Kiwiosities: Hau Hau

Kiwiosities coverExcerpts from Kiwiosities, a book by Gordon Ell on the traditions and folklore of New Zealand.

 Hau Hau

A dreaded  religious fervour that inspired Maori warriors opposed to British settlement during the wars in Taranaki, Bay of Plenty and Poverty Bay. Initially the followers believed themselves invincible to bullets. The Upraised Hand, a hand held above the head with the palm forward, accompanied by a barking sound ‘Hau Hau’ was supposed to deflect bullets. 

In April 1864, Hau Hau ambushed a reconnoitering party in Taranaki, killing six and severing their heads.  In March  1865, they killed a missionary, the Reverend Carl Volkner, at Opotiki, and drank his blood.

Hau Hau often carried the  heads of their victims on tall stakes, using  them as oracles or props in their  proselytising. Elements of the faith found their way to the Ringatu religion founded by Te Kooti Rikirangi {?1830-1893}. The religious service of Pai Marire is still practised in those Maori Churches where the influence of Hau Hau was  once  strong.

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Gordon Ell, a former journalist and wildlife film-maker, is the author of many popular books about New Zealand's historic and natural heritage.