Mere (weapon)

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Pare Watene in 1878 holding a mere (by Gottfried Lindauer)

The mere (Māori pronunciation: [ˈmɛrɛ]) is a type of short, broad-bladed weapon in the shape of an enlarged tear drop. It was used to strike/jab an opponent in the body or the head (it is misleading to call it a club as described by early visitors to New Zealand) (patu), usually made from Nephrite jade (Pounamu or greenstone).[1] A mere is one of the traditional, close combat, one-handed weapons of the indigenous Māori, of New Zealand and a symbol of chieftainship.

Form[edit]

'Kataore', Mere pounamu (42cm x 12cm)
Maori chief holding a Mere weapon (1860–1879)

The Mere is a spatulate, leaf shaped, form of short club. It has a broad, rounded apex that narrows to form a handle, terminating in a butt or heel (reke), marked by several grooves. Mere have two convex, almost flat sides and a rounded top. The top of the mere was ground to a sharp edge, extending down both sides of the weapon.

Generally, short clubs had holes carved or drilled through the butt end of the handle, allowing a wrist cord (tau or patui) made of plaited New Zealand flax, or Polynesian dog skin, to be passed through and attached to the wielder's wrist. Passing the wrist cord over the thumb and around the hand prevented the club from slipping during use.

Mere are between 25 and 50 centimetres (10 and 20 in), with an average length of 35 centimetres (14 in). The width of a mere is similarly variable, from under 7 to over 12 centimetres (3 to 5 in). The dimensions of a mere were generally determined by the characteristics of the raw materials the club was made from.[2] Extremely long or short mere are unwieldy in combat, and are likely to have been mainly used for ceremonial purposes.[3]

Material and manufacture[edit]

While the term mere was, and is, used in some regions to refer exclusively to clubs made from pounamu,[1] in other regions, mere was more broadly used to refer to patu of a similar shape and design made from hardwood (meremere, mere rakau), whalebone (patu paraoa), or stone (patu onewa) - in these areas, a mere made from greenstone was known as a mere pounamu or patu pounamu.

The pounamu used to make a mere was carefully chosen to be flawless and to have a good colour. A block of greenstone was first rough cut using pieces of quartzite combined with sand and water. Dressing of the surface was done with fine sandstone and pieces of very hard smooth stone. Due to the toughness of greenstone, mere pounamu were able to made thinner than other similar patu made from stone, however this made the process of manufacture slow and arduous. The creation and finishing of a mere pounamu is claimed to have sometimes taken more than one generation to complete.[4]

Usage[edit]

Chief of the Te Āti Awa Tribe Wiremu Kingi holding a jade mere (painted by Gottfried Lindauer)

Combat[edit]

Mere, and other patu, were used for close-quarter fighting. Held in one hand, these close-range striking weapons were used primarily for end-on thrusting or jabbing (tipi). In combat, jabbing thrusts or strikes would be directed at the ribs, neck or temple. It has been claimed that a strike to the skull combined with a twisting flick of the wrist could force or wrench the victim's skull open.[3][4] The designed use of the mere for forward striking thrusts is an unusual characteristic of Maori patu, where in other parts of the world, clubs are generally wielded with an ax-like downward blow.[5] The butt (reke) of a mere could also be used to strike an opponent's head.

A mere pounamu was much harder[6] than a patu of wood or bone, and much tougher - less likely to fracture - than a patu onawe of any other type of stone.[7]

It was stated that a proficient warrior armed with a patu was able to defeat a man armed with a longer weapon, like a taiaha or spear. A fighter using a patu often used a type of pad (whakapuru), held or on the off-side arm, used to parry or lessen the impact of an opposing weapon.[4]

When not in use mere were carried in a flax belt (tatua) or sometimes suspended from a wrist cord.

Ceremonial[edit]

Pounamu was highly prized by Maori and the mere pounamu as the weapon of a chief or rangatira, was the most revered of all Maori weapons. These mere were passed through generations; they were gioven names, and were said to possess a spiritual quality or mana of their own. Particularly special mere were imbued with magical powers, or supernatural qualities. Due to the high value placed on revered mere pounamu they would often be hidden when not in use,[4] and kept in specially constructed cases.[8] Considerable efforts were undertaken, often by an entire tribe, to recover or regain significant mere that were lost or stolen. Mere were buried with their chiefly owners, but were considered so valuable that they were later recovered from the grave.[8] It was considered an honour to be killed by a specially significant mere pounamu. Captives would sometimes volunteer their own mere pounamu as their means of execution rather than be killed by a lesser weapon.[4][8]

Gifting such a valuable item was common as a sign of good faith[9] and respect,[10] and it retains this symbolic importance today.[11][12]

See also[edit]

Other Māori weapons:

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Best, Elsdon (1934). The Maori As He Was : A Brief Account of Life as it Was in Pre-European Days. pp. The Art of War, 157–162. 
  2. ^ Wolfe, Richard (2007). With Honour. Our Army, Our Nation, Our History. pp. 15–17. ISBN 978-0-670-04565-5. 
  3. ^ a b Best, Elsdon (1941). The Maori - Volume 2. pp. XIV The Art of War, 254–270. 
  4. ^ a b c d e Papakura, Makereti (1938). The Old-Time Maori. pp. VII Weapons, 315–340. 
  5. ^ Hiroa, Te Rangi (1949). The Coming of the Maori. pp. Short Clubs, 278–280. 
  6. ^ Between 6.0 and 6.5 on the Mohs scale of mineral hardness - compared to 5 for ordinary steel.
  7. ^ "Jade (Jadeite, Nephrite)". University of Texas. Retrieved 2 November 2010. 
  8. ^ a b c Robley, Horatio Gordon. Pounamu, Notes on New Zealand Greenstone. pp. Chapter IV, Concerning War Clubs, 31–38. 
  9. ^ "After the battle at Rangiriri in November 1863 Tamihana again sought to negotiate peace, sending his greenstone mere to Cameron as a token of his good faith.", "Te Waharoa", teara.govt.nz
  10. ^ "Our Treaty: Birth of a bicultural nation", Feb 5 2008, Suzanne McFadden, NZ Herald
  11. ^ "Mr Key gave Mr Obama a greenstone mere...", Audrey Young, Jul 23 2011, NZ Herald
  12. ^ "...moments after he was presented with a greenstone mere, the impromptu haka by Te Kaha men echoed around the marae...", Aug 12 2007, NZ Herald

External links[edit]