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Te Paranihi, or Maori War Canoe

A large canoe with wooden rows and red detailing. The canoe sits amidst a museum with items from the collection surrounding it.


Te Paranihi is a 17-meter (55 feet) war canoe, or waka taua, from the Maori culture indigenous to New Zealand. Waka means ‘canoe’ and taua means ‘army’ or ‘war party,’ and these vessels were designed specifically for combat, unlike smaller, less ornamented canoes simply called waka used primarily for fishing. The hull of Te Paranihi was made circa 1840 with wood from native tōtara trees, and the prow and stern are thought to be taken from another waka taua from the Kapiti Coast. They are attached to the rauwa, or the hull. Te Paranihi is now owned by the Otago Museum in New Zealand, which recounts the Maori arrival and early history in New Zealand. The museum bought the war canoe in 1931.  

Waka taua were traditionally considered sacred and there were strict protocols surrounding the canoes, such as the prohibition of cooked food in the vessel, and entering the waka must be down over the gunwales. The goal of combat in a waka taua was to ram the enemy’s canoe and ride up the gunwale, overtaking the canoe and forcing it underwater or to capsize. Waka taua were mostly red, as seen here, which represented the sacred nature, or tapu. The canoes were anywhere up to 40 meters (130 feet) in length and could need up to 80 people to man them. Many waka taua were built during the classic Maori period between 1500 and 1770. However, nowadays waka taua are being built by the Maori once more as there has been a resurgence in Maori culture


"A waka taua on display at the Otago Museum, Dunedin," Wikimedia Commons, 2016,,_2016-01-29.jpg.

How to Cite This Source

"Te Paranihi, or Maori War Canoe," in World History Commons, [accessed July 23, 2024]