Musket Wars

The Musket Wars was a series of intertribal battles fought between Aotearoa and the Chatham Island over tikanga (customs) and old feuds that still needed to be settled between the two countries. The Aotearoa-wide war was fought between 1807 and 1842 and started with Ngāpuhi and Ngāti Whātua, two northern New Zealand tribes, who were also the first to use firearms. This, unfortunately, resulted with approximately one-fifth of Māori population being killed off. At the start of the war, Aotearoa had a total population of 100,000 Māori; 20,000 of which were killed by the end of the war.

Cost of Muskets (During the Musket Wars)The Musket Wars was viewed as a negative result of westernization and European contact. Through trading deals established between each tribe and Europeans
settlers guns were typically traded for food, labor, and household supplies the settlers needed. According to the diagram provided by the New Zealand Government, the tribe was billed 150 baskets of potatoes or eight pigs for one musket between 1814 and 1815. By 1818 the price for a single musket was raised to 25 pigs. Two years later the price was raised again to 15 pigs or 200 baskets of potatoes. Lastly, by 1827, the European settlers charged 10 pigs or 120 baskets of potatoes for a single musket.

While the European settlers introduced muskets into Aotearoa’s market economy, the settlers should not be (fully) blamed for the Musket Wars. War started long before the European settlers arrived to Aotearoa. A growth in population resulted with conflicts rising and tribes fighting each other for scarce resources. Other factors leading to the Musket Wars include the political system established in Aotearoa during the 1800s. For example, war was seen as “‘an integral part of the Maori [sic.] political system’ and a ‘legitimate cultural response to offenses or crimes of any kind’.”

Ngāpuhi was the first tribe to use muskets purchased from the European settlers during the war. When the Ngāpuhi tribe first used the muskets in 1807, they were questionable about its worth. However, Ngāpuhi were overwhelmed by its worth that they purchased as many muskets possible to combat the Ngāti Whātua tribe. By the early 1820s the Ngāpuhi tribe, which was led by Hongi Hika, was able to obtain approximately 300 muskets. Opponents of the Ngāpuhi tribe faced crushing defeats with heavy casualties.

By the 1830s the war started to slow down with a majority of the tribes being heavily armed with muskets to defend themselves. Aotearoa’s economy suffered as a result of rising prices for muskets. Christian missionaries used this fragile moment to help garner followers to help lead Aotearoa back on a right track.