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Games and Pastimes of the Maori


page 148


A form of toboggan was used by young native folk, the pastime consisting of sliding down a steep slope on a small piece of plank. In the Tuhoe district this board was known as a reti, and the sliding ground as retireti. Papa reti might be applied either to the plank or the slide itself. This plank sled was about six or eight inches in width and perhaps thirty inches in length. Two projections were left on the upper surface, when being hewn out, and these served as shoulders to brace the feet against, one foot being placed behind the other. In some cases these planks were embellished with carved designs. A slide was made on a steep slope, the surface of which was rendered slippery by means of throwing water on it. Fig. 39 shows a toboggan board made by Te Puia Nuku of the Tuhoe tribe.

Fig. 39 A Small Toboggan from the Tuhoe District Sketch by Miss E. Richardson

Among the Ngati-Porou folk of the East Coast the sled or toboggan was known by the names of panukunuku, horua and toreherehe. A makeshift article was simply the head or upper part of a kouka (Cordyline australis) with a short piece of the stem. The performer sits on the thick bunch of leaves and holds up the stem between his legs, and in this manner slides swiftly down some grass covered slope. The manufactured wooden sled consisted of a piece of plank, a hewn slab about one foot wide, the front end of which was 'sniped' as sled runners are, in order that it might not catch in the ground, but slide over it with ease. The performer sat on the board and placed his feet on the same, holding on to a cord secured to the front of the plank. In this manner players descended smooth grassy slopes with great swiftness. In some cases the sled might be ornamented with a carved design at the front end, such as a grotesque human head with eyes of Haliotis shell. Children sometimes used a fan of Phormium leaves in place of the head of Cordyline.

The better type of toboggan, as made on the East Coast, was a piece of hardwood plank, matai (Podocarpus spicatus) and maire page 149Olea) being timbers preferred for this purpose, about thirty inches long and ten inches wide. Occasionally one would be made long enough to accommodate two persons, one sitting behind the other. The foremost end of the plank was curved upward like that of our sleigh runners. They were occasionally rubbed with shark oil. Sometimes the turned up end was adorned with a carved design. Immediately behind the turned up front a peg inserted in the plank provided a hand grip for the rider. The sliding ground was carefully prepared, and certain songs or juvenile jingles were chanted by performers; these do not appear to have been preserved. In contests between riders a system of handicapping seems to have prevailed.

Mr. George Graham of Auckland, has provided the following note on the use of the horua or toboggan in late times:—"Papa horua was a favourite child's pastime at Awataha. A particular slope there bears the smooth grassy face where I remember the native children sliding down on planks, called koneke. The bank ended abruptly at high water mark, and at full tide the game was indulged in, the one who slid the furthest out into the bay was held to be the most skilled. A brief recital of some kind was uttered by players ere commencing to slide." In this case the players appear to have ridden the wooden plank out on the surface of the water, a simple kind of water chute.

The name horua was evidently brought from Polynesia, for we find the same term applied to the toboggan at the Hawaiian Isles. Note Ellis's remarks: "The horua has for many generations been a popular amusement throughout the Sandwich Islands, and is still practised in several places. It consists in sliding down hill on a narrow sledge; and those who, by strength or skill in balancing themselves, slide farthest, are considered victorious." He goes on to describe a sled very different from the primitive Maori horua, or reti. The Hawaiian item was composed of two long narrow runners, from seven to twelve, or eighteen, feet in length, and two or three inches deep, smoothed and 'sniped' at the front ends like the runners of any ordinary sledge. These runners were about two inches apart at the front end, and five inches at the rear end. They were fastened together by means of cross pieces, and on the top of these two fore and aft pieces were secured. These latter were grasped by the rider, as he lay breast downward on the toboggan. We are told that much practice and skill were necessary in order to balance oneself on so narrow a vehicle. The sliding grounds on hillsides seem to have been from one to two hundred yards long.

page 150

In Part I. of the Bishop Museum Handbook, 1915, appear a few remarks on this pastime, hee holua, coasting, as it is termed. Here hee represents Maori heke, and holua shows the change of r to l. The following extract from the above work shows the Hawaiian toboggan to have been a much more elaborate affair than that employed by the Maori of New Zealand:—"A most dangerous but fascinating sport of sliding down a hill over a prepared course on a sled made for the purpose. The holua or track was built with great care on some steep hill, sometimes six yards in width, made smooth and of even slope, and when covered with dry grass was very slippery. The sled was built of hard, tough wood, as shown (in Museum specimen No. 320)…. The long runners (11.2 feet) are narrow like a Norwegian ski, were placed less than three inches apart, and bound to a frame which the rider grasped, and, running for an impetus, threw himself headlong down the hill. This was an eminently aristocratic game, prohibited to all below the alii [Maori ariki, a high chief]. Children coasted down grassy slopes as they still do on a bunch of ki leaves [Maori Ti=Cordyline]."