The Maori

The Maori are, I think, the only people who fought the British Empire to a standstill, for they were intelligent enough after the first great defeat to never meet the red coats in open battle again. Instead they constructed pa, puny little fortifications riddled with clever traps and hidden firing points and it was the red coats who failed to learn and time and again marched with cold steel into the Maori traps. They invented the trench and dug-out system a century before World War I and became masters of guerilla warfare before the word had been invented. They even managed to put aside their tribal disunity and make a formidable coalition in the King Movement.

If the Maori had possessed the man-power of - say - the Mahdi in the Sudan, we might well have seen the British driven out of the Islands, to be followed shortly by a fleet of war canoes paddling up the Thames to establish a Maori colony in Britain.

That's not to say that they were wholly admirable: the day we arrived Maori television was running interviews and think-tanks of Maori elders in reaction to a newly published book by an archaeologist who proved that the Maori had been cannibals. The essence of the hoary-headed elders' response appeared to be, "Well yes, but it was done for spiritual reaons." So that's all right then.

Unfortunately the Queen's Peace sits uncomfortably with Maori warrior culture and even the Christianity so enthusiastically adopted has not entirely squared the circle, so that quite a few Maori are outside the cultural mainstream and sit around drinking alcohol and bewailing the lost past. Others, of course, are fully integrated, keen-eyed business men and woman who may no longer hunt for heads but see nothing wrong in taking the shirt off your back.