The Maori people of New Zealand came from eastern Polynesia in waves of canoes sometime between 1250 and 1300 AD. Over the centuries, they developed a rich and complex society that included a fierce and terrifying warrior culture. Europeans described the Maori warriors as large men, although women could be warriors as well, who had extensive facial tattoos. While they looked fearsome, their intense physical appearance is only the start of what made these warriors so terrifying.

10. Heads of the Killed Were Taken as Trophies

Heads held a special significance to the Maori people, and they were known to take the heads of their fallen enemies. Once they had the head, they would remove the brain and the eyes. Next, all the orifices were sealed with flax fiber and gum. The head was boiled or steamed in an oven. Then, the heads were dried in the sun for several days and then treated with shark oil.

One reason why they kept the heads of their enemies was so they could mock it later. One missionary said he watched one chief say to the head of an enemy chieftain:

You wanted to run away didn’t you? But my greenstone club overtook you! And after you were cooked you were made food for me!

And where is your father? He is cooked.

And where is your brother? He is eaten.


And where is your wife? There she sits; a wife for me.

And where are your children? There they are, loads on their backs carrying food as my slaves.

If that wasn’t insulting enough, they also developed a bizarre game with the heads. They would pile them in a heap, and then they set the head of the principal chief on the top of the pile. Then, using stones or other heads, they took turns trying to knock off the head at the top of the pile.

9. Their Tattoos Were Carved In

Ta moko, often referred to as Maori tattoo, is the traditional permanent marking of the body and face by Maori.

But ta moko is distinct from tattoo in that the skin is carved by uhi (chisels) instead of being punctured with needles. This leaves the skin with textured grooves, rather than the smooth surface of a normal tattoo.