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Games and Pastimes of the Maori

Ti Rakau

Ti Rakau

The game or excercise known in some districts as ti rakau was termed poi rakau by the Ngati-Porou of the East Coast, titi-touretua by the Tuhoe folk, and titi-tourea by northern tribes. Not only was it viewed as a game and useful exercise for lads and young men, but it was also practised by girls. In the latter case it was considered beneficial inasmuch as it tended to make young women active, adroit, lissome, for the performance of posture dances. This exercise is termed ti rakau on account of there being another game called, ti, which is played with the hands only, for which reason it was known as ti ringa. Thomson, in his Story of New Zealand, writes:—"The other game called ti is played with sticks three feet long, which are thrown by one party and caught by another. There are twenty players on each side, and the game is accompanied with songs."

Colenso has the following note on this game:—"Another manner of musical performance was by two persons standing about four feet apart, each holding a prepared rod of kaiwhiria wood, of the length and size of a walking stick; these sticks were thrown to and fro alternately, and gently and dexterously caught, but so that they page 31should while passing in the air touch each other, and give out the exact note required; the two performers at the same time chanting their song."

Descriptions given by Tuhoe natives differ from the above. Four sticks were used and care was taken to prevent them striking against each other when thrown. This game called for quickness of eye and hand. Among the Tuhoe folk it seems to have been played with short staves about two feet in length, the players being in a sitting position, a little space separating them. Four of these persons held each a stave, sometimes adorned with carved designs, in a perpendicular position before them, and swung them up and down in time with the cadence of a song, called a ngari titi-to-uretua, chanted by the performers. The players sat in the form of a circle and, at the repetition of certain words in the song, the holders of the staves threw them across the circle, there to be caught by others. There were different motions and ways of casting the staves, each change and movement being notified by certain words in the accompanying song. The implements must be thrown simultaneously; sometimes round the ring of players, at other times across the ring, but always each stave must be caught by a certain person, and by no other. At certain times they are swung, at others placed with the lower ends resting on the ground. The players often, perhaps usually, assume a kneeling position.

Mr. John White describes yet another mode of playing this game, which, with the poi, he says are attributed to one Ruahine:—"The game consisted of the throwing of a piece of wood by one player to be caught by another. These sticks were pieces of whau wood ornamented with carving. The players stand in two rows facing each other and about ten feet apart. The man at one end of a row throws the stick to the man opposite him, who throws it back to No. 2, i.e., the man next the first thrower. It is thus thrown across the space, to and fro, to the end of the line. Anyone who fails to catch it must step out of the ranks. This goes on until all have made a miss save the lone survivor, who thus wins the game. Such a game may last a day or several days, or even for months, played at intervals, ere all but one have missed a catch. It is played in the winter season." Here the word 'months' means occasional meetings during such period.

But the form of this game most highly prized as an exercise was that practised among the Ngati-Porou folk, and known to them as poi rakau. This method resembled dart throwing, and was a semi-military exercise of great benefit to those soon to be called upon to page 32parry, avoid, or catch the weapons of enemies. The following notes were contributed by Tuta Nihoniho: All the performers save one stood, or sat, in a circle, facing inwards, the remaining one occupied the putahi or middle of the ring. Each of the tukunga, or persons forming the ring, has a stick about three feet long in his hand. These sticks are pieces of mako (Aristotelia racemosa), a, very light wood when seasoned, and are ornamented with the tawatawa method or design, that is by stripping off its bark, then winding a strip of that bark spirally round the stick from one end to the other, and then charring slightly the intermediate spaces between the spiral turns, thus leaving the stick ornamented with a black and white spiral design, when the strip of bark is taken off again. This tawatawa design took its name from the anuhe tawatawa, or striped caterpillar.

These sticks were thrown by the performers in the ring at the man in the putahi, who had to, or endeavoured to, catch every one thrown. The ends of the sticks were pointed, and they were often thrown at him end on, that is darted (wero) at him like spears, thus he had to be extremely nimble in order to catch them. He was not allowed to move from the middle of the ring, but no one might throw the sticks at him from behind his back. As he caught the sticks, he at once threw them to some stickless member of the circle, to be caught by him. The putahi, or catcher, or base keeper, often had to catch two sticks at once. The performers in the circle threw their sticks one after another, a director standing outside the circle acted as instructor and directed the movements as to throwing, etc., and the sticks were thrown in time to the lilt of the song chanted by the performers. The following is one of the songs sung during this singular performance:—

"Titi tore whakanoho ke to karakia
Ko te tihi tapu hoki te kapua, ko te ra to hoki
Ka riakina ki runga ka hakahaka ki raro
Ahaha! Poi tahi, poi rua, poi toru
E kai whakakoa ana Pareapa ki te huruhuru tipua
Kai te heni kai raro, ahaha!
Te takina ai hihi, ahaha!
Hapai rawa te kahika
E hara, na te hoa i tiki mai.
Whakamoe te rongo, te riri, te taua
A kapu pu, kapa pa!
Kapu pu rakau marangai atu, aue Hine-koromaki
Ra te ahi, ka tore kai whea, kai roto,
Kai whea, kai waho. Ahaha!
Kia whakapuhekotia to pu toko tore, ara ra … e.
Ko hine ko kaurite kauriko. Ara ra … e!
Iti te kai po tahi… e! Iti te kai po rua … e!
Kohine rapa te whai au, kohine rapa te whai au
Makatiti, makatata, e makatiti … e!

page 33


E reko, e reko; e ngara, e ngara; e hui, e aka
Kawea ka taunake te umu o te puhipuhi
Ki tawharau roa ki uta, ki uta ki te ngaherehere
Tu te tira no moetara, moetara te tara, tara tetere no Tuwhana
Tuwhana taku tara, … E kapu pu, kapa pa."

Such is one of the peculiar jingles repeated by the performers of the ti rakau. It is not possible to render it into English, except perhaps by persons having the slimmest knowledge of the Maori tongue. To many of the expressions our native friends can assign no meaning—if they ever had any meaning. This is the haka sung by Ngati-Ira at Pakau-rangi, what time they jeered at Tawhiu-pari, and brought the war dogs of Porou on their trail, to be followed by the long drawn agonies of the Puweru-maku siege, the tragedy of the Wetted Garments, when the dying children sucked the moisture from the clothing of their parents who had fought their way through the investing force to wet those garments in the stream.

As the performers of ti rakau sang this song, they held their sticks upright in their hands, and moved them up and down in time with the peculiar metre of the song. This exercise was deemed an excellent training for youths, inasmuch as they had to catch the pointed wooden sticks darted at them as, in a few years, they would be compelled to catch or parry the spears of enemies in battle.

Fig. 2 Women of the Arawa Tribe playing the game of Ti rakau. Dominion Museum Photo.

page 34

The Arawa folk of Rotorua have recalled this old diversion of their forbears during the past few years as shown in Fig. 2 (see p. 33). The following couplets were sung by women of that place when indulging in the game. The last two lines are very modern, and we have much better ngari tititoure than this. As the players commence they repeat together the words, "Tahi, rua, toru," and then commence to chant the time song. One player has no sticks, the others are provided with two each, which they hold in an upright position one in either hand. These sticks are thrown one at a time, the first throw being, of course, to the player who is not provided with sticks. They are deftly caught, and at certain parts of the song are clashed together by the performers.

"Engari te marama i kite pai i a koe
Ko ahau i kite moemoea … e.
Hua hoki au ko Tiritiri-matangi
Kaore iara ko Tin rau rewai… e
I runga ahau i te paki e tuhituhi ana
I te whika taku pena i a Kauriki… e.

The sticks used in above game were 22 inches in length, as observed by the writer.