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The Storming of Gate Pah - the defeat of the British by Maori warriors

What a charmingly awkward Brit is Linybeige!

Polynesian warriors in general, won their first engagements with their European enemy, due largely to the fact that, being warriors rather than soldiers they fought much more intelligently and with more initiative and that, once close quarters were gained, there was a huge disparity in physical vigor and size. It was also fortunate that the Maori had the good fortune to fight the British. The reasons for this were two fold, British valued courage highly and were a colonial power in search of native soldiers. The British permitted the Maori to recover and bury their dead and even tended enemy wounded. The hierarchal nature of Polynesian society, in general, permitted integration into imperial schemes rather than demanding eradication. Perhaps the most important aspect of Pacific conquest was that in the Pacific theater small forces were in play, permitting honor-based settlements between the parties. Also, Christian missions were generally near at hand, in some cases placing an ethical brake on purely military expedience.

All these factors are related by Melville in Typee.

While still merely Englishmen and not yet British, the soldiers of the greatest naval power had learned firsthand in 17th century America that “primitives” were superior fighters to soldiers. Thus British riflemen were trained by Native American warriors and managed to turn the tables on Napoleon in Spain and at Hugomount at Waterloo. Eventually those “Indian file” methods would be adapted by the German infantry in WWI and formed the basis for 20th and 21st century infantry tactics. The extent to which this battle prefigured the eventual conduct of WWI is unsettling.

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ShepFebruary 1, 2018 4:31 PM UTC

This fits in with a post on the stickgrappler site that you referenced earlier:

And THAT reminded me of something I'd heard (maybe at this site?) that went something like this:

If pre-industrial barbarian warriors received battle honors in the same system that U.S. military personnel do, the average run-of-the- mill Viking or Comanche or Zulu would have a couple Navy Crosses and half-a-dozen Purple Hearts by the time his active duty was finished.
responds:February 1, 2018 8:04 PM UTC

I didn't post that, Shep. But if we take into account what a coup counting entailed it makes sense. A feather in your hair meant you did something very risky, that essentially equaled or exceeded the slaying of an enemy. In the eastern woodlands it would be more closely aligned to scalp taking than a daring horse raid on the plains.

This went for Confederate warriors too—old Forest would have had 6 purple hearts for starters. The Romans recognized this and used a medal system and maintained totemic imagery with their eagles and animal hides side-by-side with that.
Tony CoxJanuary 31, 2018 2:21 PM UTC

Great insight. I’ve known Polynesians who were fresh off the boat, from rural villages, still spoke the old tongue. I never bothered reading Melville until I kept seeing him referenced on this site, and I’m glad I did. What I read in Typee and Omoo about the ‘savages’ rings very true, especially the habit of welcoming strangers into the home as revered guests, and the all around good nature of the people.

Americanized islanders are quite a different story, in my experience.