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Games and Pastimes of the Maori

Teka. Dart Throwing

Teka. Dart Throwing

The game known as teka, also as neti, niti and pehu, though a form of dart throwing, was very different from the dart and spear throwing already described as a semi-military exercise. It was essentially a game, and the darts were thrown in a manner not employed in the manipulation of any form of weapon. The dart used, the teka, as it was termed, was small, thin, and light. It was occasionally made from the wood of the houama (Entelea arbor-escens), which is remarkably light, but, as a rule, the stipes of the bracken Pteris aquiline were used for the purpose. These are of a tough, fibrous nature, are found almost everywhere, and can be procured of straight growth.

Mr. J. White has left us the following description of this game:— "The darts consist of straight stems of the common fern Pteris. Round one end of such a stem was wound a narrow strip of green flax so as to form a knob termed poike. A clear piece of flat ground, free of weeds or other obstructions, was selected, and a mound of earth formed thereon. In playing, the operator stood some 30 feet behind the mound, holding his teka or dart in his right hand in the proper position, and, taking a run forward, he cast his dart so that it would just graze the upper surface of the mound and glance off in an upward direction. He whose dart went the furthest won the contest. In some cases it was arranged that a player must win, say ten such trials, ere the game was over and he credited with the winning of it."

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The end of the dart bound with a strip of green Phormium was the forward end of the dart when thrown (E takaia ana a mua o taua teka ki te harakeke). The ground where these darts were cast was carefully prepared, cleaned of all vegetation, levelled, and made to resemble a broad beaten path. The player, ere throwing his dart, takes a run toward the mound in a stooping position.

Games Requiring Manual Dexterity or Agility

The poike enables the dart to fly straight, but it requires much practice and dexterity to enable a player to cast the dart properly, so that it will just graze the top of the mound and ascend at the desired angle. When all the players have cast their darts they all go and examine them. He whose dart has gone the furthest wins the contest (i a ia te piro). Each player has his dart marked with a certain design so that he will recognise it. These designs (whakairo) are marked with red ochre. Young persons often met to contend at this game in order to see which was the cleverest player. Sometimes a party went to another village in order to play against the folk of that place.

Te Whatahoro, of Wairarapa, contributes the following:— The teka was held in the right hand, with the end of the forefinger resting against the butt of the dart, and it was thus thrown with an underhand cast and caused to glance off a mound of earth some little distance in front of the performer. Competitions between the players of different village communities were formerly held, but all these amusements of former times were discouraged by the early missionaries, which put a stop to them. This form of dart throwing is known as piu teka and tow teka. The teka or dart would be about three feet in length. In Maori myth the game is said to have been invented by the ubiquitous hero Maui. Prior to casting his dart he would expectorate upon it and recite the following charm:—

"Taku teka, tau e kai ai he tangata
Haere i tua o nga maunga
Me kai koe ki te tangata
Whiwhia, rawea."

In this myth we see that the dart was employed for a special purpose, to discover the whereabouts of the grandfather of Maui, and this aspect is met with in local and comparatively modern Maori legends or myths, as in the legend of Tama-ahua, and the tradition of Raumati.

Among the Tuhoe folk, the first player to win ten rounds was declared the winner. When a player won his first round, he cried— "Ka tahi ki rua!" On gaining his second round he cried—"Ka page 63rua ki toru!"; at the third "Ka torn ki wha!", and so on to the eighth round won; but on winning a ninth, he cried—"Ka iwa ki ngahere!", instead of using the proper term for ten, ngahuru. The cry at the tenth round won was "Ka piro," meaning 'out.' Players employed certain charms, which were repeated over the darts, in order to render them effective, or to bring good luck. The following is one used by the Ngati-Awa folk of the Bay of Plenty:

"Patu atu taku pehu ki mua
Me he matakokiri anewa i te rangi
Te rokohina ko te teka na Tuhuruhuru
Kia tika tonu te haere
Mau e piki atu, mau e heke atu
I tua o nga pae maunga
Toroi e taku pehu
Ko te pehu, ko te koke
Marie kia tika."

In these charms we have intelligible language, not the meaningless jargon recited in connection with some amusements, though quite possibly these are corruptions. Pehu evidently refers to the teka in the above. The charm calls on the implement to dart forward like a meteor in the heavens, and, like the dart of Tuhuruhuru, not to be overtaken, to fly straight, to ascend, and descend beyond the far ranges, and winds up by craving good luck.

In the old Maui myths, the hero Maui-potiki uses the bodies of his brothers in place of an earthen mound, from which to cause the dart to glance off, and 'hence the hollow along the backbone of man, caused by the darts of Maui striking them. This curious conceit enters into the story of Whare-matangi. In this fine old legendary tale, Uru-te-kakara, daughter of Raumati, marries one Ngarue, of Taranaki. After a time the latter decides to leave his wife at her home at Awakino, near Mokau and, return to his old home at Taranaki, on account of his having been jeered at by his wife's relatives, owing to his indolence. On leaving, he said to his wife:—"Farewell! I am overcome with shame, it is as a fire burning within me. Even my affection for you pales before this feeling. And now, farewell; abide with your people, your parents; abide in your home. Let not your thoughts wander to me, though I will ever greet the clouds that rest on the peak of Pari-ninihi, and point to you. Do one kindly act for me. Should your child be a male, name him Whare-matangi in memory of me, living a lone life and dwelling in a comfortless hut, assailed by cold and wind [matangi]. If a girl, name her Hine-matangi. When your child grows up, should he enquire "Who is my father?", point out to him the lone peak of Taranaki looming afar off, that he, or she, may seek me by traversing page 64the coast line. If a son, let him cast his dart [teka] as a means of tracing me, and let him repeat this charm over his dart:—

"Tend au he pia nou
E Ngarue i te whenua!
E Ngarue i te rangi!
E Ngarue i te wawa!
Kia a koe, E Ngarue … e … i!"
Here am I, a pupil of thine
O Ngarue of the earth!
O Ngarue of the heavens!
O Ngarue the absent!
E Ngarue i te moana waipu!
O Ngarue of the deep ocean!
To thee, O Ngarue!"

Let him cast his dart toward the south-west, and the land breeze will waft it to me. And when the dart is so cast, let him recite this charm:—

"E rere, e te hau whenua
He hau whenua, he hau moana
Whakaroro ki tai tonga, ki tai mauru
Ki te iho tu, ki te iho whenua
Ki te iho tangata na Hine-ahu-one.
Tenei ka whai tapuwae
Tenei ka whai taumata
Tenei ka whai marae whare
Ki te matua i au, e Ngarue, e!
Hoaia taku waewae, he tapuwae no Tane
He tapuwae no Tu-matauenga
Ka nguha mai ki tenei tama … e … i."

And now, farewell! Though intense my affection for you, yet can I never again return to you. A stream now flows that can never return to its source. Farewell! The pangs of affection are keen. By water was Mahuika overcome; by Tiki was Karihi subdued. Farewell to the summer of our life; for we now separate as were parted the Dawn Maiden and the Sun god in the days when the world was young."

Then the twain ascended the hill together, to look far southward to the future home of Ngarue. Here they wept and saluted each other, then drew apart, and Ngarue fared on to his old home beneath the peak of Taranaki, there to await longingly the coming of Whare-matangi.

The child of Uru-te-kakara was a boy, who, as he grew up, was urged by his mother to practise the art of dart throwing, even that he might eventually seek his father by its aid. When he had developed into a young man there was organised a hui whakataetae, or competitory meeting, at which assembled the folk of many hamlets. On a certain day the lads met at the marae teka, or marae toro teka, or papa pere, all of which are names for the carefully prepared ground at which dart throwing is practised. At this meeting Uru gave her son the carefully made dart of houama wood that had belonged to Ngarue, saying:—"Here is the dart left for you by your father, when page 65you cast it, repeat these words:—

"Homai taku teka ko Tiritiri-o-matangi
He teka tipu na Ngarue i te whenua … e … i."
(Give me my dart, Tiritiri-o-matangi
A supernatural dart belonging to Ngarue of the land.)

The result was that Whare-matangi, son of Ngarue and Uru, won the contest. Here followed some sarcastic remarks by defeated lads concerning the winner, his runaway father, and the fact that the death of his grandfather, Raumati, was still unavenged, he whose head had been placed on a post of the turuma (latrine) of Hautupatu, in the far off Arawa country. These jibes rankled in the mind of Whare until he decided to seek his father, and solicit his aid in a foray on the Arawa district. The story is a long one in the original and cannot be retailed here, but Whare asks—"Is it possible for me to find my father?" To which is replied—"It is possible; if you cast [toro] your dart Tiritiri-o-matangi, it will conduct you to your father."

Then Whare-matangi set forth to seek his father. His mother accompanied him to the summit of the hill Opotau, and there, looking to Tahu-makaka-nui (the west), they saw the far distant peak of Taranaki (Mt. Egmont). Said the mother "Yonder stands Taranaki, the snow capped peak; you must take that as your guide. But, ere you start, you must cast your dart, and throw it so as to glance off my back. By aid of the female element alone can you succeed (Tama-whinetia to teka, kia mahaki ai te rere; perea ma runga i toku tuara.)" Even so, as Uru lay on the ground, her son, having repeated the proper charm, cast his dart so that it glanced off the hollow of her back, and Tiritiri-o-matangi sped on through space to far Tirau, where it came to earth.

Whare-matangi then saluted his mother, saying—"Grieve not for me, but look for the gleam of Venus in the heavens on the third night. If seen by you, then will you know that I have found my father. If not seen, then you may know that disaster has overtaken me, by the hand of man, or of Maiki-roa [personified form of sickness, etc.]; then do you cause to appear in the heavens the red gleam of the kura awatea as a greeting to me in Rarohenga [the spirit world]."

Then Whare-matangi and his companions descended the hill and commenced their journey. And the voice of Uru-te-kakara was heard once more—"O Whare! Regard me in one thing; let me know by messenger when you are about to return to me." No word in reply came from her son, who turned and made an old, old sign of the Maori people, the kapo, the clutched hand that means so much.

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Uru-te-kakara remained on the hill-top, wailing for the string of her heart now separated from her. For twice had misfortune afflicted her, she had died two deaths, when her husband left her, and now that her son had left her. Grievous was the sadness of the mother heart. When darkness descended, she left the hill and returned to her home.

On arriving at Tirau, Whare found his dart, and, repeating his charm, again cast it. On reaching Otara, at Mokau, he again found Tiritiri-o-matangi, and again threw it. At Pari-ninihi it was again found, and here the party camped for the night. At dawn, Whare again cast his dart, using the proper charm, and this time it came to earth at Te Rau-tahi-o-te-huia (now termed Te Rau-o-te-huia), so named from a single huia plume worn by Whare-matangi in his head dress. At that place the ridges from Onaeroa (marked Onaero on maps) and Te Urenui-rahotu meet. Here, for the last time, Whare cast his guiding dart, which descended on the plaza of Huirua, the house of Ngarue. Now Ngarue was basking in the sun in the porch of his house, the sun of Tatau-uruora (November), when he was startled by seeing the dart sticking quivering in the ground before him. His companions said: "What can be the origin of this dart quivering here?" And one remarked: "It is a supernatural object, judging by its appearance." Then arose certain priests to perform certain ceremonies by means of which any evil influence exercised by the dart might be annulled.

It was now that Ngarue recognised his own dart, the dart left by him with his wife long years before, and he now knew that a son of theirs was coming to visit him, hence preparations were made to receive him. The dart was deposited at the tuahu, a local tapu spot where ritual performances were held. Ere the sun had weakened, the party of Whare-matangi was seen approaching, and the people rose to welcome the travellers. Whare enquired for his dart, and then Ngarue rose and intoned the old time Maori query by which one person asks indirectly the name of another:—

  • "Na wai taua … a."
  • (By whom are we, or, from whom are we descended.)

And Te Whare-matangi replied thereto after the manner Maori, also intoning his reply:—

  • "Na Rangi-nui taua … a. Na Tuanuku e takoto nei. Ko ahau tenei, ko Whare-matangi, a Uru-te-kakara; he matua mahue."
  • (From the Sky Parent are we; from the outspread Earth Mother. It is I, Whare-matangi, offspring of Uru-te-kakara, a forsaken parent.)
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Ngarue cried:—"O! This is my son. Welcome, O my first-born; welcome! Here am I, your parent, lost to you even as the moa is lost; now found by you. Welcome!"

After the ceremonial speeches were over, Whare was taken to the tuahu by the priests, where the pure rite was performed over him, but the magic dart finds no further place in the story.

The above story is an illustration of how darts endowed with magic powers enter into Maori traditions of what are apparently historical incidents. It represents the element of the marvellous beloved of uncultured man. These magic darts, always employed to seek out or locate persons or places, appear in other such oral traditions, as in the legend of Tama-ahua. (See Dominion Museum Bulletin No. 4, p. 184.)

Another singular feature in this tale is the reference to a belief held by natives, viz., that certain persons were endowed with powers that enabled them to produce celestial phenomena, such as lunar and solar halos, bright arches, or a red glow in the heavens. By such means travellers and voyagers are said to have notified their friends of safe arrival at their destinations. Such phenomena were the kura hau awatea and kura hau po, solar and lunar halos.

The teka also appears in the old myth of Miru and Kewa, as noted in Vol. 5 of the Journal of the Polynesian Society, pp. 117-118, where the following explanation occurs: "The teka is a dart of some length, thin at the fore end, gradually enlarging toward the butt. The fore or light end has a bunch of flax strips tied to it. It is thrown along the beaches of the sea shore. It is a game of skill, he who throws the dart furthest, wins the prize." The remark as to the tapering form of the dart would apply only to those made from timber, not to the common fern stalk darts.

Ellis tells us that the Tahitians indulged in a game consisting of 'jerking a reed, two and a half or three feet in length, along the ground. The men seldom played at it, but it was a common diversion for the women and children.' The name pere was there applied to it, as it was by the Maori (pere, a dart, pere, to cast or throw as a dart). The latter also employed the terms piu (to throw), and toro (underhand throw) in relation to dart throwing.

In the volume quoted above, the Rev. W. W. Gill tells us at p. 191 that this form of dart throwing was called teka-anga at the Cook Islands. At Mangaia it was played by men or women, but the sexes never mingled at the game, as they did in other islands of the group. Numerous songs for these reed throwing matches once existed, but are now lost. Green reeds were used for darts, the butt ends being page 68foremost when thrown and bound round with a piece of fibre. Evidently the Maori introduced this practice from Polynesia.

Of the amusements of the natives of Niue, Mr. Percy Smith writes:—"Of their ancient games probably ta-tika was the most noteworthy. It was known and indulged in by, I think, all branches of the race. It consisted in throwing a dart, about five feet long, with a light haft and heavy head, in such a manner that it struck the ground and then bounded upwards. He who threw furthest was the winner … Surf riding was another amusement… which again is common to the race everywhere but seems to have been practised more in Hawaii than elsewhere. The tug-of-war was another game … Stilts are common among the children now … and probably was an ancient amusement."

A similar game, as played at Samoa, is described by W. B. Churchward, in his work entitled My Consulate in Samoa. "It consists of throwing a light peeled stick, about four feet long, as far as possible in a peculiar manner, the greatest length covered in a stated direction winning the game. The player takes the stick in his right hand, the tip of the forefinger being pressed against its extreme end in the form of a hook. Holding it square across his breast, he takes a short run, and throwing back his right arm, with all the force he can muster, dashes the stick flat on the ground some little distance in front of him in the direction desired. If correctly and skilfully thrown, it bounces directly from the ground, and in a graceful curve sails away through the air to a great distance, much farther than it could be thrown direct."

In speaking of the amusements of the Tongans, Dr. Samwell, surgeon of the 'Discovery' on Cook's third voyage, says:— "Among their amusements … is darting a stick with an oval head a great way, which they do by striking it first against the ground; it then rebounds to a considerable distance. This is a play very common among the young boys."

Williams speaks of a game among the Tongans that consisted of throwing a spear into the air so that it might fall perpendicularly and pierce the top of a post of soft wood set up for the purpose.

The Fijians also practised the game of teka, which they termed tenga or tinga. The reed used as a dart had a knob of ironwood fitted on its head. It was cast, as by the Maori, with the knobbed head to the front, and Hale remarked of the motion that 'it slides and bounds along the ground.'

Capt. Erskine (Journal of a Cruise Among the Islands of the Western Pacific, 1853, p. 169) gives some account of the Fijian game and says that a dart throwing ground seen was 150 yds. long page 69and five or six wide. In this case, however, the dart was thrown at a mark placed at the end of the carefully prepared and swept ground.

Mr. C. Hedley, in his Ethnology of Funafuti (Memoirs of Australian Museum III. Part IV.) states that the game was known at that island. Codrington (The Melanesians, 1891) mentions it as a game played at the New Hebrides.

In the Hawaiian or Sandwich Group this game was called pahee (Cf. Maori paheke, to slip, glide, etc.).

A photograph was taken by the photographer of the Dominion Museum of a native casting the teka at Rotorua in 1920, but this, unhappily, is not yet available as an illustration.