& Tiki Culture
War God Temples
Ancient Hawaiian Warriors: Paradise Lost, Territory Won!
By Kana Vic
I asked a friend, Mike, if he knew what kind of weapons the ancient Hawaiian warriors employed in battle. He replied, "I think they just used spears and clubs." A cartoon of a mad warrior wearing a tiki mask and grass skirt while yelling "Oonga-Monga!" and waving a spear appeared in my head. To be fair, Mike lived on the mainland up until about five years ago and even though he loves everything Hawaiian the depth of his understanding is limited. Our conversation concerned me however, it seems that most people, even in Hawaii, know little about the ancient Hawaiian culture and their warriors.
For centuries before the arrival of Captain Cook the Hawaiian Islands were divided into kingdoms, each ruled by a chief who sought to extend their control over the others. The results were society strife with endemic warfare and a ruling class that saw warfare as a powerful and legitimate tool of diplomacy. For the chiefs of ancient Hawaii success on the battlefields meant more then just their success as a chief, it meant weather they would live or perish. As each chief formed his (or her) territory into their best possible military machine they also structured their society and the culture of the Hawaiians. What evolved through isolation in the vast Pacific and endless warfare was unique, amazing and terrible.
The ancient Hawaiian society was structured in a feudal manner, similar to medieval Europe. Their caste system was rigid due to the harsh demands of war. There was no movement between the four classes, Nobility, priestly, peasants and slaves, except to drop to the level of lowly slave. The rules of the land were called kapu's and to break a kapu was usually punishable by death. These were people who practiced human sacrifice after all. Another view taken in modern times has been a more idealized, caricature like respect for the ancient Hawaiian Warriors.
They have been celebrated for their ferocity and venerated for their discipline, knowledge and cunning. This image of a brave, noble warrior of peace is just as wrong as the grass skirt wearing spear waver, although quite a bit less insulting! The truth is more complex and more interesting then the popular images present as well. The ancient warriors that battled in the warfare of the Hawaiian islands were of varied degrees of professionalism, a warrior could be a well trained, armed and armored noble, a professional warrior who cherished battle, or a peasant pressed into combat to fight in the massed formations of pike men or skirmishers. The Hawaiian chiefs used every available trick and talent in their efforts to dominate, war was their favorite game after all.
When two armies met in ancient Hawaii they would form into a crescent shape, unless they were to battle on uneven ground in which case they would employ in smaller squads. Once the armies faced off there was still a chance that battle could be avoided, although this was not necessarily desirable for Hawaiian warriors. The champions of each army would then come out and fight in individual combat; the out come of their personal fight would then settle the issue. However, when this didn't work the battle was on!
The Warriors of Ancient Hawaii:
Koa Warriors - Elite Hawaiian Forces
The Koa warriors were disciplined war machines. They used a martial art, Lua, which they only practiced at night to prevent prying eyes from learning. It was kapu, or forbidden, to teach someone who wasn't in their caste or foreign. In battle they wore feathered cloaks and gourd helmets for protection against lethal missiles. Their arsenal of weapons was varied, amazing and devastating. They employed shark toothed slashing weapons, shark toothed throwing axes, trip cord weapons, stone maces, double sided daggers, strangle cords, forked trip weapons and spears.
Massed Infantry, Hawaiian Style:
Much like the Macedonians of Alexander the greats time the ancient Hawaiians massed pike men by the thousands. These large tightly packed formations presented an enemy with thousands of pikes. Pikes are essentially long, two-handed spears and they wear used in warfare until the American Civil War. These formations made up the main force of a Hawaiian army and were used to smash against enemy forces. If these warriors broke formation a massacre would soon follow, but united they were the greatest force present on the battlefield.
Skirmishers: It is my hope that this will give my friend Mike and many others a better understanding about the ancient Hawaiians culture and warriors. However, the truth is that what I have presented here is an incomplete picture as well. I would encourage people to learn more about ancient Hawaii at other resources as well. MythicHawaii.com provides pictures of ancient Hawaiian warriors and weapons for example. Oh, and Mike, they didn't just use sticks and rocks!
In addition to the above components each army consisted of skirmishers who's job it was to harass and weaken enemy formations. They employed javelins and slings to devastating effect. Ancient Hawaiian battles have been compared to rainstorms due to the shear quantity of missiles flying.