Mau Rākau: Preserving the Maori Martial Art and Cultural Heritage

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Reviving a Cultural Tradition: The Resurgence of Mau Rākau

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Photo by Alexandra Karnasopoulos on

Mau Rākau, a traditional Maori martial art, is a testament to the rich history and culture of the Maori people. Rooted in the ancient traditions of New Zealand’s indigenous population, Mau Rākau is a martial art that encompasses the skilled use of traditional Maori weaponry. In this comprehensive article, we will explore the history of Mau Rākau, its influences in modern media, and the efforts to keep this rare and traditional art form alive.

History of Mau Rākau

The roots of Mau Rākau can be traced back to traditional Maori society, where warfare and weaponry played a crucial role. Children were introduced to the art of warfare from an early age, engaging in play activities such as boxing, wrestling, and stick-throwing games. These activities laid the foundation for the warriors of tomorrow.

In the para whakawai, the weapons training schools, young men learned Mau Rākau, which involved mastering the use of various traditional Maori weapons. They were educated in battle formations, weapon usage, and attack and defense maneuvers. Mock battles, often using reeds instead of actual weapons, provided practical training. Rakanga waewae, emphasizing skillful footwork, was a critical aspect, akin to the footwork in many striking martial arts like boxing.


Maori weaponry was highly regarded as taonga (treasures), often passed down through generations. Crafting these weapons was a meticulous process, involving wood, stone, and bone. Karakia, incantations, were sometimes performed over these weapons to infuse them with spiritual significance and make them tapu, or sacred.

The range of traditional Maori weapons was diverse and included the taiaha (elaborately carved fighting staffs), tewhatewha (axe-shaped weapons adorned with feathers), and various spear-like weapons like the pouwhenua, koikoi, and tararua.

Decline and Revival

The arrival of Europeans in New Zealand marked a significant turning point in Maori history. Traditional Maori weaponry, including the taiaha, saw a decline as firearms like muskets replaced these ancient tools of war. Over time, the para whakawai ceased to operate, and many tribes lost their knowledge of these traditional weapons.

View near Auckland: Three Maoris

However, in the 1980s, a resurgence of interest in traditional Maori weapons emerged as part of the broader Maori cultural renaissance. While the range of weapons used narrowed compared to earlier times, dedicated efforts were made to revive these practices. Some para whakawai were reestablished, primarily within tribal frameworks. Traditional Maori weapons began to make appearances in ceremonies, kapa haka performances, and whaikōrero (speechmaking).

Today, there is a renewed appreciation for these traditional martial arts and weapons, as they are seen as integral to preserving Maori cultural heritage. Young Maori are being taught the ancestral practices, values, and protocols of the warrior through Mau Rākau programs, ensuring that this unique tradition continues to thrive.

Influences in Modern Media


The influence of Mau Rākau extends beyond cultural preservation, making its mark in modern media and popular culture. One notable instance is its impact on the portrayal of Boba Fett in the Star Wars universe.

When Temuera Morrison took on the role of Boba Fett in the Star Wars series, he brought his Maori heritage and warrior background to the character. Morrison’s warrior upbringing in New Zealand included training in the Maori haka, a traditional war dance. This background significantly influenced his portrayal of Boba Fett, lending the character a newfound intensity and warrior ethos. Morrison’s connection to his Maori roots added depth and authenticity to Boba Fett’s character, making him a more compelling figure in the Star Wars mythos.

Preserving Traditional and Rare Arts

Mau Rākau, like many traditional martial arts, serves as a repository of cultural heritage and history. It embodies the values, skills, and knowledge passed down through generations. Efforts to keep these arts alive are crucial, not only for the Maori people but also for global cultural diversity.

Keeping traditional and rare arts alive requires the dedication of practitioners, instructors, and communities. Initiatives like Mau Rākau programs and the establishment of para whakawai are vital steps in preserving and revitalizing these ancient traditions. Through these programs, the younger generation can learn the art and its cultural significance, ensuring its continuity into the future.

Moreover, the integration of traditional martial arts into modern media, as seen in the case of Boba Fett, can raise awareness and appreciation for these arts on a global scale. It showcases the richness of cultural diversity and the importance of acknowledging and respecting indigenous traditions.


Learn more about Maori Weapons: In Pre-European New Zealand with this amazing book that we just added to our own library!

Mau Rākau stands as a testament to the resilience and cultural pride of the Maori people. Its history, decline, and revival are intertwined with the broader Maori cultural renaissance, emphasizing the significance of traditional martial arts in preserving cultural heritage. The influence of Mau Rākau in modern media serves as a reminder of the enduring power of these ancient practices and their ability to enrich our understanding of the past and present. As the Maori people continue to take pride in their cultural heritage, Mau Rākau remains a living testament to their enduring spirit and dedication to keeping rare and traditional arts alive.

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