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Games and Pastimes of the Maori

Moari or Giant Strides

Moari or Giant Strides

This was by no means always an aquatic exercise, but, if a suitable place existed near a village, the Maori preferred to erect his moari staff at the edge of a lake or river where performers could, by releasing their hold on the ropes, drop into deep water. Angas, writing in the forties, remarks:—"The moari or native swing is an Fig. 8 The Moari or Giant Stride Swing. From Sir G. Grey's Polynesian Mythology Sketch by Miss E. Richardson page 48 Fig. 9 A Moari Swing. This shows the rigid pole. In Fig. 8 is seen the pliant pole from Sketch by Miss E. Richardson amusement amongst the Taupo people which is obsolete upon the Coast. A pole, generally the trunk of a kahikatea pine, is erected in the centre of an open space adjoining the village; flax ropes are suspended from the top, and, holding on to these, the natives swing themselves round and round, in a similar manner to that which is practised in gymnasia and at country fairs in Europe."

The Rev. R. Taylor gives us the following in Te Ika a Maui:— "Morere or moari:—This is a lofty pole, generally erected near a river, from the top of which about a dozen ropes are attached; the page 49 parties who use it take hold of them and swing round, going over the precipice and, whilst doing so, let go, falling into the water. Occasionally serious accidents have thus occurred by striking the bank."

The giant's stride was termed morere by the Ngati-Porou folk. The pole was set up in a slanting position, not upright. In order to prevent the ropes twining round the post, the upper ends of them were secured to a takaore, a stout rope ring that acted as a swivel, and which rested on a shoulder formed on the top of the post. This ring kept revolving round the post as the players ran round the base holding on to the ropes. If the swivel was used it is not clear why the pole was not set upright.

The cliff-head jumping places were sometimes named after people, as Te Moari a Rangi-tauaha in the Ngati-Porou district.

In Maori myth the game of morere is said to have been first learned from persons known collectively as Ngati-Peketua, who were the offspring of Kewa and Huruhuru. They were a folk covered with hair, even from their birth, and were an extremely unruly and dishonest people, a mischievous and thieving folk.

In the following description, published by the late Colonel McDonnell, a different way of attaching the ropes to the staff is mentioned, but no form of swivel is described. There are several methods by means of which the winding of ropes round the staff might have been prevented, but European observers have left us no details as to which were adopted.—"A favourite pastime of the Maori folk in the good old days was the moari, or swing, formed by placing a long tapering ricker or spar firmly on some rising ground, and sometimes for a love of peril, on the brink of a precipice. A number of ropes, according to the size of the spar, were fastened to the top of it, one below the other, at intervals of a foot, from which the people would swing, grasping the ropes in their hands and then running swiftly round and swinging off into the air over the sloping ground, river, or cliff, as the case might be. Then, as each person alighted, the spar being relieved from the weight, springs more erect, causing the individuals yet revolving in the air to be lifted higher with a jerk, and experiencing a feeling as if the ropes were being dragged out of their hands.

Serious accidents used to occur … I once saw a Maori sent spinning through the air from a sixty feet 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."

The Colonel also mentions a ten-rope moari that overhung a rocky chasm: A great feast was given at the settlement where this swing stood, and which, on this occasion, was handsomely decorated with page 50feathers and painted with red ochre. A girl was killed by falling from this swing. It was a case of suicide.

Among the Ngati-Porou folk giant striders chanted the following as they swung round:—

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

This was so timed that, at the repetition of the final word, each player was in the position where he released his grip on the rope and dropped into the waters below.

The moari, like many other Maori games and pastimes, is mentioned in old myths and folk tales. It appears in the story of Miru and Kewa, as given in Vol. 5 of the Journal of the Polynesian Society, at p. 117. At p. 191 of the same volume is a note by the Rev. W. W. Gill on a form of moari used in the Hervey Group (Cook Islands), where it is known by the same name. In those isles the ropes used were long, green vines, one end of which was secured to the crown of a tall cocoanut palm, and the lower end was knotted so as to admit of a strong stick being inserted. On this cross stick the swinger sat, holding on to the vine with his hands, and swung himself to a great height. This form in which the swinger sat on a crosspiece was apparently known in New Zealand, as shown by Mr. Nairn.

In the hamlets of hill tribes, such as Tuhoe, the moari were often erected on any suitable area of flat ground at or near the village, for, in many cases, no stream with deep pools was available. On the shores of Waikare Moana, a fine mountain lake, however, the waterside moari was used, one such formerly stood at Kirikiri. The staff was so set up as to incline somewhat over the water. Tuhoe natives assert that the ends of the ropes were secured to a loose cap of timber on the top of the staff, which cap revolved as performers swung round, hence the ropes did not twist round the staff. The performers grasped the rope firmly with both hands and, keeping the rope taut, ran swiftly round the land side of the staff, gaining considerable momentum as they ran, until they swung out into space over the bluff head. When each performer, in the course of his aerial flight, came well out over deep water, he released his grasp on the rope, and dropped feet first into the water below. On reaching the surface again, each person swam out of the way of succeeding jumpers.

In places where performers leaped into water from a bluff head without the aid of a moari, they would, if the ground was level, take a short run prior to jumping. Occasionally accidents occurred in page 51this sport; the writer was shown a place on the Whanganui river where a native woman was killed by falling flat on the water, instead of entering it feet first. Practice, however, enables the natives to so leap from astonishing heights with safety.

We have seen that, in the case of a moari being erected near deep water, and serving as a sort of substitute for a springboard, the performers followed one another in their daring leaps. When, however, the staff was set up away from the water, and used merely as a 'giant stride' apparatus, the ropes were, in at least some districts, of different lengths, and the performers all swept round the circle together. The person holding the shortest rope was, of course, the innermost performer, running on the smallest circle, while he who had the longest rope took the outermost place, and the periphery of the play ground. This position was looked upon as the place of honour, as it called for a much higher rate of speed and considerable powers of endurance to enable the performer to keep abreast of the performer on the shortest rope near the staff.

When dwelling within the sylvan vale of Rua-tahuna, the writer was aware that, in former times, a moari named Tama-te-ngaro had stood at Kiritahi, and another, named Tara-kai-korukoru, at Mana-tepa, a fortified village hard by on the Mana-o-rongo creek, each of which swings was provided with eight ropes. In mentioning these swings one day, a native casually remarked: "They were erected in order to avenge the death of our people slain at Mana-tepa." The peculiarity of this remark induced the writer to make enquiries, which opened up another phase of the extraordinary mental processes of uncultured people. It was in this wise: In the forties of last century a slight unpleasantness developed between the Tawhaki and Urewera divisions of the Tuhoe tribe, both of whom dwelt in this valley. Early one morn, the Urewera marched on Mana-tepa and fired a volley into the village, killing several of the Tawhaki clan. The assailants, firm in their belief that discretion should ever accompany valour, then decided to leave for foreign parts, hence they marched down the Whakatane river, and settled, far from war's alarms, at Ruatoki. Presumably the Tawhaki clan did not consider itself strong enough to seek revenge at the point of the spear, or the muzzle of a flint lock musket, hence its members decided to equalise matters by means of one of those singular procedures that mark the Maori character, and which puzzle the European enquirer.

Said old Paitini:—"Our people were much concerned over this matter. The death of their relatives grieved them. Then the desire grew, and from the desire sprang the thought: we would avenge page 52that disaster. Tu-kairangi, chief of the clan Tawhaki rose, and erected those two moari, Tama-te-ngaro and Tara-kai-korukoru. Then was composed a song to be chanted by the swingers when whirling round the staffs. And this should be our revenge for the death of our friends. No! Of course it was not blood vengeance, or even a real equivalent for our loss; it was simply to dispel our grief and end the brooding over the trouble, hence it was looked upon as avenging or equalising matters." In this performance all eight ropes of a moari were manned, and all performers and onlookers would chant the first verse:—

"Tu-kairangi, E! O Tu kairangi!
Hangaa he moari Construct a moari
Kia rere au i te taura whakawaho That I may swing on it with the outer rope, etc., etc.
Kai te pehi Hiri whakamau
Na wai takahia."

As the final word was sung, all the performers commenced rushing round the staff, each gripping his rope, their speed rapidly increasing. When they at length stopped, the whole party then sang the second stanza:—

"Taku aroha ki a Te Haraki... E! O! My compassion for Te Haraki;
Nga whaiaipo a Te Hiri whakamau The loved ones of Te Hiri whakamau, etc.
Na wai takahia."

Again the performers swung round their circular course as before' and, on halting, the third and final stanza was chanted:—

"He taura ti … E! A rope of Cordyline
He taura harakeke A rope of flax
Nga taura o Te Hiri whakamau The ropes of Te Hiri whakamau, etc.
Na wai takahia."

Presumably Te Hiri whakamau is a personal name, but concerning this, as also the last lines, no explanation was obtainable. This singular performance may be compared to another usage connected with humming tops, to be described later on. These performances may be viewed as connected with mourning for the dead, and in such observances the Maori indulged in actions quite foreign to us. Primitive man connected dancing and chanting with all his more important functions, and these customs have come down through the changing ages to the neolithic Maori, who mourns for his dead with singing, wailing, much weeping, and certain forms of haka. For of old it was said—By tears and lamentations alone may a natural death be avenged.

A reference to the moari in Maori myth, is seen in the story of the ascent of Whiro to the heavens. Tane and Whiro, both offspring of the Sky Parent and Earth Mother, strove to ascend to the Toi o page 53ga rangi, the uppermost of the twelve heavens, in order to obtain the three famed 'baskets' of knowledge. The way by which Whiro ascended is compared to a trailing vine, a sort of rope ladder, and this is represented on earth by the moari. Whiro did not succeed in reaching the twelfth heaven, but had to return, while Tane succeeded in his attempt. Thus Tane, who represents Light, the male principle, and fertilising power, defeated Whiro, who represents Darkness, evil, and death, and Whiro ever dwells in the underworld, and wages war against Tane of the world of light.

"Ko te ara i haere ai a Whiro-te-tipua kia eketia e ia nga rangi tuhaha, ko te ara tiatia, ko te ara taepa, ko te ara moari rangi; kaore a Whiro i eke ki te Toi o nga rangi, ka hoki iho. Ko te koiwi o tenei ara o Whiro i te ao nei, koia te moari e moaritia nei, ko te aka tarewa e tarewa noa na i te whanga, i runga i te rakau na."

In a letter to a friend written by Mr. F. E. Nairn, in 1894, he condemns the illustration of the morere or moari given by White, and observes:—"You will observe on the mo-a-rere [?] only one person flies at a time, and he sits upon a cross stick tied to the end of the long rope; sometimes a companion will seat himself astride the knees of the one sitting on the stick. The shorter rope is swung upon by all those who can get hold of it, and the pole bent over. These people, when the word "Tukua!" is given, let go the rope they hang upon. The pole springs up straight, and then bends over towards the flyer, and so continues until it stops quite straight, and the person swinging stops also. When the person sitting on the cross stick has his rope out as far as it will reach, and finds that he can only touch the ground with his toes, he shouts "Tukua!" and flies straight out over the cliff, flying round several times in succession, each flight round the pole becoming shorter, until at last he lands close to the pole."

Evidently there were several forms of the moari apparatus, and several modes of manipulation. The above writer had apparently seen only a form in which one, or at most, two persons used the swing at the same time, and these rode on a short cross-bar secured to the lower end of the rope. This may have been a local custom in the Hawkes' Bay district, where Mr. Nairn resided for many years. Other local writers do not mention the attached cross-bar as pertaining to the moari, though it was used in connection with the tarere or bush swing in some places. Mr. Nairn also alludes to a practice that is not made quite clear. A number of people bent the top of the pole over by hanging on to a second rope, then suddenly released it. This act caused the top of the pliant pole to oscillate to and fro, but of what advantages was this to the performer flying his circular course?

page 54

Apart from this peculiar manipulation there appear to have been certain differences noted by early writers. In some cases the pole was set up in a leaning position so that apparently the swingers did not move round the pole, but described a circle on one side of it. When they ran round the pole the ropes would become enwrapped round it if no form of swivel was employed. Colonel McDonnell describes above yet another form in which a number of ropes were secured to the upright pole one below the other, about a foot apart.