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Games and Pastimes of the Maori

Slings and Slinging

Slings and Slinging

It is a well-known fact that the Polynesian was, in many places, much given to the use of the sling in war. Many writers have told us how great a reliance was placed upon the sling by the natives of the Society and Cook Groups, which branches of the race are closely related to the Maori of New Zealand. We also know that carefully rounded sling stones are found in many of those islands, and some were found at Sunday Island, Kermadec Group. It is therefore surprising to hear so little of the sling in local tradition here, where it is never mentioned as one of the weapons used in fights of bygone days. The whip-thrown spear is occasionally mentioned in such traditions, but not the stone sling; neither are any fashioned sling stones found here. We know that these islands were settled by immigrants from the Society Group in past times; did those immigrants discard the sling on their arrival here?

Some natives now living, and others of the last generation, have stated that the sling was used here to some extent in former times, as in the attack or defence of a pa (fortified village), but such statements are doubtful. Similar statements are made concerning the bow and arrow by present day natives. If the sling was used in war by the Maori, it must have been only to a limited extent, and even that much is doubtful. Its use as a pastime or game is another matter.

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Names for the sling given by natives are kotaha, maka, and tipao. The first of these is also applied to the whip by means of which spears were thrown, and also to another apparatus for throwing stones, in which a bent rod was the propelling agent.

Tuta Nihoniho has explained that the sling used for stone throwing on the East Coast was called tipao or kotaha, that it was used by lads as a pastime, and also, he believed, in attacking a village. It was on account of the use of these implements, as well as whip-thrown spears and hand-thrown stones, that protective breast works were constructed on the fighting stages of a fortified village. Two kinds of sling were used in throwing stones; one which had a woven or plaited receptacle for the stone in the middle of the cord, and another in which the stone was placed in a cradle resembling a sheepshank formed in the middle of the cord.

Among Ngati-Porou the name of tipao was applied, not only to the sling for throwing stones, but also to the following contrivance employed by children:—A short stick was stuck into some soft object, such as a potato, and a cord fastened by one end to the projecting end of this stick, and by the other end to a stick used as a handle or whip. The throwing was done in the same way as in casting the whip-thrown spear, by a quick jerk forward that cast the object a considerable distance.

The childish pastime of kakere consisted of thrusting a pointed stick into some soft object, and then 'flirting' it off, by which means such a missile as a potato may be thrown a considerable distance.

These East Coast folk also applied the name of tipao to another stone-throwing implement, described as follows:—A pole of green Fig. 3 The Tipao Device for Throwing Stones. Sketch by Miss E. Richardson page 36 titoki (Alectryon excelsum) was thrust butt down into the ground, and a cord fastened to its upper end, which was then bent over considerably, and held in that position by a person grasping the cord, as seen in Fig. 3 (p. 35). On the face of the bent pole a stone was held by one who kept it in position with his fingers, but with his hand behind the pole. At a signal, the cord holder released the cord, and the released spring pole cast the stone forward with much force. This was used by youths in sport.

The whip-thrown spear, termed kopere, whiuwhiu, and tarerarera, was not only employed as a weapon, but also lads used rude darts or rods, thrown in a similar way—by way of sport. The butt end of the dart was thrust into the earth in a slanting manner, so that the point was two feet or more above ground. (See Fig. 4, p. 37.) The kotaha, or whip, consisted of a straight rod with a short cord attached to one end. The free end of this cord was wound round the spear or dart in a peculiar manner, but not tied or made fast in any way. The manipulator grasped the rod handle in both hands, and, with a vigorous forward sweep plucked the dart from the earth and hurled it forward. As the dart passed the whip or cord the latter became released, while the dart flew forward on its flight. Mr. Percy Smith, in his account of an attack on the Otakanini pa, states that great numbers of rude spears were so cast into the besieged place by men stationed on a hill 150 yards distant.

Darts were thrown in a similar way by the natives of the Sandwich Islands, though Fornander only mentions the practice as a game. He remarks:—"Its use being with a short string so affixed as to detach itself as it was jerked from the ground for its flight."

Ellis tells us that the use of the stone throwing sling was common at Tahiti, where lads practised it as a military exercise. He says:— "The most dangerous missile was the stone from the ma'a (Maori maka) or sling. The latter was prepared with great care … having a loop to fasten it to the hand at one end, and a wide receptacle for the stone in the centre … The slingers were powerful and expert marksmen."

It seems probable that the stone-casting sling seen in use by persons of Tuta's generation was made known to the Maori by Europeans. Men of that generation are always liable to error, as in maintaining that certain implements, practices, etc., were pre-European, when, as a matter of fact, they had been introduced by early European visitors, traders, etc. We have an illustration of this in the case of the pump drill which certain old natives of the present time maintain was used here prior to the coming of Europeans, of which there is no reliable evidence. The kind used by Maori is the European form page 37 Fig. 4 The Kataha or Whip for Casting Spears. Employed both in war and sport. Sketch by Miss E. Richardson after Phillips. with contained bar, which was introduced in the early days of contact with Europeans. The cord or thong drill was the pre-European form.

Now we cannot be surprised at this attitude of natives towards introduced implements, etc. Not only had men of Tuta's generation seen such things from their earliest childhood, but, in many cases, the same might be said of their fathers. A native now about 65 years of age gave me an account of certain fighting that took place ten generations ago in the Waikato district, but he assuredly erred when he introduced pigs into his tale. Again, I was remarking to a native on the absence of the syllables wo and wu in the Maori tongue, whereupon he said:—"But we always say 'Wo' when we want a horse to stop!"

The use of the stone-throwing sling as a weapon is not referred to in native traditions, and it is very doubtful if it was employed by the Maori of New Zealand. We do know that they used the whip cast spear, and also cast burning brands and heated stones into besieged villages by means of a cord attached to them. Further than this we cannot safely go.

Stone throwing by hand was also practised by the Maori, not only as a game and exercise by lads, but also in warfare. Heaps of stones were kept on the high pitched puwhara or fighting stages that projected from the defences of a village, or were secured to the inner sides of stockades. Such weapons were most effective when hurled from such a point of vantage on an enemy force endeavouring to page 38break through the defences. In the story of the fight between Ngati-Ira and the Heretaunga folk at the Otatara pa, near Taradale, we are told that each fighting stage was occupied by five warriors—'me a ratau tokotoko, me a ratau manuka kanoi, me a ratau pukoro kohatu hei whakaruru ki te taua nei,' which presumably should be rendered as—with their spears, and their manuka darts, and their bags of stones to cast at the war party. I cannot see any satisfactory evidence that slings were used by the Maori to cast stones in his old time fights.

Stone throwing by lads was sometimes practised near a tree, each one endeavouring to eclipse his companions in high throwing, the tree serving as a basis of measurement. The long throw was probably a common form, all competitors using the same stone, which was thrown overhand, the distance being marked with a stick. This exercise was known as kai makamaka on the East Coast, a name that might be applied to any throwing game.

Boys threw stones at each other and had to learn to avoid such missiles. In former times boys were trained to be ruthless, and to Fig. 5 Climbing with the aid of a Toeke or Foot-loop. page 39 strike even a near relative as hard as possible; smart, capable boys at these exercises were commended.

Climbing was also viewed as a desirable exercise, and trees were often plentiful enough in the vicinity of native settlements. In some cases a branchless sapling, such as those of the kahika (Podocarpus dacrydioides), was brought from the forest and set up as a climbing post, the climbers practising both with and without the foot cord, a loop in which the feet were inserted. These foot cords were called toeke, taparenga and tamaeke. Ellis and Wilkes both record having seen this foot loop used by natives in Tahiti. See Fig. 5 (p. 38).