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Games and Pastimes of the Maori

Bow and Arrow

Bow and Arrow

It seems desirable to check an impression that obtains to some extent among Europeans, and also among the native people for that matter, that the bow and arrow were known to, and used by, the Maori in pre-European times. There is absolutely no reliable evidence to support this assumption. It was on account of Maori ignorance of the bow and arrow that Sydney Parkinson, who sailed with Cook in his first voyage, came to the conclusion that the Society Group had been settled from New Zealand. He says:— "The migration was probably from New Zealand to Tahiti, as the inhabitants of New Zealand were not acquainted with the use of bows and arrows till we first taught them, whereas the people of Tahiti use them with great dexterity, having, doubtless, discovered the use of them by some accident after their separation; and it cannot be supposed that the New Zealanders would have lost so beneficial an acquisition if they had ever been acquainted with it." It was, of course, impossible that Parkinson should know, as we now do, that Polynesians have been coming into contact with bow page 183using Melanesians for many centuries, and that they have ever persistently declined to adopt the bow and arrow as a war weapon, though some divisions, as Tahitians and Hawaiians, used it in sport. An interesting paper on this subject, by W. Colenso, appears in Vol. XI. of the Transactions of the New Zealand Institute, and another by E. Tregear in Vol. I. of the Journal of the Polynesian Society.

The bow was certainly used to some extent by native lads after it had been made known by early European visitors.

Tuta Nihoniho remarks that the bow (whana) and arrow (pere) were used in his youth (say the fifties and early sixties of last century) by boys as a means of killing birds, the smaller birds, such as tahorehore, toitoireka, koko, kopara, kotihe-wera and kakawairiki. The arrows were pieces of kakaho, the culms of Arundo conspicua, with heads of katara, the hard black substance found in trunks of tree ferns. The above birds were usually shot with the arrow while feeding on the ground when the fruit of the kahikatea had fallen.

Although there is no evidence to show that the Maori folk of New Zealand ever used the bow and arrow, even as a toy, yet their ancestors certainly had come into contact with bow using peoples of Melanesia, where its use was almost universal, though not known in New Caledonia and Australia. There is also, in Maori traditions concerning the Mouriuri, or original inhabitants of New Zealand, found in occupation of the North Island by immigrants from Polynesia about thirty generations ago, some curious statements that appear to denote that the aborigines employed the bow and arrow as a weapon. The discovery of a bow at Mangapai some years ago, dug up by workmen from thirty inches below the surface of the ground, tends to favour the view that the bow was known to the aborigines. This bow is deposited in the Dominion Museum. This matter is discussed in a paper published in Vol. XLVIII. of the Transactions of the New Zealand Institute. The above mentioned traditions were known to but a few persons, and the people seem to have lost all knowledge of the bow when Europeans arrived here.

The use of the bow at Tahiti is explained by Ellis, and also in the following passage in Banks' Journal:—"Diversions they have but few: shooting with the bow is the most usual I have seen at Tahiti. It is confined almost entirely to the chiefs; they shoot for distance only, with arrows unfledged, kneeling upon one knee, and dropping the bow from their hands the instant the arrow parts from it. I measured a shot made by Tubourai; it was 274 yards, yet he complained that as the bow and arrows were bad he could not shoot as far as he ought to have done. At Ulietea bows were less common, page 184but the people amused themselves by throwing a kind of javelin eight or nine feet long at a mark, which they did with a good deal of dexterity, often striking the trunk of a plantain tree, their mark, in the very centre." Ulietea represents Raiatea Island, the Rangiatea of Maori tradition. It is quite possible that the bow was introduced at Tahiti since the ancestors of the Maori left the Society Group to settle in these southern lands.

I have seldom seen native children playing marbles; possibly they were more favoured in the early days of European settlement. 'Home made' marbles of clay were sometimes used. Why marbles should be called hitimi I cannot say. Is it 'hit me?'

In the introduced game of tug of war we have heard the old canoe hauling songs chanted. Ropata of Waiapu used to address the young men of the local football team in a stirring manner, recalling the deeds of their ancestors in more strenuous contests. This game is certainly favoured by natives, who do not, however, seem to be attracted by cricket.