the last fortifications of the 'New Zealand Wars', which closely resembled contemporary European and American infantry redoubts. The bulk of the book looks at the evolution of the Pa under the impact of gunpowder, which produced the 'gunfighter Pa', an effective style of fortification which the British never really came to grips with (an increase in the number of available troops eventually meant that the Pa could be bypassed).

The book starts with a look at the role of warfare in pre-Colonial Maori society, looking at the idea of Mana, and the long running grudges that could lead to conflict at any moment. After a chronology of the period between 1840 and 1869 Knight then moves on to pre-gunpowder Pa, a system of fortification that had developed over several hundred years, discussing the construction methods used, the layout of the Pa and the nature of the fighting around the Pa. He then moves on to the period of the 'Musket Wars', which saw the Maori adopt the musket in their own wars.

These costly civil wars did at least see the evolution of the 'gunfighter Pa' – less complex than the multi-layers earlier fortifications, but very well designed to take advantage of the musket and to protect against it. We then move on to the New Zealand Wars, a series of clashes between the Maori and the British. Knight demonstrates how difficult the British found it to deal with the 'gunfighter Pa', which was virtually immune to their light artillery and very costly to storm.

Knight's work has encouraged me to read more on the same topic, always a sign of a successful book.

The Role of Warfare in Maori Society
The Pre-Colonial Pa; The Fortified Village
Hongi Hika and the 'Musket Wars'
The 'New Zealand Wars'
The End of the Pa
Pa Sites Today

Author: Ian Knight
Edition: Paperback
Pages: 64
Publisher: Osprey
Year: 2009

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