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Games and Pastimes of the Maori



This game is known to the natives by the names of ruru, koruru, kai makamaka, ti kai and tutukai. Its range is world-wide, and it was widely practised in the isles of the Pacific in pre-European times; early voyagers speak of the dexterity displayed by natives in playing it. The late Mr. White has a note to the effect that the stones were caught on the back of the hand, as we have seen schoolboys do, but that is only one stage or phase of the game. The game was not confined to children here, adults also indulged in it. Polack writes:— "Several old men were stretched at full length playing with round pebbles the primitive schoolboy game known to vulgar ken as 'up the spout.' Presumable this was our koruru.

The following description of the game was written by Mr. John White. It mentions fifteen pebbles 'as big as a shilling' being used, but a player must have possessed a somewhat large hand to accommodate them all. Five is the usual number employed.

This game is played with fifteen pebbles about as big as a shilling, round and flat, These were thrown up one by one with the right hand and caught with the same hand. In this wise: A single pebble was thrown up and, while it was in the air, another pebble was snatched from the heap of such in front of the player, and held in the hand while catching the descending stone. Then the two pebbles were thrown up, another snatched up and the descending two caught. Hence the player, at each stage of the game, had one more pebble to throw up and to catch, all actions being performed with the right hand only. In many cases a player failed to catch one or more of the descending pebbles when the higher numbers were reached, or failed to grasp a pebble from the ground quickly enough. It called for great dexterity and quickness in the player to continue the game successfully until all fifteen pebbles were so caught without mishap.

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Mr. White calls the game tutukai, and states that the following jingle was sung by players:

"Ka tahi ti, ka rua ti
Ka haramai tapa ti, tapa tore
Ka raua, ka raua, ka noho te kiwi, ka pohewa
Tautau, tautau to pi, to pa
Ka huia mai, ka toko te rangi
Kai ana te whetu, kai ana te marama
O te tui, e rere, ra runga, o te pekapeka, o hua kauere
Turakina te arero
Wiwi, wawa,
Ke-ke-ke te manu ki Taupiri."

This is one of the apparently meaningless but rhythmical jingles beloved of native children, and by no means unknown among ourselves. It appears to have been used in connection with some other games.

An East Coast native remarks that the game was an ancient native usage, and that the various stages were known as huripapa, koropu, kaparoa, and kai makamaka. The following descriptions given by Tuta Nihoniho differs somewhat in the order of these names; the third is omitted and no special name is assigned to the second stage:—

This game is termed Kai makamaka among the East Coast natives. Five stones are used, and, in the first movement, or koropu, the performer places four stones in the form of a square on the ground thus— image showing formation of game known as Kai makamaka and retains the fifth stone in his hand. He then throws up the one in his hand, snatches up No. 1 (with the same hand) and places it in the centre of the square, then catches the descending stone with the same hand. He then throws it up again, moves No. 3 to centre, and again catches the descending stone, then the same process is gone through to move Nos. 2 and 4. He then throws up the one stone again, snatches up the bunched four, and catches the descending stone in the same hand. Here ends the first, koropu, as it is termed.

In the second act the same process is repeated, save that two stones are snatched up and placed in the centre ere the descending stone is caught. And so endeth the second koropu.

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The third stage of the game is called huripapa, in which all five stones are thrown up and caught on the back of the hand, or as many as possible. If, say, two are so caught, and three fall off, then the three are placed together, one is thrown up, the three snatched up, and the descending one caught.

The fourth stage, termed kai makamaka, is performed by putting four stones in separate places; then the fifth is thrown up, one snatched up, and descending one caught. Then the two are thrown up, another snatched, the descending two caught; then three thrown up, another snatched, and so on until all are caught in the hand, if the performer be smart enough.

Among the Tuhoe folk of the interior of the North Island the game is known as ruru. It is played with five small round stones, one of which is marked so that it can be readily distinguished from the other four. This stone is called the hai and is looked upon as the principal one, the leader of the game. Sets of stones for this game were, in some cases, carefully made, chipped into a round form, and then bruised with a stone hammer until they presented a fair even surface. Old men would so prepare a set for their young relatives. In former times, i.e., in pre-European days, contests in this stone catching game were held, and occasionally the young folk of one village would challenge those of another to such a trial of skill. In these contests much interest was displayed, and they were the cause of social meetings whereat other games might be practised. Young men were eager to excel in the various games, that they might be admired by women. The number of players might be anything from two to ten.

The first stage of the Tuhoe game is as follows:—First the player takes all five stones in his right hand, throws them up, then, quickly reversing his hand, endeavours to catch as many as possible of the descending stones on the back thereof.

The next act is the takitahi. The hai is taken in the right hand and thrown up. While it is in the air, the player snatches up one of the common stones (the kai mahi or workmen) with the right hand, and, holding it, catches the descending hai with the same hand. The latter is again thrown up, another common stone snatched up, and again the descending stone caught. This process is repeated until the right hand holds all five stones, which ends the takitahi, or one by one stage. Care must be taken not to drop any stones, during the rapid movements.

The next stage of the game, known as the takirua, or 'by twos' resembles the previous one, but two stones must be snatched up page 58together with the right hand, instead of one.

The next act is the takitoru, or 'by threes,' in which three of the stones must be taken up together, by no means an easy feat when the descending stone demands that it be done in a hurry.

We next have the poipoi. In this a straight line is marked on the ground in front of the players (all of whom are seated), on either side of which line, right and left, a stone is laid, these two and the hai being the only ones used in this act. The hai is thrown up with the right hand, then the same hand snatches up the stone on the right side of the line, throws it up, catches the descending hai, and throws it up again. Then the other descending stone is caught in the left hand, which throws it up again, snatches up the stone left of the line, and throws it up to be caught as it descends with the right hand.

The next act is called koropu. A small circle is marked on the ground before the player, and around its periphery are arranged the hai and three other stones. The right hand seizes the hai, throws it up, and, ere it descends, moves the three stones into the centre of the circle, where they must be left so as to be touching each other. Then the right hand darts back to catch the descending hai, throws it up again, snatches up the three stones in the circle, and then catches among them the descending hai; thus the right hand now holds all four stones of the koropu. All motions of this stage are made with the right hand.

The final performance is the ruru, a word meaning "close together," and which is employed by Tuhoe as a name for the game. It describes the position in which the stones are placed. Three of the common stones are so laid on the ground as to touch each other. The hai is thrown up, then a stone is snatched from the ground and thrown up, then the descending hai is caught and thrown up again, all with the right hand. Then another stone is clutched from the ground and thrown up, and the second falling stone caught in the left hand, and again thrown up, the descending hai is caught with the right hand, thrown up, and the third stone grabbed from the ground and thrown up, until all four have been thrown and correctly caught. The hai must, in this act, always be caught in the right hand, as it descends, and the common stones in the left hand. To make this operation the more difficult, players must be most careful in snatching up the stones on the ground. These are placed so as to touch each other, and should the remaining stone or stones move when one is removed hastily by the darting hand, then that player falls out of the game; he has failed. These movements call page 59 Fig. 9aTwo Motions in the Game of Jackstones. Makurata of Ruathahuna harks back five decades. Paitini, a survivor of the desperate fight against British troops at Orakau in 1864 looks on from the right. [Author in background.] Dominion Museum Photos page 60for remarkable dexterity and swiftness of action, not to mention delicacy of touch; and a successful player was much admired.

In Vol. 7 of the Journal of the Polynesian Society, is a description of the South Island form of this game, contributed by Sir F. R. Chapman. As in the North Island, it is played with five small round stones. The following is the account of the different movements of the game:—

1.Paka. (North Island dialect panga =to throw), or ruke (to throw): Place four stones on the ground in twos; throw one up; pick up two; catch; repeat.
2.Takitoru (by threes): Place four on the ground; throw one up; pick up three; catch; repeat; pick up one.
3.Takiwha (by fours): Throw one up; pick up four; catch.
4.Koriwha: Hold four in hand; throw up one and catch it; repeat; then put four on ground, and do the paka (No. 1) again.
5.Raraki (N.I. dialect rarangi)=te-whawha: Place four in a square; throw up one four times in succession, touching a corner stone each time, and so heaping them. Then throw up one; sweep up four; and catch fifth. (This they have learned to call 'stockyard).'
6.Pin (to throw or swing): Throw up one and put four down.
7.Huri (to turn or turn over): Throw up all five, and catch on back of hand.
8.Koruru: Throw four up; pick up one, and catch four. This is the last one, and is also the name of the game.

The game of knucklebones was played by the Tahitians in the following manner, according to Ellis—"Timo or timotimo was another game… The parties sat on the ground, with a heap of stones by their sides, held a small round stone in the right hand, which they threw several feet up into the air, and, before it fell, took up one of the stones from the heap, which they held in the right hand till they caught that which they had thrown up, when they threw down the stone they had taken up, tossed the round stone again, and continued taking up a fresh stone every time they threw the small round one into the air, until the whole heap was removed."

In 1839 Wilkes saw Samoans playing this game. It was played by two persons 'who place about fifty beans of the Mimosa scandium before them; then, taking up four at a time, they throw them up in the air, and catch them on the back of the hand; the player who catches a hundred soonest is the winner."

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Lieut. Walpole remarks on this Samoan game in his Four Years in the Pacific (1844 to 1848)—"Taking fifty or one hundred nuts of the Mimosa scandium, they are thrown up four at a time, and whoever catches the fifty or one hundred first wins. They are very skilful at this sort of game, and I have seen a girl tossing and catching nine oranges at once. This last is of European origin, I should think." The final remark is probably incorrect, as two of Cook's companions mention it as seen by them in Polynesia. Of a native girl seen at Tongatapu, Forster remarks:—"She had with her five apples, and threw every one of them up into the air, catching them again with amazing activity and skill."

The painting of native children playing koruru in the Partridge collection at Auckland is very life-like. The one unlikely feature in it is the superior dress of the children. No children played dressed up in that manner.