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Games and Pastimes of the Maori



Boxing was known as mekemeke and whawhai mekemeke. The Maori preferred to have a weapon in his hand when arguing with an adversary, but seems to have occasionally fought with his hands alone, possibly, however, only in family quarrels. The meke mode of boxing was the same as ours, striking with the clenched fist so as to hit with the knuckles, whereas the moto method implies striking with the closed fist so as to hit with the side of it, i.e., with the edge of the palm and the little finger. This latter method is said to have been used in quarrels with a near relative. It is not clear that actual boxing contests were held, though there is some evidence in favour of it, as Tuta informs us that the same charm was used in this exercise as that recited when wrestling, save that the word meke was inserted in place of mamau.

Boxing was practised by the natives of the Society Group, where it was called moto, or motora'a (motoranga). As in New Zealand, it was there looked upon as a minor exercise, and not practised to the extent that wrestling was. Ellis states that no sparring or parrying was done, but only straightforward punching blows, usually aimed at the head.

John Ledyard, who was a corporal of marines on the Resolution in Cook's third voyage, gives us a few observations on the art of boxing as practised by Polynesians. Describing an exhibition of such among the Tongans, he says:—"They had both hands clenched and bound round separately with small cords, which perhaps was intended to prevent their clenching each other when closely engaged, thus preventing foul play; or it may be to preserve the joints of their fingers, and especially the thumb, from being dislocated … They are very expert and intrepid in these performances."

Of the natives of the Society Group the same writer says:—"Their amusements are music, dancing, wrestling and boxing, all of which are like those of Tongatapu."

Again, in describing experiences at the Hawaiian Isles, Ledyard writes:—"The day was closed with gymnastic exercises, wrestling and boxing, ordered by the old king for the amusement of his guests."