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Games and Pastimes of the Maori

The Whip Top

The Whip Top

In Te Ika a Maui we read:—(See Figs. 40-41-42, pp. 155-156-157) "The whipping top is another game which is played in every part of the island; the top used is more of a cone and of less diameter than our English one, but in other respects just the same."

The marae potaka, or top spinning ground, was a level and often carefully prepared space. The whip top is spun by winding the lash of the whip round it, and then pulling the whip vigorously so as to cause the lash to unwind rapidly, thus causing the top to revolve at a like rate. The whip (kare or ta) was made by tying strips of Phormium leaf to a wooden handle.

In playing with whip tops, they were, in some cases, whipped over small mounds or ridges of earth, termed karangi, or a form of hurdle. A series of such artificial ridges was sometimes formed, the central one thereof being the largest, with sufficient space between them to enable players to manipulate their tops. In contests, the player who kept his top spinning the longest while whipping it along the ground and over the hurdles, won the game.

The terms hikawe and tikawe were employed by native friends to describe the whipping of tops over obstructions. One explained that an old form of contest was the striving to whip a top over a marked line. Two boys whipped the same top as they stood in a space between two parallel lines, each strove to whip it over the opposite base line, while his opponent was lashing against him.

In some cases tops were ornamented by countersinking small pieces of shell, either a white shell or that of Haliotis iris. The double ended top was made to change ends, to reverse itself, by means of the whip. Matai (Podocarpus spicatus) and mapara, the hard weathered heart wood of Podocarpus dacrydioides (kahikatea) were favoured material for tops, also kowhai, rohutu and ramarama. The whip top had a flat top, which lent itself to the style of ornamentation mentioned above. The spinning of tops was not confined to children, any more than was kite flying; adults sometimes indulged in the pastime, and some of the whip tops used by them were quite large. Contests sometimes took place with whip tops, two players whipping their tops against each other until one was knocked over and so put out of action. Players also raced their tops against each other.

page 155

Fig. 40 Five Maori Tops. 1 Whip top found in a cave on Kapiti Island. 2 Whip top in Christchurch Museum. 3 Whip top fashioned from pumice stone, British Museum. 4 Whip top in Auckland Museum. 5 Whip for whip top. Christchurch Museum. 6 A potaka huhu or humming top. From Edge-Partington Album

Occasionally these tops were made from stone; there are two such in the Whanganui Museum, and a number in the Auckland Museum. page 156See Figs. 42-43 (pp. 157, 158). It is difficult to see what advantage these possessed over wooden specimens. A. C. Haddon tells us that natives of the Torres Straits region use stone tops; they are fashioned from a form of volcanic ash.

In his Head Hunters Black, White and Brown, Professor Haddon gives some account of the mode of whipping tops in the Mekeo district of New Guinea. "Two rows of four or five boys stand a considerable distance apart; each lad spins his own top, and they gradually increase the severity of the lashing till the tops career in midair across the space between the two rows."

Fig. 41

A. Wooden Whip Top, showing inlaid piece of Haliotis iris shell.

B. Double Pointed Whip Top.

page 157

Fig. 42 Two Stone Whip Tops in Auckland Museum. W. R. Reynolds, Photo.