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Ma'a Pōhaku (Hawaiian Sling) (Read 4014 times)
quentonium
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Ma'a Pōhaku (Hawaiian Sling)
Mar 7th, 2021 at 7:11am
 
Hawaiian Terminology & Definitions

Ma'a - word for sling; the snapping/cracking sound made by the sling breaking the sound barrier; the act of using/throwing with a sling

Pōhaku - word for rock

Ma'a pōhaku - basic word for rock sling, but may also be used to describe the action of slinging

UPDATE: 4/30/21

'Eke'eke ma'a - sling pouch ('eke'eke = small pouch/bag; maʻa: see previous reference above)

Pōhaku ma'a - most basic reference of a sling stone

Kanawao - type of stone used for slinging and/or fishing (i.e. sinkers); likely refers to water worn, striped/layered stones and pebbles collected from streams/rivers. Given the nature of the term, I believe this specifically refers to stones naturally rounded by moving water, rather than intentionally shaped stones (as in the case of ʻalā) or naturally occurring, non-symmetrical stones.

'Alā / 'alā o ka ma'a - another general term for sling stone; mostly refers to a specific type of water worn, dense basalt that was mined and shaped for use as tools (i.e. adzes) and sling stones; may also refer to bioconical shaped ammunition, similar to Roman glandes.

Ma'akū - another term for slinging with a sling and stone / the act of using the sling. I believe this term has been defined too generally in dictionaries, given that the word kū has numerous meanings (depending on how it is being used). In one aspect, the word kū can refer to simply hitting or striking (with), of which maʻakū can simply refer to hitting/striking with a sling. In another light, the word kū can also refer to the act of rising or being/becoming alight, which may refer to the act of casting the stone high into the air, as with a volley or hitting things in flight or high off the ground. Example of term being used: "Ua maʻakū aku lāua i ka manu" (They slung a stone at the bird with the sling). In this case, my interpretation is that the term refers to slinging a stone at a bird in flight, rather than simply slinging at a bird that is stationary on the ground, though it could be used in that capacity as well; again, depends on HOW you are using the term.

Kā'alā - the act of throwing sling stones/ammunition. I believe this refers specifically a fast, powerful throw, due to disambiguation of the term kāʻalā (kā: to hit, strike, throw, smite, hack, thrust, toss, fling, hurl, dash, especially with a quick hard stroke;† 'alā: see previous reference above)

Ma'a ālai'oā - to "shoot" with the sling. I believe the definition provided is incorrect and instead refers to a specific capacity in which the sling was utilized to break defenses/formations of troops due to the disambiguation of the word ālaiʻoā (ālai [obstruction/defense]; 'oā [to crack / crack open]

Kākia - to hit (sling) with precision (non-traditional term). I initially misinterpreted this term as relating to slinging, but the term actually refers to nailing, hammering or wedging an object (as in the case of striking a nail). However, there is† the possibility that the term could have referred to a slinger hitting a target with extreme precision due to the disambiguation of the word kākia (kā: see previous reference above; kia: to concentrate or direct [with precision]). In any case, if this term is truly non-traditional it can now be incorporated into the modern maʻa pōhaku lexicon to reflect precision aiming/hits.

Mea kaua - weapon. Because the sling was most generally an implement of war, it falls into this category of ʻtoolsʻ. (from mea: thing/object; kaua: war)





Origin

It is generally believed that Polynesian migrations to Hawaii took place in multiple waves between 100-1400, and the islands were settled by multiple different peoples of Polynesia and potentially other seafaring peoples of the Pacific, the most recognized influences/colonizations coming from the Marquesas Islands and Tahiti, with sling technology arriving in the Hawaiian islands during these migration/colonization periods. It is unknown which specific people first introduced sling technology, or when.

There are ongoing debates on the influence of South American cultures on Hawaii, Polynesia and Oceania as a whole, as well as hypotheses and emerging evidence of inter-Oceanic travel that may have included contact and cultural exchanges between the peoples of the Americas, Australia and Eastern Pacific thousands of years ago, though this is largely dismissed by researchers and scholars.


Materials

Slings - primarily made from hau (sea hibiscus), coconut and hala (pandanus) fibers, though sometimes made with other types of natural fiber materials and more exotic materials like human hair (which in Hawaiian tradition contains the mana or spiritual power and essence of an individual). I would suspect that the strongest slings were made from the fibers of the olonā plant, which is one of the strongest natural fibers in the world.


Stones - naturally rounded/ovoid river stones (likely referred to as kanawao) seem to be the most basic form of ammunition, but biconical shaped stones of from a dense form of basalt (called ʻalā) were preferred.

Update 4/3/21: some text indicate that Hawaiians also used shaped pieces of dense wood in some cases.


No examples of clay ammunition have been found, as pottery techniques were not utilized in traditional Hawaiian practices (to my knowledge).


Sling Design

All examples I have seen utilize a basket template.

Resources indicate a plaited pouch was first weaved and then attached to cords a yard or longer.

Update: 4/30/21: resources indicate that the herringbone weave seems to have been preferred for sling making

No pre-European contact examples remain. It is believed that all remaining examples in collections were made in the 1800s.




Technique

The most referenced traditional technique seems to be the basic helicopter style, though it's possible that different schools of slinging may have developed other specialty technique. However, additional in depth knowledge is not readily available or has been lost.



Usage

Because Hawaiians did not develop or widely utilize the bow outside of specialty functions (rat hunting & games), the sling and spear were the primary ballistics utilized in limited capacity for hunting but primarily for warfare.

Update 4/30/21: evidence that bow was utilized in warfare, as late as Kamehamehaʻs conquest of the Hawaiian Islands. However, it seems that the sling was still the preferred projectile, likely due to Hawaiian bow technology not being as developed as other bow-centric societies around the world.


Other notes

There appear to have been specialty training schools for the warrior class on each major island specifically dedicated to the sling.

It is not known currently if slingers were held in as high regard as other sling cultures around the world, though these schools are referenced in numerous chants and dances.

Update 4/3/21: have been finding more references and stories about famous Hawaiian slingers, one of which involves one of the most famous slingers from the Kingdom of Maui, Oulu, and his bout with my ancestor, Kekūhaupi'o, teacher (and eventual lieutenant) to Kamehameha the Great. In the story, Oulu's skill is talked about quite extensively, to the point where it mentions that people throughout the islands feared how good he was with the sling, which highlights that expert slingers were held in high regard both on and off the battlefield.

There is a specialty type martial art that focused on the utilization of a strangulation cord. It is highly likely that slingers also specialized in this strangulation cord technique as a form of close quarter combat when the sling could not be employed due to the enemy being in close proximity, along with other CQB weapons like the knife or shark tooth knuckle duster.

Update 4/30/21: consultation with practitioners of traditional Hawaiian martial art (called Lua) reaffirm the idea that a slinger likely carried a CQB weapon, either to finish of a stunned opponent or for defense when opponents were out of ideal range (i.e. too close).
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« Last Edit: May 3rd, 2021 at 4:12am by quentonium »  
 
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Re: Ma'a Pōhaku (Hawaiian Sling)
Reply #1 - Mar 7th, 2021 at 7:56am
 
Fantastic write-up. It's good to see other slingheavy cultures get some recognition. Most often we fall back to talking about the Balearic islands.
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Re: Ma'a Pōhaku (Hawaiian Sling)
Reply #2 - Mar 7th, 2021 at 1:44pm
 
Fantastic. Intrigued by this "Olona" fibre, I went searching and found this!
https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/object/E_Oc-HAW-175">https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/object/E_Oc-HAW-175
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Re: Ma'a Pōhaku (Hawaiian Sling)
Reply #3 - Mar 7th, 2021 at 1:47pm
 
Archaic Arms wrote on Mar 7th, 2021 at 1:44pm:
Fantastic. Intrigued by this "Olona" fibre, I went searching and found this!
https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/object/E_Oc-HAW-175

I don't know if this is just for me but the link isn't working, just leads to an untitled page  Undecided
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You are a great guy Kick but also slightly scary at times. - Morphy
"Nothing matters, but itís perhaps more comfortable to keep calm and not interfere with other people." - H.P. Lovecraft, in a letter to Frank Belknap Long, 7 October, 1923
 
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Re: Ma'a Pōhaku (Hawaiian Sling)
Reply #4 - Mar 7th, 2021 at 2:14pm
 
Kick wrote on Mar 7th, 2021 at 1:47pm:
Archaic Arms wrote on Mar 7th, 2021 at 1:44pm:
Fantastic. Intrigued by this "Olona" fibre, I went searching and found this!
https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/object/E_Oc-HAW-175

I don't know if this is just for me but the link isn't working, just leads to an untitled page† Undecided

Try clicking the second one (the one at the end). Even though I pasted one link, two things come up in the post† Huh
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Lewis
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Re: Ma'a Pōhaku (Hawaiian Sling)
Reply #5 - Mar 7th, 2021 at 2:49pm
 
Ah ok now I see it Cheesy Wow that's pretty. That's such a crazy tight weave.
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You are a great guy Kick but also slightly scary at times. - Morphy
"Nothing matters, but itís perhaps more comfortable to keep calm and not interfere with other people." - H.P. Lovecraft, in a letter to Frank Belknap Long, 7 October, 1923
 
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Re: Ma'a Pōhaku (Hawaiian Sling)
Reply #6 - Mar 8th, 2021 at 12:22am
 
I'd like to see the CQB strangulation technique  Shocked
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It ain't target practice if you keep hitting.
 
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Re: Ma'a Pōhaku (Hawaiian Sling)
Reply #7 - Mar 8th, 2021 at 1:59am
 
cram wrote on Mar 8th, 2021 at 12:22am:
I'd like to see the CQB strangulation technique† Shocked


There are two specific techniques/tools:

Pikoi is the art of using a tripping cord, something that is unique to Hawaii in all of polynesia. While there was a specific tool utilized for tripping and disabled enemies were generally dispatched using other types of CQB weapons (i.e. eye gouger/spike, knife, etc), there are techniques using the cord itself for strangulation. I personally have attended Hawaiian martial art seminars and it is quite amazing (and scary to the uninitiated) to see how effective a tripping cord is for detaining and dispatching an enemy via strangulation.

Side note: given the uniqueness of this tool in Polynesia, it makes me wonder if this could be an example of cultural contact/exchange between early Hawaiians seafarers and the Americas, as these tools/weapons were in fact common place there (i.e. bolas). Pure speculation though.

Ka'ane was a tool design specific to strangulation. Though it was not considered a weapon of war (actually a tool for execution in most cases), it is believed to have been utilized on the battlefield and I believe certain techniques could be modified to be utilized with a a sling.



As stated previously, there is the possibility that slingers combined these tools/techniques to make hybrid, multipurpose slings, but this is again speculation. As it stands, no pre-European contact sling examples remain, with the oldest examples being made in the early 1800s.

Again, this is speculation from practitioners, scholars and speculators like myself.


If you look up both Ka'ane and Pikoi, you can find examples of the specific tools utilized in these art forms.
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Re: Ma'a Pōhaku (Hawaiian Sling)
Reply #8 - Mar 8th, 2021 at 2:42am
 
Thanks for the additional info! Interesting that the sling was used other than a ranged weapon. Also interesting that the Hawaiians had specific martial arts/techniques for tripping/strangulation.
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Re: Ma'a Pōhaku (Hawaiian Sling)
Reply #9 - Mar 8th, 2021 at 3:03am
 
If never heard of those weapons before. Thanks! This is really interesting. Would the pikoi be kept in the hand and thrown out, like with an Asian martial art meteor hammer,† or would it be thrown entirely, like with a Bolas?
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« Last Edit: Mar 8th, 2021 at 11:08am by Kick »  

You are a great guy Kick but also slightly scary at times. - Morphy
"Nothing matters, but itís perhaps more comfortable to keep calm and not interfere with other people." - H.P. Lovecraft, in a letter to Frank Belknap Long, 7 October, 1923
 
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Re: Ma'a Pōhaku (Hawaiian Sling)
Reply #10 - Mar 8th, 2021 at 4:52am
 
Kick wrote on Mar 8th, 2021 at 3:03am:
If never heard of those weapons before. Thanks! This is really interesting. Would the pikoi be kept in the hand and thrown out, like with an Asian martial art meteor hammer,† or would it be thrown entirely, like with a Bolas?


It would be more similar to a meteor hammer, with either a stone or dense wood as the weighted end with varying lengths of rope.

But again, this is surviving knowledge. We must remember that the Hawaiian population was decimated within the first 100 years following western contact (+400,000-500,000 population in 1778 to ~60,000 population in 1878), so a lot of our arts, practices and cultures died with our people.

Also, beginning with the introduction of firearms in the late 1700s (which aided Kamehameha the Great significantly in his conquest of the islands) and moreso after our traditional form of government and religion (known as the Kapu system) was abolished and the battle of Kuamo'o (where there was a final stand to preserve the Kapu), our kingdom essentially phased out traditional forms of warfare from military practice and no major conflicts occurred until the Wilcox rebellion of 1898, which by then what military we did have was completely westernized and used modern military firearms and weapons.

Given these scenarios, we likely lost unimaginable amounts of knowledge regarding traditional Hawaiian warfare, which may have included more sophisticated types of projectile weapons similar to the bolas or more advanced designs of slings.
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« Last Edit: Mar 8th, 2021 at 11:09am by Kick »  
 
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Re: Ma'a Pōhaku (Hawaiian Sling)
Reply #11 - Mar 8th, 2021 at 5:36am
 
Thanks. It's interesting.
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Re: Ma'a Pōhaku (Hawaiian Sling)
Reply #12 - Mar 8th, 2021 at 10:55am
 
It's so cool to hear about the history of a culture I don't know almost anything about. Thanks for these posts!
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You are a great guy Kick but also slightly scary at times. - Morphy
"Nothing matters, but itís perhaps more comfortable to keep calm and not interfere with other people." - H.P. Lovecraft, in a letter to Frank Belknap Long, 7 October, 1923
 
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Re: Ma'a Pōhaku (Hawaiian Sling)
Reply #13 - Apr 4th, 2021 at 1:26am
 
Spoke with a coworker this week who has an extensive background in Hawaiian specific archeology, and he shared how he was fortunate enough to visit a site on the island of Kaho'olawe that he believes was a central location for the mining of an ideal type of stone used for rock-based tools, to include stones for slinging.

According to his testimony, described finding piles of what he said looked like football shaped rocks, indicating that be Hawaiian slingers likely preferred a glandes shaped stones. He also said that it was obvious they dedicated lots of time towards shaping these stones, as there were literally hundreds in those piles he mentioned; made us think of the site was also training grounds for slingers?

Unfortunately, he couldn't share much else, given the dangers of exploring the island outside of specific safe zones at that time (and currently). The US military used Kaho'olawe extensively for testing munitions and explosives for decades, leaving the island geologically and archeologically devastated and also littered with unexploded ordinance that was supposed to be removed about 20 years ago but hasn't.
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Re: Ma'a Pōhaku (Hawaiian Sling)
Reply #14 - Apr 4th, 2021 at 1:37am
 
Added some updates to the original post for those still following
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« Last Edit: Apr 4th, 2021 at 2:54am by quentonium »  
 
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