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Pa

Today's featured Arts & Culture card from Conquest of Paradise covers one of my favorite topics: it's the Pa card. This subject is important enough to be a major aspect of my other P-500 design, Maori, Cannibals at War, but here it is just a card. But there are two copies of this card in the Arts & Culture deck.

A pa is a fortified place, built by the Maori people of New Zealand. Pa vary in size from those built for a whanau (a large family) to an iwi (tribe) of several hundred people. They were built as refuge from attack during times of war, but also had many other uses. They were secure places to live and store food; they were residences for important people, and centers for learning, crafts and horticulture. Pa were not lived in all the time; depending on the season, people may have been away fishing, or collecting birds, or looking after gardens. People may have lived in open settlements most of the time, only going to the pa in times of trouble.

The archaeological remains of pa are usually obvious in the landscape. They tend to be located on naturally defensible high points, such as the end of a steep-sided ridge, a coastal headland or an isolated hill. Pa can often be recognized from a distance by their profile on the skyline, such as a flat platform, the 'v' shaped notch of a defensive ditch or a series of terraces cut into the hillside to make level areas.

Maori fortified their pa in three main ways. They would steepen natural slopes around the pa by scarping (removing earth). They would dig earthworks, usually a deep ditch, using the excavated earth to make an internal bank. They would build timber palisades on the earthworks. Stone was sometimes used to strengthen banks and make walls, but this was uncommon.

Fortifications were built to suit the needs of the defenders. If there was an easy approach along a ridge line, the way could be blocked with earthworks. The entrance to a pa can be difficult to find. It is usually an easily defended narrow gap in the earthworks, sometimes between the end of defenses and the edge of a steep escarpment.

Pa built for gun fighting (after the pakeha had introduced muskets to the Maori) had loop holes in the base of palisades to enable gun fire, and angled earthworks for flanking fire. When the Maori encountered the British, they developed the pa into a very effective defensive system of trenches, rifle pits and dugouts. In the Maori Wars, for a long time the modern pa effectively neutralized the overwhelming disparity in numbers and armaments that the Maori faced. At Ohaeawai Pa in 1845, at Rangiriri in 1864, and again at Gate Pa in 1864, the British and Colonial Forces discovered that a frontal attack on a defended Pa was both ineffective and extremely costly.

At Gate Pa during the Tauranga Campaign, the Maori withstood a day-long bombardment in their bomb shelters. One authority calculated that Gate Pa absorbed, in one day, a greater weight of explosives (per square meter) than the German trenches in the week-long bombardment leading up to the Battle of the Somme. Having destroyed the wood palisade, the British troops assaulted. The British storming party was allowed to occupy the pa for a few minutes before the warriors opened fire. From their concealed positions, the Maori decimated the confused assaulting party, and after five minutes the soldiers broke ranks and ran from their invisible enemy. It was the most costly battle for the pakeha of the Maori Wars. The Maori then abandoned Gate Pa; its only purpose was to lure the British into a costly battle.

In game terms, the Pa card does not provide its owner with a Victory Point; pa do not improve the quality of life of your people, nor are they works of art that will resonate through the ages. But they do give your people a substantial advantage in combat, if others are foolish enough to attack you on your home ground.


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