Games and Pastimes of the Maori
Part II — Aquatic Games and Pastimes
Aquatic Games and Pastimes
|Swimming = Kau whakataetae||The waterside swing = Moari.|
|Surf-riding = Whakaheke ngaru||Morere|
|The water jump =Kokiri. Ruku||Canoe racing = Waka hoehoe.|
The Maori of New Zealand, like unto his Polynesian brethren, was absolutely and thoroughly at home in the water. He practised surf riding, with and without boards, as also in small canoes, as did the Hawaiians and others. He was a remarkably fine swimmer and infinitely superior to Europeans in the water, as a rule. I have seen a Maori swim across a flooded river nearly half a mile across, when it was in a state that no white man probably on the island would have faced. Native children take to the water like the proverbial duck, and when very young. This is, however, not so much in evidence as it used to be, on account of the adoption of European clothing and habits, including attendance at schools. In former times children ran naked to the four winds, and recked not of any trammels. The Maori knew four different methods of swimming, though, apparently he principally confined himself to the side stroke.
Kau tahoe. The side stroke. This is the favoured method and deemed the best in swimming long distances.
Kau apuru. The breast stroke. Considered an inferior mode. Ka ki te puku o tena tangata i te wai (The stomach of that person will be filled with water). Not suitable for a long swim, or for swimming in rough water.
Kau tawhai. The overhand stroke. A swift method for a short distance.
Kau kiore. Swimming on the back.
Swimming races (Kau whakataetae) in the different methods were, of course, extremely popular with young folk, both sexes bathing together without any extra amount of worry. Maori children and young folk generally were extremely fond of jumping from a height into deep water, a practice still seen in some places, but not as it was of yore. This exercise is termed ruku, usually rendered as 'diving' by us, but the Maori never dived head first as do we. He jumped in feet first, and when in the water and wishful to descend, he swam downwards. Many places have been pointed out to the page 41writer whereat this form of diving was indulged in in former times, when the Maori folk were numerous in the land. Such places were used by generation after generation of young folk, as that at Te Rua o Tauke, Ruatoki, and another at Te Pa o Taketake, near Ahikereru, both of which are perpendicular bluffs with deep water below. Another such is a tree near Pari-kino, on the Whanganui river, the lower part of the trunk of which projects out over the river in a slanting position, affording a good take-off for the dangerous leap to the water far below. Fig. 5a (p. 41) is an illustration of this pastime.
The aborigines of Queensland practise this exercise of jumping from a height into deep water, always descending feet first. Possibly it represents the early form of diving, practised by the more primitive peoples.page 42
Maori children seem to take to the water as though it was their natural element, and, under favourable circumstances, learn to swim about as soon as they can walk. Small rafts were sometimes made for children, which they poled or paddled.
Floats (poito) were sometimes fastened to a child when learning to swim. Matured gourds were placed on an elevated stage to dry, but no holes were made in them for extraction of the contents, which amounted to little when dried. The gourds were then placed in nets and secured to the child by means of cords, or, in some cases, such a gourd float (poito hue) was merely clasped to the breast with one arm, while the other was used to swim with, as some of us learned to swim by so using a kerosene tin. Apparently, however, this was no common practise.
In speaking of Maori children, Dieffenbach says:—"Near the sea or the lakes they acquire the art of swimming almost before they are able to stand upright."
A favourite pastime of native children is that called taurumaki, taururumaki, and taurumakimaki which consists of ducking each other in the water, the aim being to keep one under as long as possible, by no means a pleasant experience for the submerged one.
When living in the hill country the writer has often admired the dexterity and apparent ease with which natives crossed swift, turbulent flooded creeks by means of treading water. Maintaining an upright position, and taking a slanting course downstream, they literally walked the waters, the swift current bearing them onward. The tuwhana or grip pole was also used in crossing rivers.
Whakahekeheke. Whakaheke ngaru.
This form of recreation was a common practice throughout Polynesia, and one much indulged in, more so in the warm northern climes than in New Zealand. On our own shores three forms were practised, viz., with and without a board, and also in small canoes termed kopapa, a name which seems properly to belong to the surf board. This board appears to have been called a moki in the north, a name also applied to rude floats formerly used in crossing rivers. The following notes on surf riding were contributed by the late Tuta Nihoniho, of the East Coast: The sport of surf riding seems to have been often called kopapa on the East Coast of the North Island, a name taken from the item used to ride on, whether canoe or plank. The canoe used for surf riding, and styled a kopapa, was a small one, of which more anon. The board, or piece of plank (also page 43termed a kopapa) so often used in this sport was about three feet long. Having gone out as far as necessary for the purpose, the performer threw himself lengthways on his board with his two hands grasping the front end thereof, just as a large, healthy wave overtook him. On this wave the rider was shot ashore to be left on the sandy beach by the receding wave, whereupon he would go out again to ride another in. This sport was indulged in by both youths and adults, including females, and one might see thirty or forty riders coming in together on a big wave. Sometimes a performer dispensed with the board and rode in on the wave with his arms stretched out before him.
The term kopapa is also applied to surf riding in small canoes which contained two, or perhaps three, persons. These small craft were taken out seaward for some distance, and then, as a big wave approached, the men paddled strongly shoreward, the advancing wave lifting the canoe and carrying it swiftly to the beach. It is not allowed to mount the crest of the wave, or the small craft would probably capsize; it is kept in front of the crest, riding the breast of page 44the wave, hence the stern is higher than the bow. One person always steers the canoe. Should the bow swerve off the course, the man at the bow endeavours, with his paddle, to bring her head round again, and, if the steerer sees that the bow paddle cannot effect this, then he jumps overboard and holds on to the stern. With this drag at the stern, the bow paddle will now succeed in bringing her head round, and in holding it so. This surf riding, in its three forms, sometimes termed whakarerere, was a common pastime on the East Coast in summer time, in former days. Tuta Nihoniho remarks that the last time he indulged in this sport, he and two companions were being swept in shoreward in grand style, with the bow of the canoe well down and its stern high on the swelling front of a big wave, when its bow struck an unseen rock, with amazing and instantaneous results. The bow was smashed up, the rushing wave caught the canoe, hurled the stern upwards, and completely over, end for end. Meanwhile diverse members, to wit three, of the descendants of Porou, were flying through space, and vaguely wondering what had hit them, and what part of New Zealand they were going to drop on.
In Vol. Xxxii. of the Journal of the Polynesian Society, p. 35, Mr. W. H. Skinner has given us an interesting account of surf riding in small canoes, as witnessed by him at Mokau in 1884.
The surf board used by the Hawaiians, is according to Ellis, generally five or six feet long, rather more than a foot wide, sometimes flat, but more frequently slightly convex on both sides. He remarks:—"The greatest address is necessary in order to keep on the edge of the wave; for if they get too far forward, they are sure to be overturned, and if they fall back, they are buried beneath the succeeding billow."
The same writer gives an account of surf riding as practised at Tahiti, where it is called fa'ahe'e (Maori whakaheke) and horue, a word which recalls Maori horua, a toboggan sled, the holua of the Hawaiian or Sandwich Isles. Surf riding was also practised at Tonga, Samoa, and many other islands.
In his "Melanesians and Polynesians" the Rev. G. Brown remarks as follows concerning Samoan surf swimmers:—"They were very proud of the fact that they never use a surf board in those dangerous breakers. They kept themselves on the crest of the wave by a backward or forward movement of their hands."
The Maori ever strove to so train children that they would have no fear of the water, he encouraged them to practise all forms of aquatic excercises. It was stated many years ago by an old Maori that certain folk tales and myths, such as that concerning Hine-popo page 45and her marvellous feat in swimming from Kapiti across Raukawa (Cook Strait), were invented and related to young folks in order that they might feel no fear of the water.
Many remarks were made by early voyagers in the Pacific on the swimming powers of Polynesians, and, in later times, natives captured by slavers have been known to leap overboard, when far out of sight of their island home, and start to swim back to it. Commodore Byron remarked on the apparent ease with which natives swam ashore from his vessel without using their arms for that purpose, but to hold out of the water certain presents they had received. M. Labillardiere, historian of the D'Entrecasteaux expedition, describes the swimming of a native at Tongatapu, as seen in 1793:— "We admired the facility with which he executed all his movements. He swam constantly on the belly, his neck being entirely out of water, and making very short strokes with his left hand, which he kept constantly before him, while he gave a great spread to his right hand, which he carried to the thigh on the same side at every stroke. The body was at the same time a little inclined to the left, which increased the rapidity with which it cut the water. I never saw a European swim with such confidence, or with such speed."
The Kokiri or Water Jump
Another form of aquatic pastime was that of jumping into the water from a plank or flatted sapling fixed in a slanting position and extending out over deep water. There is no evidence to show that it served as a springboard; it was apparently too thick for that purpose; it merely provided a good point of vantage from which to leap where no high perpendicular bank was available. Fig. 7 (p. 46) shows the form of these structures. This exercise or pastime was known as kokiri. As a rule this runway consisted of a stout sapling, one end of which rested on the bank, and the other, considerably elevated, on a post, or crosspiece between two high posts, at or near the water's edge. Taylor, of Te Ika a Maui fame, simply says:— Kokiri. Pole; flattened on the top for a person to stand on, and inclined over deep water; a favourite amusement to run up to the top, and then jump into the water. Elsewhere he remarks:—Kokiri is jumping from a pole into deep water: before doing so the person repeats:—
Puhipuhi rawa ki te kereru
Mehemea e kato ana
The following extract from Brodie's New Zealand explains the mode of procedure in this exercise:—"Over the edge of the Roto-iti lake there projected a pole, raised by a strong post in the lake to an angle of thirty degrees from the level of the water. This raised pole, I was informed, was for a native exercise called kokiri. With women and children the kokiri is a famous amusement. The boys and girls stark naked, and the women with only a rough garment round the loins, run up the pole as ready as monkeys. Having reached the end, which is flattened to form a standing place, they make a momentary stay, and then jump down into the water from a height of twenty feet, swimming directly back and reascending the pole for another jump. Each follows the other pretty briskly, and in this way they keep up the exercise till they are tired of it."
Among some tribes this exercise is called morere, and perhaps also moari, though the latter seems to properly apply to the 'giant strides.' The following extract from Wade's observations of 1838 shows whence friend Brodie obtained his information, though he moved the scene to the Roto-iti.
W. R. Wade, in his Journey in the Northern Island of New Zealand, describes the form of morere that may be compared with our spring board, as having been seen by him on the shores of Rotorua, in 1838:—"There projected over the water a pole, raised by a strong post in the lake to an angle of 25 or 30 degrees from the level of the water, the outer and higher end of the pole being finished off underneath with an indecent piece of carving. This raised pole, we were informed, was for the exercise of a native sport, and called by the several names of moari, kokiri and morere. With women and children the morere is a famous amusement. Some of them good naturedly gave us an example of the sport. The boys and girls stark naked, page 47and the women with only a rough garment round the loins, run up the pole as readily as monkeys. Having reached the head, which is just flattened to form a standing place, they make a momentary stay, and then jump down into the water, from a height of fourteen or fifteen feet; swimming directly back and reascending the pole for another jump. Each follows the other pretty briskly, and in this way they keep up the exercise till they are tired of it."
The kokiri was also practised by the Tahitians. Ellis says that a kind of stage was erected near the margin of a deep part of the sea, or stream, from which the people jumped. The children were specially fond of this diversion.
Moari or Giant Strides
This was by no means always an aquatic exercise, but, if a suitable place existed near a village, the Maori preferred to erect his moari staff at the edge of a lake or river where performers could, by releasing their hold on the ropes, drop into deep water. Angas, writing in the forties, remarks:—"The moari or native swing is an page 48 amusement amongst the Taupo people which is obsolete upon the Coast. A pole, generally the trunk of a kahikatea pine, is erected in the centre of an open space adjoining the village; flax ropes are suspended from the top, and, holding on to these, the natives swing themselves round and round, in a similar manner to that which is practised in gymnasia and at country fairs in Europe."
The Rev. R. Taylor gives us the following in Te Ika a Maui:— "Morere or moari:—This is a lofty pole, generally erected near a river, from the top of which about a dozen ropes are attached; the page 49 parties who use it take hold of them and swing round, going over the precipice and, whilst doing so, let go, falling into the water. Occasionally serious accidents have thus occurred by striking the bank."
The giant's stride was termed morere by the Ngati-Porou folk. The pole was set up in a slanting position, not upright. In order to prevent the ropes twining round the post, the upper ends of them were secured to a takaore, a stout rope ring that acted as a swivel, and which rested on a shoulder formed on the top of the post. This ring kept revolving round the post as the players ran round the base holding on to the ropes. If the swivel was used it is not clear why the pole was not set upright.
The cliff-head jumping places were sometimes named after people, as Te Moari a Rangi-tauaha in the Ngati-Porou district.
In Maori myth the game of morere is said to have been first learned from persons known collectively as Ngati-Peketua, who were the offspring of Kewa and Huruhuru. They were a folk covered with hair, even from their birth, and were an extremely unruly and dishonest people, a mischievous and thieving folk.
In the following description, published by the late Colonel McDonnell, a different way of attaching the ropes to the staff is mentioned, but no form of swivel is described. There are several methods by means of which the winding of ropes round the staff might have been prevented, but European observers have left us no details as to which were adopted.—"A favourite pastime of the Maori folk in the good old days was the moari, or swing, formed by placing a long tapering ricker or spar firmly on some rising ground, and sometimes for a love of peril, on the brink of a precipice. A number of ropes, according to the size of the spar, were fastened to the top of it, one below the other, at intervals of a foot, from which the people would swing, grasping the ropes in their hands and then running swiftly round and swinging off into the air over the sloping ground, river, or cliff, as the case might be. Then, as each person alighted, the spar being relieved from the weight, springs more erect, causing the individuals yet revolving in the air to be lifted higher with a jerk, and experiencing a feeling as if the ropes were being dragged out of their hands.
Serious accidents used to occur … I once saw a Maori sent spinning through the air from a sixty feet moari, and disappear through the tops of some puriri trees. He was not killed, but he could not bear us to touch him, as many of his bones were broken."
The Colonel also mentions a ten-rope moari that overhung a rocky chasm: A great feast was given at the settlement where this swing stood, and which, on this occasion, was handsomely decorated with page 50feathers and painted with red ochre. A girl was killed by falling from this swing. It was a case of suicide.
Among the Ngati-Porou folk giant striders chanted the following as they swung round:—
"Ka rere au, ka rere au
Ka rere au i te morua titi, morua tata
E kohera, e kohera po
Ki roto wai titi."
This was so timed that, at the repetition of the final word, each player was in the position where he released his grip on the rope and dropped into the waters below.
The moari, like many other Maori games and pastimes, is mentioned in old myths and folk tales. It appears in the story of Miru and Kewa, as given in Vol. 5 of the Journal of the Polynesian Society, at p. 117. At p. 191 of the same volume is a note by the Rev. W. W. Gill on a form of moari used in the Hervey Group (Cook Islands), where it is known by the same name. In those isles the ropes used were long, green vines, one end of which was secured to the crown of a tall cocoanut palm, and the lower end was knotted so as to admit of a strong stick being inserted. On this cross stick the swinger sat, holding on to the vine with his hands, and swung himself to a great height. This form in which the swinger sat on a crosspiece was apparently known in New Zealand, as shown by Mr. Nairn.
In the hamlets of hill tribes, such as Tuhoe, the moari were often erected on any suitable area of flat ground at or near the village, for, in many cases, no stream with deep pools was available. On the shores of Waikare Moana, a fine mountain lake, however, the waterside moari was used, one such formerly stood at Kirikiri. The staff was so set up as to incline somewhat over the water. Tuhoe natives assert that the ends of the ropes were secured to a loose cap of timber on the top of the staff, which cap revolved as performers swung round, hence the ropes did not twist round the staff. The performers grasped the rope firmly with both hands and, keeping the rope taut, ran swiftly round the land side of the staff, gaining considerable momentum as they ran, until they swung out into space over the bluff head. When each performer, in the course of his aerial flight, came well out over deep water, he released his grasp on the rope, and dropped feet first into the water below. On reaching the surface again, each person swam out of the way of succeeding jumpers.
In places where performers leaped into water from a bluff head without the aid of a moari, they would, if the ground was level, take a short run prior to jumping. Occasionally accidents occurred in page 51this sport; the writer was shown a place on the Whanganui river where a native woman was killed by falling flat on the water, instead of entering it feet first. Practice, however, enables the natives to so leap from astonishing heights with safety.
We have seen that, in the case of a moari being erected near deep water, and serving as a sort of substitute for a springboard, the performers followed one another in their daring leaps. When, however, the staff was set up away from the water, and used merely as a 'giant stride' apparatus, the ropes were, in at least some districts, of different lengths, and the performers all swept round the circle together. The person holding the shortest rope was, of course, the innermost performer, running on the smallest circle, while he who had the longest rope took the outermost place, and the periphery of the play ground. This position was looked upon as the place of honour, as it called for a much higher rate of speed and considerable powers of endurance to enable the performer to keep abreast of the performer on the shortest rope near the staff.
When dwelling within the sylvan vale of Rua-tahuna, the writer was aware that, in former times, a moari named Tama-te-ngaro had stood at Kiritahi, and another, named Tara-kai-korukoru, at Mana-tepa, a fortified village hard by on the Mana-o-rongo creek, each of which swings was provided with eight ropes. In mentioning these swings one day, a native casually remarked: "They were erected in order to avenge the death of our people slain at Mana-tepa." The peculiarity of this remark induced the writer to make enquiries, which opened up another phase of the extraordinary mental processes of uncultured people. It was in this wise: In the forties of last century a slight unpleasantness developed between the Tawhaki and Urewera divisions of the Tuhoe tribe, both of whom dwelt in this valley. Early one morn, the Urewera marched on Mana-tepa and fired a volley into the village, killing several of the Tawhaki clan. The assailants, firm in their belief that discretion should ever accompany valour, then decided to leave for foreign parts, hence they marched down the Whakatane river, and settled, far from war's alarms, at Ruatoki. Presumably the Tawhaki clan did not consider itself strong enough to seek revenge at the point of the spear, or the muzzle of a flint lock musket, hence its members decided to equalise matters by means of one of those singular procedures that mark the Maori character, and which puzzle the European enquirer.
Said old Paitini:—"Our people were much concerned over this matter. The death of their relatives grieved them. Then the desire grew, and from the desire sprang the thought: we would avenge page 52that disaster. Tu-kairangi, chief of the clan Tawhaki rose, and erected those two moari, Tama-te-ngaro and Tara-kai-korukoru. Then was composed a song to be chanted by the swingers when whirling round the staffs. And this should be our revenge for the death of our friends. No! Of course it was not blood vengeance, or even a real equivalent for our loss; it was simply to dispel our grief and end the brooding over the trouble, hence it was looked upon as avenging or equalising matters." In this performance all eight ropes of a moari were manned, and all performers and onlookers would chant the first verse:—
|"Tu-kairangi, E!||O Tu kairangi!|
|Hangaa he moari||Construct a moari|
|Kia rere au i te taura whakawaho||That I may swing on it with the outer rope, etc., etc.|
|Kai te pehi Hiri whakamau|
|Na wai takahia."|
As the final word was sung, all the performers commenced rushing round the staff, each gripping his rope, their speed rapidly increasing. When they at length stopped, the whole party then sang the second stanza:—
|"Taku aroha ki a Te Haraki... E!||O! My compassion for Te Haraki;|
|Nga whaiaipo a Te Hiri whakamau||The loved ones of Te Hiri whakamau, etc.|
|Na wai takahia."|
Again the performers swung round their circular course as before' and, on halting, the third and final stanza was chanted:—
|"He taura ti … E!||A rope of Cordyline|
|He taura harakeke||A rope of flax|
|Nga taura o Te Hiri whakamau||The ropes of Te Hiri whakamau, etc.|
|Na wai takahia."|
Presumably Te Hiri whakamau is a personal name, but concerning this, as also the last lines, no explanation was obtainable. This singular performance may be compared to another usage connected with humming tops, to be described later on. These performances may be viewed as connected with mourning for the dead, and in such observances the Maori indulged in actions quite foreign to us. Primitive man connected dancing and chanting with all his more important functions, and these customs have come down through the changing ages to the neolithic Maori, who mourns for his dead with singing, wailing, much weeping, and certain forms of haka. For of old it was said—By tears and lamentations alone may a natural death be avenged.
A reference to the moari in Maori myth, is seen in the story of the ascent of Whiro to the heavens. Tane and Whiro, both offspring of the Sky Parent and Earth Mother, strove to ascend to the Toi o page 53ga rangi, the uppermost of the twelve heavens, in order to obtain the three famed 'baskets' of knowledge. The way by which Whiro ascended is compared to a trailing vine, a sort of rope ladder, and this is represented on earth by the moari. Whiro did not succeed in reaching the twelfth heaven, but had to return, while Tane succeeded in his attempt. Thus Tane, who represents Light, the male principle, and fertilising power, defeated Whiro, who represents Darkness, evil, and death, and Whiro ever dwells in the underworld, and wages war against Tane of the world of light.
"Ko te ara i haere ai a Whiro-te-tipua kia eketia e ia nga rangi tuhaha, ko te ara tiatia, ko te ara taepa, ko te ara moari rangi; kaore a Whiro i eke ki te Toi o nga rangi, ka hoki iho. Ko te koiwi o tenei ara o Whiro i te ao nei, koia te moari e moaritia nei, ko te aka tarewa e tarewa noa na i te whanga, i runga i te rakau na."
In a letter to a friend written by Mr. F. E. Nairn, in 1894, he condemns the illustration of the morere or moari given by White, and observes:—"You will observe on the mo-a-rere [?] only one person flies at a time, and he sits upon a cross stick tied to the end of the long rope; sometimes a companion will seat himself astride the knees of the one sitting on the stick. The shorter rope is swung upon by all those who can get hold of it, and the pole bent over. These people, when the word "Tukua!" is given, let go the rope they hang upon. The pole springs up straight, and then bends over towards the flyer, and so continues until it stops quite straight, and the person swinging stops also. When the person sitting on the cross stick has his rope out as far as it will reach, and finds that he can only touch the ground with his toes, he shouts "Tukua!" and flies straight out over the cliff, flying round several times in succession, each flight round the pole becoming shorter, until at last he lands close to the pole."
Evidently there were several forms of the moari apparatus, and several modes of manipulation. The above writer had apparently seen only a form in which one, or at most, two persons used the swing at the same time, and these rode on a short cross-bar secured to the lower end of the rope. This may have been a local custom in the Hawkes' Bay district, where Mr. Nairn resided for many years. Other local writers do not mention the attached cross-bar as pertaining to the moari, though it was used in connection with the tarere or bush swing in some places. Mr. Nairn also alludes to a practice that is not made quite clear. A number of people bent the top of the pole over by hanging on to a second rope, then suddenly released it. This act caused the top of the pliant pole to oscillate to and fro, but of what advantages was this to the performer flying his circular course?page 54
Apart from this peculiar manipulation there appear to have been certain differences noted by early writers. In some cases the pole was set up in a leaning position so that apparently the swingers did not move round the pole, but described a circle on one side of it. When they ran round the pole the ropes would become enwrapped round it if no form of swivel was employed. Colonel McDonnell describes above yet another form in which a number of ropes were secured to the upright pole one below the other, about a foot apart.
All forms of canoeing were much appreciated by young folk, and both sexes learned the use of the paddle in youth. Children manipulated small canoes, and a capsize merely added to their enjoyment. Whaka hoehoe and whakatere waka denote canoe racing, paddling and sailing. Paddling races created much enthusiasm, closely contested ones caused intense excitement, as some of our old settlers remember, for Maori canoe races were, in the earlier years of European settlement, a common feature at local sports meetings. Such harbours as those of Wellington and Auckland have been the scene of some spirited contests in past years. When the annual regatta was held at Port Nicholson numbers of natives were wont to attend, and a canoe race was usually a prominent feature. In his Sixty Years in New Zealand, Mr. A. H. Blake describes such a race in these waters, when two waka taua (war canoes) adorned with carved work, paint and feathers, were paddled by full crews from Te Aro beach to Nga Uranga, round a flag boat, and back to the starting point. One canoe was under the command of Wi Tako, the other, that of Honiana Te Puni, and the former, came in the winner amid the frantic yells of the assembled natives, while, as the canoe took the beach, the crew leaped out and performed a furious dance with the wildest enthusiasm.
The word kaipara was employed whereby to denote a contest, as in the expression kaipara waka hoehoe, a canoe paddling contest. Whakataetae means 'to contend', as also does tauwhainga.