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Games and Pastimes of the Maori

Mu Torere

Mu Torere

This game, known as torere and mu torere, is one of the most interesting items we have to discuss, on account of its resemblance to our game of draughts, and the existence of a doubt as to whether or not it was a pre-European diversion. The board or diagram used is utterly different in form to that employed by us, there is no crowning of kings, and old natives have stated that, so far as they knew, it was an old Maori game.

Mohi Turei, a well informed and very old man of the Ngati-Porou tribe informs us (1912) that mu torere was the old name for the game, and, in this connection, he quotes an old saying:—"E mu torere mai ana ranei ko utou ki au, e hoa ma !" used in the sense of—"Are you striving against me, or, are you looking for trouble?" Tuta Nihoniho, of the same tribe, stated that the European game of draughts was introduced into that district in the time of his grandfather, probably by sailors, or early traders, or missionaries. In the far off Hawaiian Isles, a game resembling draughts was played, and known by two names, mu and konane. This word mu is also the Maori name for our game of draughts (mu and kaimu), and as mu is the Maori pronunciation of our word 'move,' it has been held by some that it was derived from that word so often ejaculated by our draughts players. If so, then the Hawaiian name of mu may have had a similar origin, though this has been denied. We have no information from any other group of Polynesia as to the existence, in pre-European times, of any game resembling draughts. If aboriginal games of a similar nature, both called mu, were practised at Hawaii and New Zealand, then there ought to be some evidence of a former knowledge of the same at some of the intervening groups.

The most disconcerting fact, if we view mu torere as an old time game, is that it seems to have been unknown to other tribes than those of the East Cape district, and its vicinity. From no other page 111district have we succeeded in obtaining any information as to a former knowledge of the game. It is an ethnographical axiom that nothing is more persistent than the games of a people, and it is hardly possible that the practice of any such game should have been confined to so small an area in pre-European times. The Maori eagerly borrowed our game of draughts, and they produce good players, as one of our leading players has assured the writer. The different form of diagram employed is, however, a puzzle, and apparently the question must remain an open one.

The following is a description of the game of mu torere, as explained by Tuta Nihoniho:—

A board is marked with charcoal with a design resembling an eight-pointed star (see diagram). The centre form which the arms radiate is termed the putahi, the radiating arms are termed kawai or tentacles, the design being compared by the Maori to an octopus, from which the pattern is said to have been derived. Two persons play this game, each having four perepere or 'men', which are small stones so marked that each player's men may be readily distinguished. One player has his four men on points 1, 2, 3 and 4, the other player puts his four on points 5, 6, 7 and 8. Let B represent the latter player, and A the one who has numbers 1 to 4. The men can be moved only to the points of the design, or to the putahi, or centre. No jumping over an occupied point is allowed, to move a man from one point to another it must be moved to the next point, which must be unoccupied, or he cannot move to it. A player cannot jump a man over an occupied point to put it on a blank one beyond, and there is no taking or crowning of men, it is simply a question of blocking your opponent. A man can be moved to the putahi if it be unoccupied.

B cannot open the game by moving either 6 or 7, as they are tapu (prohibited) for the time being. He can move 5 or 8 to the putahi. He so moves 5, say, into the centre. Then A moves 4 to 5. Then B moves the putahi man to 4. Then A moves 3 to putahi. Then B moves 4 to 3. Then A moves putahi to 4. B moves 3 to putahi. A moves 2 to 3. B moves putahi to 2. A moves 4 to putahi. Now B finds himself piro, or out, and A has won, for B is blocked and cannot move, A having his men on 1, 3, 5, and the putahi, while B has his on 2, 6, 7 and 8. Thus B is effectually hemmed in and has to capitulate.

The player can move a man either way, but only when a point (or kawai) on one side or the other, or the putahi, is open to move into. To avoid defeat it is necessary to ponder over the probable effect of a move, as in our draughts, but it seems to be a much simpler form. See Fig. 26 (p. 113).

page 112

Fig. 25 The Mu Torere Board From The Maori, Vol. 2, p. 113

When B opened the game 6 and 7 were tapu, because, if he had moved either to the putahi, which is the only place open to place a man on at the opening, then A would have been blocked at the outset, and prevented from making even his initial move, as 5, 8 and the putahi would all have been occupied. This is merely a sample game as explained by our informant, Tuta Nihoniho, of Ngati-Porou.

The board used was sometimes a piece of hewn plank, sometimes a piece of the inner bark of the totara tree, the inner side of which was marked with the design while green, such marks showing out distinctly when the bark dried. To keep it flat and prevent curling while drying, straight sticks were placed on either side of both ends and tied together. In some cases diagrams of a temporary nature were marked on the earth with a pointed stick. Though the design of the diagram is said to have been derived from the octopus, it more closely resembles the patangaroa, or starfish.

page 113

Fig. 26 Natives playing the Game of Mu Torere. See p. 112 Dominion Museum Photo

If derived from our introduced game, one would suppose that the chequered board would have been retained, as also the taking and crowning of men. The writer has wondered if any form of draughts practised by Asiatic peoples, or Europeans other than English, resembles the above described game. If so, such form may have been introduced by early voyagers.

During the voyage of the Active from Sydney to New Zealand in 1814, when ten Maoris were on board the vessel, Mr. Nicholas relates in his diary that on November 29, 1814:— "Duaterra (Ruatard) and I played together at draughts, in which the proficiency he had made excited no small degree of surprise." Here we have a Maori learning to play draughts as early as 1814.

Later inquiries in the Waiapu district did not clear up the question of the origin of the torere game. Some natives maintained that it was a pre-European usage, others denied this and attributed its introduction to early whalers. One stated that only one man was allotted to each player, and that the board had but six points, instead of eight.

East Coast natives state that Mu Panihi (Spanish draughts) used to be played among them; moving backward was allowed in this game. This form of the game was probably introduced by some strolling Paniora (Spaniard) in the early days of European settlement. I knew a member of that people who was living on the coast some fifty years ago. Personally I am not inclined to view mu torere as an old time Maori game.