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The Maori - Volume II


page 77

We are now about to enter the door of the Whare tapere to indulge in what the Maori calls Nga mahi a te rehia, or the arts of pleasure. We may render Whare tapere as the House of Pleasure; all games, amusements, and pastimes are said to belong to it. It is a figurative expression, such as that of the Whare potae, or House of Mourning. No special house was built to serve such purposes only, but the name might be page 78 applied to any house in which the folk of a hamlet met at night for social pleasure, and where they indulged in many of the diversions about to be described.

The lore of the Whare tapere may be classified for descriptive purposes as follows:—
  • 1. Games viewed as useful exercises for military training.
  • 2. Aquatic games and pastimes.
  • 3. Games demanding manual dexterity and agility.
  • 4. Games and pastimes requiring calculation, mental alertness, or memorising power.
  • 5. Games and pastimes of children.

In Maori myth the arts of pleasure are attributed to certain mythical beings, who are credited with having introduced all forms of games and pastimes. Thus, among some tribes, they are all referred to Raukata-uri and Raukata-mea; among others to Takataka-putea and Marere-o-tonga; while the Ngati-Porou folk assign them to Ruhanui. We hear the terms ahuareka and ngahau employed nowadays to denote the social pleasures and diversions of life, but the old and correct term, now seldom heard, is rehia, of which harakoa appears to be a synonym. All such arts come under the sway of great Rongo, who may be viewed as the head of all arts of peace.

Inasmuch as the Maori possessed no form of written literature, and was, moreover, much given to social pleasures, it follows that all forms of amusement were keenly appreciated by him. Young folk were wont to meet in one of the larger houses of a hamlet during the evening, especially in winter time and during stormy weather, and there pass the time in story telling, singing, posture dances, games, contests and pastimes. A great mass of folk lore was at their service, and the songs of these folk are as sands on the smooth breast of Hine-one.

The Maori did not allow his love of pleasure to lure him from duties and labours, but simply devoted his leisure time to amusements. He had no statutory half-holiday or work-free saints' days to set aside as playing time. Hence doubtless the remark made by an early writer (Polack) on the lack of definite arrangements in regard to games. Care-free page 79 children played whenever disposed to do so. Older persons frequently met to pursue the arts of pleasure. Social and ceremonial meetings of group, clan, or tribe, were marked by much indulgence in those arts. Important festivals such as those marking the completion of crop lifting and the commencement of the year, were occasions on which a series of days was passed in the pursuit of pleasure. At such times many contests were held, as pertaining to various games. Also, when the ordinary labours permited of it, specially arranged contests were held. Thus a party would arrange to visit another village to contest a game of kite flying, wrestling, posture dancing, canoe racing, dart throwing, ti rakau, or even such a game as “knuckle bones.” These visits were much enjoyed by all as a pleasing change, for the Maori did not move frequently from home.

According to a number of early writers the incoming missionaries discountenanced the old native games and pastimes, and very few of them are practised nowadays. One form that has survived is the posture dance.

Angas, a traveller in the North Island in the “forties” of last century, speaks of “the merry and interesting children” whom he saw in native hamlets. He mentions their flying kites, dart throwing, sailing toy canoes formed of Phormium leaves, and playing cats cradle, and again remarks that “the children are cheerful and lively little creatures, full of vivacity and intelligence.” The Rev. J. Stack mentions their tops, balls, kites and swings, also wrestling, running and skipping in squads of ten or a dozen together. Dr. Thomson includes “crying” among their Maori pastimes. The Rev. R. Taylor wrote: “The chief amusement of the females was, and still is, the tangi or crying.” The present writer would scarcely include it in a list of amusements, however.

The expression, Whare tapere, is replaced in some districts by the term Whare rehia, or Whare ngahau, and at Taranaki by Whare pakimairo. In Polynesia the name of Whare karioi was employed in some islands. When folk proposed to spend an evening in social pleasure, one or more fires of hardwood, maire if procurable, were kindled in the house; this wood gives off but little smoke. On warm summer evenings the page 80 village marae or plaza was a much-favoured place of assembly, where young folk indulged in various recreations, children gambolled after the manner of their kind, and the elders sat looking on. Occasionally entertainments were held on the plaza after dark, when posture dances were performed by the light of torches of pitch pine (mapara).

The Maori did not practise any form of gambling, either in connection with games or otherwise, though he endeavoured to ensure success in even friendly contests by reciting charms. Inasmuch as the upper garment of the natives, a cape or cloak, did not lend itself to vigorous action of the arms, it was discarded on many occasions, as when using tools in working, or playing games that called for free action of the arms. A marked feature of Maori life was the encouragement of all recreations and contests that made for agility, quickness of eye and movement in boys and young men. All these were viewed by elders as military exercises, or as an excellent training therefor.

As a matter of fact there was but a limited number of true pastimes indulged in by natives, and most of these were confined to children. The element of contest entered into most forms of recreation, hence they were games. Swimming, running, jumping, etc., may be performed merely as pastimes, or as games, and yet again as exercises. The older folk were wise enough not to stress too much the fact that such exercises served a useful end, but simply encouraged boys and youths to practise them. Ever the elders bore in mind, however, the absolute necessity of every lad being so trained as to develop into an active, capable fighting man. Girls were encouraged in such recreational performances as tended to endow them with grace of action, as in posture dancing.

To play is expressed by the word takaro, while kaipara is a term that includes all athletic games. The terms parawhakawai, whakahoro rakau, and riri takaro denote training in the use of arms.

We come now to the first division of our subject, the arts of the Whare tapere, including what may be termed the school of arms, and athletic games that were looked upon as extremely useful training for the coming fighting men of the page 81 tribe. Some other and milder recreations, such as the game of ti rakau, were viewed in the same way because they endowed youths with quickness of eye, hand, and mind.

Practising the use of weapons was really begun at a very tender age, when boys used harmless objects, such as reeds and “flax sticks” (flower stems of Phormium tenax) in practising points and guards of spear fighting. Youths of a more advanced age took up such exercises in a more serious manner. They were under the supervision of the older men, and were taught the use of various weapons, thrusting and striking, one handed and two handed. Above all were they trained in the art of karo, the parrying and avoiding of weapons. Such exhibitions of skill in the use of arms, or the practising of such arts, are described by the expressions tatai rakau, whakatu rakau, and whakahoro rakau, the last word being a generic term for weapons.

Old natives of long gone years informed me that boys were, in former times, encouraged to engage in what we may term semi-sham fights. Indeed, early and constant training of such a nature was absolutely necessary to the welfare and survival of a tribe. Thus parents would encourage their boys to divide into two groups and assail each other, their light reeds being used as both striking and thrusting weapons. Not infrequently wounds were inflicted even with these light articles, as when used as a thrusting spear is. Then the boys might be roused to anger, and so cast away their light implements, and, procuring stones, engage in a more dangerous contest. This would bring the parents on the scene, who would interfere on behalf of their children. It sometimes occurred that the elders became excited and quarrelled among themselves, the matter ending in a general affray. Lives were occasionally lost in such encounters.

The throwing of light reed darts was one of the items of the exercises, and this rendered youths dexterous in avoiding such missiles, and so more dangerous ones in later years. The flower stems of the toetoe (Arundo conspicua) were used by boys in this exercise, and so it was termed para toetoe and wewero toetoe. Para mako has been given as a name for a similar exercise in which wooden rods were used, probably page 82 because the light wood of the mako (Aristotelia) was used for the purpose. A player was often allowed to use a short stick to parry the darts. The word timata denotes the throwing of a dart or spear overhand, and toro throwing underhand.

Wrestling was a fairly common practice in former times, and is described by the terms whatoto, nonoke, and mamau, or takaro mamau. Occasionally a young woman engaged in this exercise, and my worthy old friend Kurawha, who took part in the Mohaka massacre, and handled her musket in Te Kooti's rear guard fight across the Kaingaroa Plains, was a noted wrestler in her youth.

When a man was about to engage in a bout of wrestling, he would expectorate into his hand, close the hand and repeat a charm, the effect of which was believed to be the acquisition of additional strength in the coming contest. He then recited another that was supposed to weaken his opponent. The following are some terms employed in connection with wrestling:—Ta. This term denotes the gripping of each other's arms by the contestants; no body hold allowed; a fall was sometimes caused by a sudden thrust. Kairaho: this signifies the gripping of the opponent by the leg, when the aim is to lift and throw him. Whiri: to throw one's opponent across the out-thrust leg, the latter movement being known as rou. Mutu: a sudden yielding to pressure by opponent, followed by a quick recovery and an endeavour to throw him. Mamau: another form of arm grip. Awhiawhi: a body grip. Urutomo and taha are two other terms employed. The charms recited by wrestlers are obscure.

Boxing was not practised much, apparently, by the Maori. The terms mekemeke and whawhai mekemeke were applied to boxing by the Maori, and probably to any fist fight also, an art that he does not seem to have excelled in. Two methods were practised, the meke and the moto. In the first-named the blow was delivered with the side of the fist, thus the edge of the palm and the little finger would come into contact with one's opponent. Boxing was known throughout Polynesia. Ellis tells us that, among the Tahitians, no sparring or parrying was done.

page 83

Jumping (takaro tupeke) was indulged in to some extent, but not in the organised manner that it is with us. The long jump (kairerere) and vaulting with a pole (tutoko) were known. The latter, however, did not apparently include the high vault.

As in all other lands, foot races were a form of sport, and are alluded to as takaro omaoma. The taupiripiri, in which competitors ran in couples, holding each other round the neck, may or may not be a pre-European form. The most interesting of such contests, however, were the long distance races, in which the pace was but a shuffling trot.

The game termed ti rakau, poi rakau, tititoure, tititourea, and tititouretea, is one consisting of throwing and catching sticks. Girls joined with lads and young men in this game, and it was looked upon as a desirable exercise for them, tending to render them active, lissome, and so more fit for the performance of posture dances at assemblies of the people and ceremonial functions.

The sticks used in this game were light rods, two to three feet in length. Thomson tells us that the game was played by twenty on each side, but any number from two upwards could play at it, though seldom did less than four join in it. The two sides or series of players sat opposite each other, and the sticks were thrown from one side to the other, and dexterously caught. Apparently there were two methods of playing, one in which each player was provided with a rod, and another in which four rods were used by a large number of players. The rods were termed toi, and these were sometimes adorned with feathers. They were often cut from young tawa, a forest tree, and perhaps one inch or somewhat more in thickness. In some cases shorter and thicker ones seem to have been used, as among the Tuhoe tribe. A form of jingling song was sung to the casting of these rods. These little chaunts are termed ngari. In one exhibition watched by the writer four persons took part, three of whom were provided with two rods each, the other had none. They commenced by chaunting together, “Tahi, rua, toru” (one, two, three), and then the time song, the rod holders swaying the sticks up and down, holding one in each hand in a vertical position. page 84 The sticks were thrown one at a time, the first cast being to the player unprovided with rods. They were deftly caught, and, at certain intervals, clashed together as the song proceeded. The following is a portion of a time song:—

“Engari te marama i kite pai i a koe
Ko ahau i kite moemoea . . e.
Hua hoki au ko Tiritiri-matangi
Kaore iara ko Tiri rau rewai . . e.”

The rods in this case were stout ones, and only 22 inches in length. The words of the above ditty contain no manner of reference to the game: “The moon it was that saw you well; I saw but in my dreams. I thought'twas Tiritiri-matangi; not so, 'twas Tiri rau rewai.”

The Tuhoe folk state that the toi rods were often adorned with carved designs, and, with them, the players sat in a circle. The rods were thrown simultaneously, sometimes around the circle, sometimes across it. There were a number of different movements; often the players kneeled instead of sitting down. Mr. White described yet another form of the game, in which two ranks faced each other about ten feet apart, one stick only being used, cast back and forth between the two ranks. Any player failing to make his catch was piro, or “out,” and had to leave the rank. The game continued until but a lone player remained, the proud winner. This meant that a single game might continue for a number of evenings. Mr. White says even for months, which seems a trifle long.

The game called poi rakau by the Ngati-Porou folk is quite a different form, and was viewed by elders as a kind of semi-military exercise. All players stood in a circle, facing inward, save one, who stood in the putahi, or centre of the ring. Each person in the ring held a light rod of mako (Aristotelia), about three feet in length. These were adorned with a spiral design in black and white, called tawatawa. The task of the player occupying the putahi was to catch the wooden darts as they were thrown at him. A director controlled the players and saw that they threw their darts in a proper manner. The catcher was not allowed to move from his small circular base. As he caught the rods he threw them page 85 back to be caught by the former thrower. As a person became more proficient he often had to catch two rods at once. The throwing was done to the lilt of a somewhat long song.

This exercise was excellent training for youths who, in a few brief years, would have to face deadlier weapons in inter-tribal fighting. The time song collected is a hopeless task to the would-be translator. It is the haka chaunted by the hapless Sons of Ira the Heart Eater at Pakau-rangi, what time they jeered at Tawhiu-pari and so brought the war dogs of Porou on their trail; to be followed by the long-drawn misery of the Puweru-maku (Wetted Garments) siege, when dying children sucked the moisture from the wetted garments of their parents, who had fought their way through the investing force to wet those garments in the stream.

The sling was employed as a weapon in Polynesia, but, curious to relate, we have no reliable evidence as to its use in New Zealand. These remarks apply to the sling used for casting stones. Fashioned sling stones are found in Polynesia, and a few have been discovered at Sunday Island, only about 600 miles from the North Island of New Zealand, yet they are not found here. Inasmuch as the Polynesian ancestors of the Maori came from isles where the stone sling was used, it is passing strange if its use was not introduced into these isles. It is not mentioned in tradition, though native weapons are often alluded to in old narratives. The whip used for throwing spears was called a kotaha.

The word maka has been mentioned as a Maori name for the stone sling, but the evidence as to its being a pre-European implement here used is scant and unsatisfactory. Williams' Dictionary does not give it. The word tipao has also been given as a native name for this form of sling. Williams gives it as the name of a game, but says nothing concerning a sling. We know that, in our own time, this name has been applied to the genuine stone sling, as used by native youths, but evidence showing it to be an old practice is lacking. A simple contrivance for casting stones, also termed tipao, is the following. A pliant sapling of titoki, a tough and stringy wood, was thrust firmly into the ground, and, by means of a cord tied to its upper end, the rod was bent over and down- page 86
Throwing the sling-spear (Kopere).

Throwing the sling-spear (Kopere).

page 87 ward until the cord held a heavy strain. An assistant held a stone on the outer side of the stick as he knelt behind it, by means of pressure from a hand on either side of the pole. On the cord being released the stone was cast with much force by the rebound of the rod. This has been a pastime of boys in our time, and may have been a pre-European usage. Again proof is lacking.

The whip-thrown spear (tarerarera and whiuwhiu) was not only a missile weapon employed in fighting, but it also provided recreation for youths. The so-called spears were simply unworked rods of manuka, pointed at one end when used as weapons. The butt end was thrust into the ground in a slanting position. The kotaha or whip consisted of a straight rod about four feet in length having a cord attached to it. An old specimen in the British Museum is adorned with a carved design. The free end of the cord was hitched round the spear shaft in a certain manner. The operator, grasping the rod with both hands, now swung it forward with much force, so as to pluck the spear from the earth and propel it forward through the air. As it shot forward the hitched cord was released and the untrammelled spear continued its flight. This practice was known at the Hawaiian Isles, though it is alluded to merely as a game by Fornander. At Tahiti the sling for stones is termed ma'a (Maori maka=to thow, to cast).

Stone throwing by hand was, of course, a practice of boys, and we shall encounter it again when we lift the war trail. A native often alludes to a stone-throwing contest as kai makamaka, an expression that might be employed to denote any pastime or game in which things are thrown.

Equally, of course, climbing was a favoured pastime or contest among boys. Apart from branched trees, which were numerous enough in most parts of these isles, occasionally a stout ricker, as of white pine, was procured and set up as a climbing pole. The straight, branchless ricker was an excellent “swarming” pole; lads and young men would climb it both with and without the help of a foot loop (tāpārenga, toeke, and tāmāeke).

page 88

The diversions of swimming, diving, surf-riding, the kokiri and Maori canoe racing may, of course, be pursued either as mere pastimes or as contested games. On the whole the Maori does not equal his Polynesian brethren perhaps as a swimmer, but he was, and is, nevertheless, a most expert swimmer, thoroughly at home in the water. Native children learn to swim at a very early age; in olden days they ran naked to the four winds, and had no schools or hampering garments to hinder them when Rehua drew the haze of summer over the land, and the lure of Hine-moana and Parawhenua called them to the cool waters.

The side stroke (kau tahoe) is most favoured by the Maori. For a short, swift course he will use the overhand stroke (kau tawhai), but despises the breast stroke (kau apuru). One hears the term kau kiore applied to swimming on the back. Swimming races (kau whakataetae) were naturally much in vogue among both sexes. Diving was not practised as with us, i.e., head first, but by simply jumping from a height and descending feet first into the water. This exercise is termed ruku, and was carried out from a bank or cliff face, or a tree overhanging deep water. The kokiri was a favoured form, and this consisted of running up a stout plank or sapling fixed in an upward slanting position from the bank and projecting out over deep water, and jumping from the outer end thereof. Ere the performer jumped he recited the following, or some similar jingle: “Puhipuhi rawa ki te kereru. Mehemea e kato ana. Kokiri!” Both sexes joined in these diversions, following each other in numbers. The outer end of a kokiri seen at Rotorua was about fifteen feet above the surface of the water, but much higher places were sometimes selected by experts for this exercise of ruku. This diversion was an introduced one from Polynesia.

A much-favoured pastime among young folk when in the water is that of ducking each other below the surface; it is known as taururumaki and taurumakimaki.

When traversing high-lying country with natives, the writer has often admired the way in which they crossed flooded and swift torrents. They make no attempt to swim, but simply walk across on a down stream slant, so that the page 89 rushing waters carry them along. They tread water in an upright position. In larger rivers the tuwhana or grip pole was sometimes employed by a party, each person keeping a firm hold on the horizontally held pole. The writer is now not so enamoured of those little practices as he was half a century ago.

We will now discourse a while on the subject of the moari or morere. This is the apparatus termed, I think, in the sinful days of youth “giant strides.” A tall pole was erected, to the top of which were secured long ropes which trailed to the ground, or near thereto. Each rope was grasped by a person, and all went flying round the pole, describing a fairly wide circle. One says that the pole was not set up in a vertical position, but somewhat slanting. Another explains that the upper ends of the ropes were secured to a rope loop, called a takaore, that worked on a shoulder on the post, and this swivel-like apparatus prevented the ropes twisting round the post. Colonel McDonnell describes a form in which the ropes were secured to the post one below the other at intervals of about a foot.

In some cases these swings were erected near the edge of a precipice, so that the flying swingers whirled out from the cliff head over space. The danger added a zest to the pastime. The above-mentioned writer refers to a ten-rope swing that he saw erected at a social meeting; the pole was painted with red ochre and decorated with feathers. He also wrote: “I once saw a Maori sent spinning through the air from a sixty-foot 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.”

A favoured site for these swings was on a bank overhanging deep water, so that when the players swung out over the water they could release their grip on the rope and drop feet first into it. Songs were sung while whirling round on the swings. The following is a specimen one:—

“Ka rere au, ka rere au.
Ka rere au i te morua titi, morua tata
E kohera, e kohera po
Ki roto wai titi.”

page 90 This form of swing is known by the same name (moari) in the Cook Group, five hundred leagues from New Zealand.

The Tuhoe folk describe a loose, revolving wooden cap on the top of the post to which the ropes were attached. They had ropes of different lengths so that all players could advance abreast instead of following each other. The place of honour was on the outer and longest rope, where the greatest speed was demanded. In many cases these swings had special names assigned them.

The writer had pointed out to him the sites of two such swings of former days near one of his camps in the Ruatahuna district. The native then remarked in a casual manner: “They were erected in order to avenge the death of our people at Māna-tēpā.” Now this was just such a hint as the enthusiastic collector is ever listening for. I said to the old warrior, who had fought against us at Orakau and elsewhere: “Tena! Whakamaramatia” (Go on. Explain it). He did so. It was in this wise. About eighty years ago a slight disagreement arose between the Tawhaki and Urewera clans of the Tuhoe tribe. Early one morning the latter marched over to the opposition village and fired a random volley of musket balls into it, thereby slaying several persons. They then removed themselves a day's march down the valley, and formed a new home. The Tawhaki folk evidently considered themselves too weak to wreak vengeance, and so contented themselves with equalising matters in a very singular manner. They erected two moari, and composed a short song to be sung by the swingers as they whirled round. Both swings were named, and each was furnished with eight ropes. “No,” remarked the old man, who had been named after one of the slain in order to keep memories alive. “Of course it was not an act of blood vengeance, or even a real equivalent for our loss; it was done simply to dispel grief, to end all brooding over the disaster; hence it was said to be an avenging of the deaths of our people.” When encountering such extraordinary acts as the above, shall it be said that we understand the mind of barbaric man? To mourn for the dead, and avenge them by swinging on a rope, would scarcely appeal to civilised man.

page 91

All forms of canoeing were appreciated by the Maori, and the lack of suitable waters in the vicinity of a hamlet meant the loss of such pleasures to young folk. Small canoes were managed by quite young children. In later years, when old enough to take part in contests, they already knew how to handle the paddle with dexterity. Both paddling and sailing contests were held, principally the former, and these races were termed waka hoehoe and whakatere waka. Canoe races in the earlier days of European settlement were often a marked feature of aquatic sports, and created much interest. I have before me a spirited account of one that took place in Wellington Harbour long years agone, when the paddling course was from Te Aro to Nga Uranga and back. Two big war canoes, brave with red paint and feather decorations, swung out under Wi Tako and Te Puni. Lined from prow to stern were naked paddlers, they cut out the ara moana of the Harbour of Tara like creatures of life, the troubled waters swirling under the impetus of the hardwood paddles. The lilt of the time song sounded over the harbour as these descendants of the old sea rovers of the Pacific felt the joys of contest. When Wi Tako brought his canoe in a winner she was received with frantic yells by the assembled natives, to be followed by a furious dance by both crews.

Another form of canoeing was that of surf riding in small canoes termed kopapa. This pastime was practised on open coast lines where the unchecked swell of the Pacific rolls in. Surf riding on a board or short plank was also indulged in; on the east coast both plank and small canoe were styled kopapa. The plank used seems to have been shorter than that used by the Hawaiians.

In this exercise the surf rider swam out past the line of breakers, diving under them as he proceeded, and taking his surf board with him. Then, selecting a roller, he threw himself on the surf board, grasping the fore end thereof with his hands, and so rode racing shoreward on the roller. Sometimes a rider dispensed with the board, and rode in with his arms outstretched before him. Young women sometimes joined in this sport, and an old surf rider informed me that, page 92 in his youthful days, he had seen thirty to forty persons so riding shoreward at one time.

The small canoes used in surf riding would contain from one to three persons. The canoe was so manipulated as to ride a certain part of the roller, otherwise a capsize would ensue. This surf riding in its three forms was styled whakarerere. Old riders have told us of the steersman standing erect in the flying diminutive craft and retaining a marvellous control over it.

Surf riding was practised throughout Polynesia. At Tahiti it was called fa'ahe'e (Maori whakaheke) and horue, which recalls Maori horua and Hawaiian holua, a toboggan.

The Maori ever strove so to train young folk as to render them fearless in water, confident in their own powers to swim flooded rivers, and survive the perils of mishaps to canoes. The writer has seen some very remarkable performances by natives in the way of crossing raging floods in our swift and dangerous rivers, as when Tawera swam a twenty chain flood in the Land of Awa, and Eruera earned a £20 cheque by swimming the raging Whakatane to save stock on the left bank.