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Games and Pastimes of the Maori


Few European games appealed to the Maori. Draughts, cards and football. How Te Mu gained its name. Hop, step and jump much favoured. The bow and arrow not used by the Maori. Parkinson's evidence. The bow known to Polynesians but not used as a weapon. The original inhabitants of the North Island probably used the bow and arrow. The Mangapai bow. Use of the bow at Tahiti. Marbles, Tug of war.

The Maori has not borrowed many of our games, save in a casual way, but they certainly took to draughts when introduced, and for many years it remained a favourite game. Cards also obtained a hold, and are still used to a considerable extent at some places. The Rev. Yate remarked that cricket, quoits, and draughts were adopted by the Maori, but of these, draughts is the only one that seems to have appealed strongly to him, and, owing to other interests and amusements, it is now much less played. Cricket never seems to have been much favoured by natives. Football is better liked, and many natives excel at this game, which is of much later introduction.

Polack, writing in the 'thirties' of last century, remarked:— "Draughts now form a most interesting game among the natives, and many display much shrewdness and ability at it. The chequered board is not only an utensil in every house, but also in canoes, and even the sandy sea shore is often found marked with the squares."

In an account of a trip through the Kai-para district made in the 'thirties' of last century by J. S. Polack, that writer says:—"I left the groups engaged in the game of ti and the amusement of draughts, which my party introduced, having made themselves acquainted with the game by residing among Europeans."

Dieffenbach wrote as follows:—"The game of draughts is very common, and is called mu. Although not played for gambling purposes it often gives rise to quarrels. It is sometimes played differently from our game, but I am not quite sure that it was not introduced by Europeans." It was certainly an introduced game. The evidence of many old natives questioned by the writer goes to prove this assertion. Missionary Wade's Journal contains another page 181rief note:—"June 30th, 1834: Reached Tauru at one o'clock and found a dozen natives sitting round two others, who were playing at draughts on a rude board of their own construction. Their draughts men were cockle-shells, played the round side up by one party, and the reverse by the other."

Angas contributes two notes:—"The principal amusements of the New Zealanders are singing and dancing: they also play at ball, swing, and pass much of their time at the game of draughts. Draughts are commonly played all over the interior; and it is questionable if they were introduced by Europeans, as the New Zealanders manage the game in a somewhat different manner from ourselves …It is called mu."

Thomson corrects this with:—"Since the advent of Europeans, several new games, with modifications, have been adopted: card playing is the most esteemed, and draughts are tolerably well played. Like gipsies the New Zealanders are fond of horse racing."

Hochstetter remarks that, at Wai-kato, the game of draughts was called Teraku [?]. In a game witnessed by him, the 'men' were represented by small potatoes cut in two, and by peach kernels.

In Brown's work on New Zealand we find:—"One of the mental exercises which they appear most fond of is the game of draughts. Many of them are admirable players, greatly superior to the white people."

Moser, of Mahoe Leaves, contributes a note:—"A group of dissipated young fellows were playing draughts in one corner, the board being marked out on the floor, and the men composed of slices of potatoes, the black ones ingeniously marked with a burnt stick. As, however, their dirty fingers by constant handling had made the whites nearly black, some dispute seemed arising respecting the ownership of a king."

In describing a native meeting in the far north, held in the early days of the colony, Mr. R. H. Matthews remarks:—"The young people amused themselves with various games, such as wrestling, playing draughts on an extemporised board of flax (Phormium) leaves plaited in squares, on which shells and slices of potatoes were used for pieces; or, it might be, spinning loud humming tops carved from the hard resinous core (kapara) of the kahikatea tree, from which the sap had been rotted away, or else some sport that happened to be fashionable at the time." The Rev. R. Taylor alludes to draughts as an introduced game, as all the earliest writers did.

Shortland, who sojourned in the Bay of Plenty in the forties of last century, wrote:—"The game of draughts is universally a favourite one. In this they have extraordinary skill; indeed they rarely page 182meet with their match among foreigners…. The board they use is generally of the rudest description, a rough piece of wood with squares scratched off by the point of a knife or a nail, and, for men, slices of potatoes, bits of broken china, or pebbles are quite sufficient. Bending over such a chessboard, the two players may be seen intent on the next move; while a crowd of lookers on surrounds them, deeply interested."

When the Urewera Land Commission was inquiring into the ownership of lands at Te Whaiti one of the old native witnesses rose to explain former occupation of a certain block. "On this land," he said, "we formerly had a small village settlement, known as Te Mu. Such was not its original name, but a new name adopted in the days of my father. When the game of mu (European draughts) was introduced here in his time, the folk of this hamlet were fascinated by the new game, so much so that they played it day and night. It was on account of the people spending so much of their time playing at mu that the village was renamed Te Mu (The Draughts), and its old name was abandoned."

Young native folk do not now indulge in games to any great extent. They have abandoned nearly all their old time games and have adopted but few of ours. The latter includes hop step and jump, a favourite game, but foot races and other forms of jumping do not seem to be appreciated so much as they formerly were.