old Maori weapon, the taiaha can be deadly when wielded by an expert. This was
proved in a taiaha and rifle and bayonet duel at a small arms weapon training
school at Maadi, the Middle East, in 1943. The school was an important centre in
which soldiers of the 8th Army were given an intensive training course in every
infantry weapon, from revolvers to bayonets. In this particular course there
were Americans, Free French, English, New Zealanders, Cypriots, and Canadians.
In one of the bayonet fighting sessions, Major Don Steward, a New Zealander,
remarked to his hard-bitten instructors: “This is quite a weapon, I only know
of one to beat it!” “What’s that?”Asked the instructor. “The Maori taiaha.”“What
the hell is that?”“A fire-hardened wooden stave and fending spear, “replied
Stewart. Derision and scorn followed this remark, which stung the Maori to the
quick. As a result, he offered to prove his point. Immediately bets were
offered at great odds that the man with a Maori weapon would be dead within
seconds against an expert with a rifle-mounted bayonet.
Maori champion, Lieut. Aubrey Te Rama-Apakura Rota, luckily had one with him.
Rota was warned that he would have to take full risk of being wounded or worse,
and that the incident was to be officially regarded as an exercise in the
combat school, where ‘accidents ‘were fairly frequent. There would be no holds
barred on either side. Stripping off his tunic, the young Maori stood facing
the grinning ‘modern soldier ‘in much the same way his forebears had faced the
British redcoats a century before. The signal to start was given. The soldier
lunged in and thrust in perfect precision, but each move was parried by the
light-footed Maori who bided his time and stood on the defensive. Failing to
penetrate the Maoris’ guard, the other soldier grew increasingly angry as
thrust after thrust was tossed aside by the stout wooden weapon. Sometimes it
was repelled with such violence that the European soldier was flung sideways.
Finally, he crouched and charged in directly at the Maoris’ midriff. This was
Rota’s chance. Grasping his weapon firmly, he sidestepped, tipped aside the
blind thrust, and caught the lunging figure a smart uppercut in the stomach
with the bladed end of the taiaha. In a flash he whirled the weapon about, to
crash the business-end on top of his opponent’s skull. Down he went, to be out
of action for some days in the camp hospital—another regrettable accident from
the small arms school. The effect on those present was profound. Money changed
hands at great odds, as the jubilant minority collected. The story was repeated
with almost unbelievable astonishment throughout the Middle East.