One of the most sought after and valued Polynesian art piece is the Maori taiaha (pronounced tie-ah-ha). The taiaha is a traditional weapon of the Maori of Aotearoa (New Zealand). This hardwood weapon is used for close-quarters combat. Though sometimes referred to as a spearlike weapon, the taiaha is not used as a spear. Held with two hands, short, calculated strikes, blocks and thrusts are conducted to intimidate and exhibit the prowess, strength, power (mana) and the skill of the Maori warriors.
Students train for years mastering the movements, balance, timing and coordination involved in using the taiaha. One of the more visible presentations of its use is the wero ceremony. A warrior challenges a visitor with a taiaha to determine if he is a friend or foe. He leaves a token at the visitors feet. A friend will pick up the token. A foe will step on the token and attack.
The taiaha is a representation of the ancestors. Never place the "head" on the ground. It is a sign of disrespect. The shaft represents the body of the ancestors. When the warrior brought the taiaha into battle, it represented him bringing his ancestors with him. When held in front of a visitor, the eyes on the flattened, two-sided head represent looking forward and also the past - representing all-seeing. Carvings represent traditional Maori elements. Carefully placed feathers on the head represent the hair of the ancestors and the protruding tongue is symbolized by the tip of the taiaha.
Our modern taiaha are traditionally handcarved by a local Maori artist who learned his trade from his father, also a master carver. His lifetime work has adorned collections around the world including many dignitaries, museums and private collections.