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Games and Pastimes of the Maori

Kites and Kite Flying

Kites and Kite Flying

The generic term for flying kites was manu tukutuku, often abbreviated to manu. The word manu (bird) is followed by other terms to denote the different kinds of kites, as manu aute, a kite made of aute bark. In some districts kites are called pakau or pakaukau, or manu pakau, or manu pakaukau; in others kāhu (hawk). Pakau means wing. The flying cord is the aho tukutuku.

The pastime of kite flying was a favourite one with Maori children, but was by no means confined to them, for men also indulged in it to a considerable extent. The superior kites, often the result of much labour and skilful manipulation of available materials, were owned and flown by men, those used by children were small, easily made specimens of common materials, such as the raupo bulrush. Occasionally contests in kite flying were held, whereat would be seen many fine specimens, such as manu aute, and others covered with bright co loured feathers.

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The kite seems to have been a product of the East, and not to have been introduced into Europe until the 17th Century. They are said to have been known in China prior to the Christian era. In his Study of Man, Professor Haddon gives illustrations of kites from China, Corea, Japan and the Solomon Isles. He remarks that the old English form of kite was a Javanese pattern. Kites have been known from ancient times in eastern Asia, the Asiatic Archipelago, and throughout the island systems of Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia. Professor Haddon writes that— "Our attention is directed towards Eastern Asia, not only as the headquarters, but also as the place of origin of the kite " He thinks it not improbable that kite flying was a religious exercise in those regions, "and the kite may have been a symbol of the soul or spirit of man."

In Taylor's Te Ika a Maui, we find the following remarks on native kites:—"The figure of the Maori kite is generally a rough imitation of the bird (kahu), with its great outspread wings. See Fig. 28 (below). These kites are frequently made of large dimensions from raupo leaves, a kind of sedge, neatly sewn together, and kept in shape by a slight frame work. The string is most expeditiously formed, and lengthened at pleasure, being merely the split leaves of the flax plant: this is a very favourite amusement." These strings made by tying together strips of Phormium leaf were not used for the superior kites, but only for small, inferior kites used by children. Carefully made twisted twine was made from dressed fibre for the better class of kite. Charms were recited when kite flying in order to cause them to mount well. Another charm was to cause the kites to descend gently to earth, so as to avoid any damage thereto.

Fig. 28 A Maori Kite in the Briish Museum From Edge-Partington Album

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Dieffenbach writes as follows of Maori kites:—"Their kite (manu or pakau) is of a triangular form, and is very neatly made of the light leaves of a sedge; it is held by a string made of strips of flax tied together, and its ascent is accompanied with some saying or song, such as the karakia pakau, which I here give." Evidently our Dr. got his ritual matter mixed up; what he gives as a kite flying charm is something quite different. The triangular form mentioned was but one of several shapes.

Fig. 29 A Maori Kie. Taken from Te Ika a Maui, by the Rev. R. Taylor. Sketch by Miss E. Richardson

Colenso has left us the following notes:—"Their flying kites (pakaukau and manu aute), formerly held in great esteem among them, and made of the manufactured bark of the aute shrub = paper mulberry, which was formerly cultivated by the Maoris for its bark. Inferior ones, however, were made of the prepared leaves of some of the larger sedges. They were prettily made, requiring both time and skill in their construction, and much more resembled a bird flying than our English ones. They always served to remind me of those of the Chinese, as we see them in their own drawings, and on their chinaware. The old chiefs would sometimes quietly spend hours amusing themselves in flying them and singing the kite's song, using a very long string. Kites being flown at any village or fort was a sure sign of peace."

Again, he writes:—"Their kites (pakakau) were wholly different from European ones and more resembling those of the Chinese. [See Fig. 30.] They were very ingeniously and neatly made with round and flat rushes, and hovered very prettily in the air. They usually sang or chanted a song to the kite while flying it. Old men often amused themselves with looking on and encouraging the younger page 125 Fig. 30 A Chinese Kite in the Dominion Museum Sketch by Miss E. Richardson ones, especially with kite flying and in playing with the poi ball." In speaking of the uses to which the bark of the ante or paper mulberry was put, he says:—"The chiefs also made ornamental paper kites of it, which was one of their great diversions in times of peace, especially among the older men."

If all Chinese kites resemble the one shown in Fig. 30, then they bear little resemblance to any known Maori form. The former is a good representation of a bird, but in the Maori winged kites the wings scarcely resemble those of a bird, while the human head, and,, in some cases, a human body, mark them as a kind of hybrid form.

There is but little on record concerning Maori kites and kite flying, and this remark may be applied to native games generally. Persons who had opportunities of observing and describing these things, apparently took no interest in them, and placed little on record concerning them. Our early missionaries are very disappointing. Note also Thomson's account of native games; he page 126disposes of a dozen in the following lines:—"There are numerous other pastimes. Men and women walk on stilts, boys stand on their heads in rows, moving their legs in the air; kites, fashioned of reeds, in the shape of birds, are flown in windy weather. When bathing, there is a game which consists in seeing who can keep longest under water. Men wrestle, and jump from high poles into deep water: the leapers, before jumping, sing—'This is the precipice over which I cast myself, even to Toreakura (a place in the world of spirits), and am thus separated from the beloved one—spring.' Swinging over chasms by ropes attached to poles is another amusement. Spears are discharged at objects from slings, people and canoes race, trees are climbed and mimicry and ventriloquism are practised as pastimes."

In most districts manu (bird) seems to be the general name for kites, manu tukutuku being more explicit, and equal to our expression 'flying kite!' Pakau (meaning wing) also appears to be used in a general sense among some tribes, but is scarcely suitable as such, as some forms of kite were not provided with wings. The word tukutuku denotes the paying out of the cord as a kite is flown. The word whakahoro has a similar meaning, and the expression whakahoro taratahi is met with on the East Coast, where taratahi seems to be the name of the triangular form of kite. A third, and more restricted term for kite-flying is whakaangi, in full whakaangi manu. A fourth term is that of whakaturuturu.

The following account of various forms of kites used in former times was collected by the late Mr. John White, but it is not stated as to which tribe provided the data:—

Manu aute.—A kite, the frame of which is covered with the white prepared bark of the aute shrub. Made and flown by men of rank only. A special charm for this kite.

Manu paitiiti.—A small, common sort of kite made by, or for, children. Easily made.

Manu patiki.—A kite made in the form of a patiki or flounder. This does not require much skill in construction, but a knowledge of the proper charm is necessary in order to make a successful flight.

Manu totoriwai.—A kite made to represent the totoriwai or toutouwai bird (robin). Of curious construction, made only by men, usually by the elders or chiefs, and requiring considerable skill in its manufacture. The elders only were acquainted with the charm by which this kite was caused to make a fine flight.

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Manu whara.—A large kite which was tapu, and was made by priests in order to use in certain rites of divination. For this purpose it was sometimes flown over the pa of an enemy which it was proposed to attack. A charm was recited in order to cause it to fly well.

Manu kākā.—A kite made to represent the kaka parrot. The frame work was constructed of small dried rods of manuka, on which were fastened the flower stalks of the toetoe-whatu-manu (a plant so named because it was used for that purpose). This kite was then covered with the red feathers of the kaka, the lighter feathers being selected for the purpose.

In flying the more important kites the flyer was careful to let the line glide through his right hand. To do so with the left hand would be unlucky, as the kite is tapu to Tu (God of war). The kite names above were probably culled from the Wi Marsh M.S. in the Auckland Library.