Games and Pastimes of the Maori
A common form of amusement among young folk in former times was the asking and answering of riddles, termed kai, panga, and maka. The majority of such riddles and puzzles seem to have related to natural objects. The following is a sample of such items:— "He aha te kiri putaputa, kiri honohono, ara i te mua, ara i te muri, whai pane, whai karu, ka tow te hi arero?" (What is the kiri full of holes, joined together, elevated in front and behind, possessing head and eyes, page 119and with protruding tongue). Kir means bark, rind, etc., perhaps here used as we sometimes employ the word shell, to denote a hollow structure, or a light boat frame. The answer to the above is a canoe. The holes are the numerous ones bored to accommodate lashings; the elevated ends are the stern and bow pieces; head and eyes are those of the carved figures, the protruding tongue that on the carved tauihu or prow.
Thomson has left us the following note:—"Riddles form a common amusement among the young of both sexes and the ambiguity of some sets all guessing and laughing. The riddles have little merit, and consist of a play on the meaning or pronunciation of words." Polack writes:—"Playing upon words is an amusement common to the people, and they are adepts in conversing with words each beginning with the same letter. Riddles are also given and expounded."
There was an old usage of communication by means of signs made with the fingers. Each sign represented a word. When the alphabet became known the system was altered so that each sign denoted a letter sound. It is not, however, clear whether the latter method was syllabic, or whether signs were used for vowel sounds as apart from those representing consonants. Presumably it was syllabic, that system being more easily grasped by the Maori, and adopted by him when teaching others to write. The above mentioned practice may not have been universal, and has apparently been forgotten. All such methods of communication, also different ways of signalling are, called rotarota.
Young folk often spoke in some pre-arranged manner most confusing to those listening. A common method was to introduce some foreign syllable after every syllable of the ordinary words uttered. Thus the words "maku tend" might be given as ma-te-ku-te te-te-na-te. Other syllables are sometimes inserted, as shown in Mr. Stowell's Maori-English Tutor, p. 228, where this manner of speech is called korero hunuru.
Signalling by means of whistling was practised in time of war. Certain methods of whistling held certain meanings understood by the party. For example one such conveyed the following:—"Taki-tahitial Takitahitia! Kei kitea koutou." (Scatter out singly, lest ye be seen.)