Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

The Maori Race


page 51


One of the most universal pastimes among the Maori was kite-flying. It was indulged in by adults as well as by children, and was a favourite game with old men. The ordinary kites were generally made of the dried bulrush (raupo) leaf but they were apt to sag and not fly well. The better sorts were made of the inner bark of the paper-mulberry plant (aute) or of the tussock grass (upoko tangata). Sometimes they were called “bird” (manu), or “hawk” (kahu), or “winged one” (pakaukau), but the aute kite was often formed in the shape of a man, and had shells fastened to it so as to rattle as it moved. Native kites had streamers and tails like our own toys; they were very light and graceful in their movements. The kite had its own charm (karakia) to be recited in order to raise it in the air, and songs were sung to the flying plaything as it soared on high. Many a pleasant hour the old men as well as the children spent watching the floating toys. page 52 Sometimes the aute kite was used as a means of sending a message. The owners waited till a fair wind sprung up and then set free a kite that passed in the direction of the tribe it was wished to communicate with, and those receiving it understood perfectly the message it was meant to convey.1

The swing (morere or moari) was of the kind known to our school-children as “the Giant's stride.”2 A pole was planted in the ground and several ropes fastened so as to hang from the top of it; each rope was seized by a pair of hands, and the holders running in a circle leapt from the ground and were carried through the air still clinging to the ropes. When, as was often the case, the pole was erected on the edge of a cliff, the excitement was greatly increased, as some of the party would be swinging out over the precipice. Common swings (tarere) were usually only vines hanging from forest trees.

The skipping-rope (piupiu) was used as by Europeans, either singly or with each end held by one person only while a third jumped over the middle; sometimes several persons jumped at the same time over the swinging cord.

The whipping-top (potaka ta, kaitaka, kaihotaka, kaihora, etc.), was a very common toy and is often mentioned in old legends. They were made of hard wood such as matai or totara, and the lash of the whip was of native flax. Sometimes there was a point on each end of the top, so that its position could be reversed at will; this was called a double-ended-top, (potaka-whero-rua). They were page 53 often raced over little hurdles set up on purpose for them to jump over. The humming-top (potaka-takiri) was also in use. It had a projecting piece at the top round which the string (karure) could be wound, and the toy was held in position by a handle (papatakiri) made of a flat piece of wood about six inches long and half an inch wide; this was held against the side of the top. Pieces of paua-shells were often inlaid into the tops to ornament them. Sometimes a small gourd was used as a humming-top; this would have a piece of wood projecting through its longest axis, for the point at one end and for a hold on which to wind the string at the other; a hole was also made in the side of the gourd to make it hum. One very singular custom relating to tops obtained in old days. If a battle had been lost and friends came to condole with the defeated side, a dirge for the dead would be chanted and between each verse humming-tops would be spun. It was supposed that the buzzing sound represented the wail for the victims of war. The tops and other presents were given to the visitors. The teetotum (porotiti) was made of a piece of the rind of a gourd cut into a disc and having a wooden centre on which to spin when set whirling by a twirl from thumb and forefinger.

“Walking on stilts” (pouturu, poutoko, pouraka, or poutoti) was often indulged in, and appears to have been a very ancient amusement; it is probably a relic of life in some other lands, as there is nothing in the circumstances surrounding the Maoris in their broken page 54 country to have caused the invention of stilts, while in large flat areas like those of the French Landes their use seems reasonable enough. The story of the stilts of Tama (used to allow him to steal fruit from trees) is unsatisfactory, and the original purpose for which stilts were designed is not now to be traced.

The hoop (pirori) was used by children, but sometimes by adults in a sinister manner, and in the grim spirit consonant with the idea of amusement possessed by a fierce and revengeful race, for the hoop had now and then the dried skin of a dead human foe stretched upon it, as a mark of contempt for and degradation of the tribe to which the flayed warrior belonged. The hoop, the frame of which was of forest vine (akatea), was about two feet in diameter, it was driven backwards and forwards between two parties stationed at either end of a course and was beaten to and fro with sticks, while an appropriate song was chanted.

The small bull-roarer (pirorohu or kororohu) was made of a piece of hard wood (mapara); it was about four inches long by one inch in the centre and tapering to a point at each end. A cord was fastened through two small holes bored crossways in the middle of the piece of wood about a quarter of an inch apart. The instrument was used by twisting the string and letting it unwind itself, this causing a buzzing or whizzing noise. The large bull-roarer (purerehua or mamae) was made of hard wood (matai) eighteen inches long, and, like the other, tapered to points at the ends. Its cord was about four feet in length, and was fastened page 55 to a stick about three feet long by which the bull-roarer was whirled round, making a booming or humming noise. It was believed that the spirit (of the operator) caused the noise. In some parts of the country bull-roarers were used when a deceased chief was lying in state, and the sound was supposed to drive off evil spirits.

A curious game (titi-touretua) was played with four carved sticks, about eighteen inches long. A song (ngari) was sung and the sticks tossed backwards and forwards between the players (of whom there were generally six) in time to the song. The sticks were held in a vertical position at the start, and then thrown from one person to another, across or round the circle of players, who sat some little distance apart. The sticks were not to touch each other when thrown, and had to be received in a particular way; the butts every now and then being dropped on the ground.

Another singular game was played with a wooden figure (karetao, keretao, or toko-raurape) used as a “Jumping Jack.” The figure was of human form, tattooed on the face, and about eighteen inches in height. The arms were loose and could be jerked up and down by a piece of string running in holes through the body to the feet, and worked by the player. It was used to accompany the song-dance (haka) and was “quivered” as the hands are made to do in that dance. Particular songs (oriori karetao) were allotted to this amusement.

In the game of “knuckle-bone” (koruru) round pebbles were used in a game played page 56 with the hands. The stones were picked up, caught on the back of the hands, etc. There were eight distinct parts of the game to be successively attempted, some of them rather intricate.3

Several varieties of games were played with spears or sticks representing spears. The principal of these (teka) consisted of throwing a dart, to the point of which a bunch of flax strips were fastened. The dart was long and light, heavier at the but than at the point. The game was usually played on the sea-beach, and the player who hurled his dart farthest was hailed a winner. A game resembling this (neti or niti) was also a favorite amusement, but fern-stalks were used instead of spears. A smooth mound of earth was set up, and the player, holding the dart between his thumb and second finger, had to make his dart, when thrown underhand, rebound from the mound on its course, the player reciting a charm the while. In other spear-games darts were thrown by one person at another. Sometimes these darts were merely light reeds to be warded off (para or para toetoe), but at other times they were sharpened rods and their evasion was a game (para-mako) requiring considerable skill if injury was to be escaped. There were two games played by “crooking” the fingers, and these simple pastimes were known as Upoko-titi and Tara-koekoea.

A childish game (kakere) was played by transfixing a sweet-potato (kumara) on a stick and jerking it off to see how far it could be thrown. “Ducks and drakes” (tipi) were made page 56a Wetani Rore Tatangi.. page 57 by throwing flat stones so as to skip along the surface of the water, as English children play a similar game. Boys amused themselves with a pastime (called poro-teteke) by standing in a row, and then on a signal being given stood on their heads, while their legs were kicked out straight, and then doubled back on the buttocks intime to a chorus. It was a ludicrous inverted war-dance. Maori boys were well skilled in the sort of attack called by French soldiers “la savate.” They would approach each other, and one would with a sudden kick land the sole of his foot on the chest or stomach of his opponent with a force and dexterity that were astonishing. Patokotoko was a game played by one person trying to catch the protruded finger of another in a loop of flax. Children of both sexes played a game (topa or koke) by inserting the mid-rib of a certain lea (wharangi) into a stem of reed-grass (karetu) and taking this toy to the top of an eminence. The stem balances the leaf in well-made specimens, and the plaything was sent floating horizontally, while a charm was repeated. Children also played at turning summersaults (turupepeke), leaping (tupeke), the long jump (kai-rerere), “hide and seek” (piripiri or taupunipuni) and see-saw (pioi or tiemi), the latter often played on the elastic branch of a growing tree.

Wrestling (ta or whatoto or nonoke or mamau) was indulged in as a favourite sport of young men, some of whom arrived at great celebrity through their agility and prowess at this exercise. There were many named page 58 wrestling grips, (whiu, whiri, taha, etc.). Sometimes a woman or two young women would wrestle with a young man; this was called para-whakawai, but in some tribes the expression is reserved for fencing bouts with spears, etc., among men. At times wrestling became a water-sport, then called “Ducking” (taurumaki), when a competitor would try with an opponent as to which could hold the other under water longest, but this was rather a severe form of amusement, and not highly popular. Diving games were also in fashion, many of the swimmers rushing over the banks of a river at the charge (kokiri) and leaping one after another into a deep pool, some diving feet first, others turning summersaults, etc. At times the jump was made from a pole placed horizontally over the water.

The toboggan (papa-retireti) was used by youngsters and consisted of a small plank about three feet long and four inches wide, with ridges or rests for the feet, one foot being kept behind the other. These boards were used on a slide (retireti) constructed on a slope and kept wet.

Of quieter games there were many. “Cat's Cradle” (whai, huhi, or maui) was known to the Maoris as to almost all the inhabitants of the Malay Archipelago and South Seas. It was played with the two hands and a piece of string, assuming very complicated forms; sometimes a whole drama was played by means of the changing shapes. Two of the favourites were the ascent of Tawhaki the Lightning god, to heaven, and the fishing up page 59 of the land by the hero Maui. There were proper songs chanted as accompaniments to the movements of the players' hands. Another game (punipuni) consisted in interlacing the fingers of the two hands with a quick motion while a certain song was sung. A kind of windmill toy (pekapeka) was in use. A game (tutukai) resembled our “hunt the slipper,” and consisted in a circle of persons sitting with closed fists while one of the players went round and tried to find the whereabouts of a small pebble which was rapidly passed round the ring from one to another; the person on whom the stone was found taking the guesser's place. A favourite sport (ti or komikomi) was played with the fingers, these being rapidly open and shut. Drafts or checkers (mu) were well known to the Maoris before the Europeans came and were skilfully handled although the game differed somewhat from our own. Riddles (panga or kai) were propounded by means of questions and the answers demanded some ingenuity, or varied by becoming manual, as in drawing a pebble across the lips while the others guessed if it was in the player's hand or mouth; puzzles were also prepared, as cunning knots on a piece of cord. Little girls played a game of questions and answers, that can hardly be described as riddles. All being seated in a circle one of the players would sing the query “What will your husband be?” Another would answer “a planter of sweet-potatoes.” Then the first would respond “That is very good if he has rich soil. What (turning to the page 60 next) will your husband be?” Answer, “A fisherman.” “That is very good in fine weather. What will your husband be?” Answer, “A digger of fern-root.” “That is better, plenty of food always in store,” etc., etc.

“Counting out” (wi) figured among Maori games. The players stood round a circle (called wi) drawn on the ground, and the principal, indicating with his finger, counted out the players saying, “Pika, pika, pere rika,” etc., in one of the nonsense-jingles customary at such games. These rhymes do not appear to have been, like our own, an obsolete form of the numerals. When all were counted out, an effort was made to enter the circle without being touched by its defender, and if touched such person had to help to defend the circle.

Reciting a long piece of verse without drawing breath (tatau-manawa) was sometimes attempted. A variety (kurawiniwini) of “hunt the slipper” was played by a double line of young people sitting facing each other. A string was passed between the two lines, and all the players bending forward placed their hands on the string, hiding it from sight. There was a free end of the string somewhere and an outside player had the job of finding it. Sometimes while the hands remained in position the string would be entirely drawn in and concealed by some cunning adept.

The place of the concert and ball room with us was taken among the Maoris by the House of Amusement (whare-tapere or whare-matoro or whare - karioi). These particular page 61 houses were set apart for the young people at night in order that the sports and games, often carried on till dawn, might not disturb the rest of the elders. Here went on the different dances, etc., natural to youth all the world over, and herein also most of the wooing took place that resulted in marriages of affection. Dancing (haka, kanikani, etc.) was not performed in the manner of European dances in which partners of opposite sexes swing or step together. It was altogether posture dancing, generally by a considerable number of persons, sometimes all of one sex, sometimes with both. The principal of these (haka) was in high estimation, and the whole night through relays of dancers might exhibit their skill and elegance in different varieties of the dance. The players usually stood in ranks, swinging their hands and bodies in a marvellous unison.4 The origin of the song-dance (haka) with its quiver of the dancers' fingers was said to have been an attempt to mimic the vibration of the air that heated by the summer sun rises from the soil, and the idea was carried on in the famous haka known as “The Dancing Summer.” Young women played the graceful game of ball (poi). The players stood or were seated in a line, each having her ball fastened to a string about two or three feet long; they would strike the ball right, left, upwards, etc., in time to a chorus (rangi poi), all the movements being performed at the same moment and in the same direction, with admirable precision and harmony of action. The balls were of some page 62 light substance, usually of dried bulrush (raupo) and were ornamented with the white hair (awe) from the tail of the native dog.5

Some dances (maimai) were reserved for funeral ceremonies; others (kotaratara) were only performed on triumphal occasions. The war dance (ngarahu taua or tutu ngarahu) was, when well executed, a very exciting and even terrible exhibition. Hundreds of warriors in serried ranks would leap as one man to the right and to the left, letting their weapons rise and fall like the waves of the sea, while a deep chest-note would alternate with a savage blood-curdling scream in the powerful chorus of the impassioned singers. Sometimes a mere ceremony, at other times the war-dance was a prelude of battle, and a means of rousing the fighting men to fury. Few who have seen the war-dance of New Zealand executed in earnest will ever forget the resounding roar, the trembling earth, the muscular frenzy, and the moral effect of that tossing sea of human creatures, transformed by their own action into the semblance of demons. Yet, withal, the exquisite time kept in the dance, the force and power that tamed apparently ungovernable excitement into cadence and rhythmic motion had a charm and entrancement all their own.