Telling the Stories of our Ancestors: Titokowaru Part 1

The dawn of the new year of 2017 has brought a wealth of opportunities to us here at Māui Studios

We’ve recently landed a mean project through Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori to create iwi graphic novels for our Taranaki iwi, Ngāruahine.

It’s an awesome project that gives us the chance to clue up on some of the local history from here in South Taranaki, Normanby. -

One of the graphic novels we’re working on depicts the story of our hearty Ancestor, Titokowaru, Riwha and his defiance of the colonial and armed constabulary garrison during the 1860’s.

Upon hearing the news of the project I headed to South Taranaki to check out the Museum over there to get some understanding of what the world of Aotearoa looked like during that time period.

The Museum is a mean as wax Museum called Tawhiti Museum out in the back streets of Normanby. Not too far from my Nana's house. The level of skill showcased in the form of their wax models, in my opinion, rivals that of the World Class Weta Workshop.

I'd been to this Museum before but not with this new sense of purpose.


At this Museum I was able to get a real feel for the environment our ancestor Titokowaru was facing. The level of detail in this installations was mind blowing. Inspired by what I saw I got to work.

Disclaimer: The details written here are based on what I've learned from Tawhiti Museum, my own independent research and how I understood them. If they conflict with other historic accounts then kei te pai, please comment about it below, and we can compare notes. I'm no research genius but I do see how the detail makes something go from average to amazing. Details here will be refined and developed over time, and it's important to note this will be conversational and is not for a Phd or anything. You're essentially looking into my own personal notebook/ sketch book on this journey.

This is all fits into the Māui design and development process

So we start at the Research Project of Titokowaru - Visual Library

This post is basically me exploring what this period in time looked like, all the details of what they wore, the environments they moved in, and why they fought. The more I can understand the details behind the story, the more tuturu the story will be. 

Maui Studios Maori
Maui Studios Maori
Maui Studios Maori

Important Detail :The Māori and Guns -

This looked like an interesting time in the adaptation of Māori culture.

European Settlers and Colonial forces began populating the land of Aotearoa in the 1820's and their influence was beginning to become evident in the Māori way of life.

Maui Studios Kupapa Maori

We're all pretty familiar with classic Māori gears, like korowai, piupiu, mean taonga, hair styles, and the variations of these, so I'll go into some of the iconic details of this period. ( Other then these buzzy dudes, who were rocking kilts, I think they're either these guys called Kupapa, who sided with Colonials in an attempt to save their way of life or just liked the styles).

With the trading of guns and gun powder, of the 1820's, during the musket wars the Māori quickly became aware of the superior fighting potential of these foreign weapons. The Iwi that adopted these vicious projectiles into their war strategies began to dominate Māori vs Māori battles.

These were mainly Northern Tribes. They began moving south and annihilating other iwi on their way down.

This highlights the important details of the Māori in our story, and what they will look like. They will have the classic Māori gears but would be equipped with Flintlock Muskets, leather ammo carriers, repair kits, and coats and hats taken from fallen european soldiers.

This gives a dope juxtaposition of two very different worlds which is creating some epic looking characters and unique conflicts.

Maui Studios Maori

Have a look at the Tawhiti Museum depiction of these Māori, and how they traverse in mass to their next destination. Their weapons were often carved up with Whakairo, like the dope as piece below.

Maui Studios Maori Flintlock Musket
The firearm most of these men would be carrying is a Flintlock Musket - known mostly as a 'Brown Bess' - a firearm made in England for over 100 years and which saw service on every continent and on most oceans of the world. Thousands of these, and of poorer quality guns called 'trade muskets', came to Aotearoa in the early 1800's. - Tawhiti Museum

This is how it works:

Maui Studios Flintlock Musket

A cock tightly holding a sharp piece of flint is rotated to half-cock, where the sear falls into a safety notch on the tumbler, preventing an accidental discharge.

The operator loads the gun, usually from the muzzle end, with black powder from a powder flask, followed by lead shot, a round lead ball, usually wrapped in a piece of paper or a cloth patch, all rammed down with a ramrod that is usually stored on the underside of the barrel.

Wadding between the charge and the ball was often used in earlier guns.

The flash pan is primed with a small amount of very finely ground gunpowder, and the flashpan lid or frizzen is closed.

The gun is now in a "primed and loaded" state, and this is how it would typically be carried while hunting or if going into battle.

To fire:

The cock is further rotated from half-cock to full-cock, releasing the safety lock on the cock.

The gun is leveled and the trigger is pulled, releasing the cock holding the flint.

The flint strikes the frizzen, a piece of steel on the priming pan lid, opening it and exposing the priming powder.

The contact between flint and frizzen produces a shower of sparks (burning pieces of the metal) that is directed into the gunpowder in the flashpan.

The powder ignites, and the flash passes through a small hole in the barrel (called a vent or touchhole) that leads to the combustion chamber where it ignites the main powder charge, and the gun discharges.


Maui Studios Flintlock Musket

I've attached below some of the cartridge boxes below as well because Maori often had these slung over their necks to hold their ammo. It will also give some insight to the types of tools needed to create and maintain some of these items.

I'm usually not interested in History like this, but once it became relevant to a project it became the most fascinating thing

This stuff is so important to know to approaching this project because it fully informs how different people in the story will be depicted. It'll inform the expressions on their faces ( maybe of fear, frustration, or determination) because of the amount of time it took to load, or it'll inform any story panels showing a firing gun, where the cock and flint are in relation to the frizzen, and what those mechanisms look like. 

This research is a chance to place us in these peoples shoes.

So these guns were the stock standard used by a lot of people in Aotearoa.

During the Land wars period of the 1860's we get the introduction of a new upgraded weapon which was a lot rarer, and heartier and was a game changer. We're slowly setting the scene and giving some context to the conflicts our heroic Tipuna Titokowaru faced.

So I'll hit more up in the next post.

I'm off to have a feed....

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