The Maori As He Was : A Brief Account of Maori Life as it was in Pre-European Days
Games and Pastimes
Games and Pastimes
The expression rehia is the old Maori term denoting pleasure, and all games and pastimes were alluded to as nga mahi a te rehia (the arts of pleasure). Among a people page 128 possessing no form of written language, the arts of story-telling, singing, and dancing are likely to be carefully conserved, and all games and pastimes are treasured by such a folk, inasmuch as they not only serve as pleasing pastimes during long evenings and other periods, but were also the cause of much social enjoyment. At night the folk of a hamlet would assemble in the most commodious house, and there would spend the evening in these light and cheerful pleasures.
Were this chapter designed to contain details of the various games practised by the Maori in former times it would extend to a great length. All we can expect to do in a small work is to give a brief description of the various games and other recreations practised in pre-European times. These may be placed under different headings as follows:—
Games and exercises viewed as useful elementary training for boys.
Aquatic games and pastimes.
Games requiring manual dexterity and agility.
Games requiring calculation, mental alertness, or memorizing-powers.
Games and pastimes for children.
These divisions certainly overlap somewhat, but will give the reader some idea of the aspect and purport of the various exercises.
Great stress was laid by the Maori on the desirable effects of physical exercises on boys destined to become fighting-men in the future. Thus lads were encouraged to practise games calling for the exercise of agility and dexterity, and such lads sometimes engaged in a kind of sham fight, armed with light reeds as weapons. Quarrels sprang from such contests at times, and these would sometimes lead to the interference of parents and much wordy clamour and bickering.
According to Maori myth, the arts of pleasure originated with, or are personified in, several beings, whose names are Raukatauri, Raukatamea, Marere-o-tonga, and Takatakaputea. The arts of pleasure were in evidence more particularly when the crops had been lifted and stored, when a harvest feast and period of merry-making ensued. This was the Pleiades festival. Nearly the whole of the old-time games were abandoned soon after the arrival of the early missionaries, and both natives and Europeans have accused the missionaries of repressing harmless recreations among the natives. Brown mentions with evident satisfaction the abandonment of singing and dancing “among the missionary natives.” Wilkes, the American voyager, wrote in page 129 1839: “Social amusements are prohibited by severe penalties, although the people are evidently fond of them”; but this sounds somewhat far-fetched.
Of games introduced by Europeans the Maori acquired readily the mysteries of the draught-board, and some are very good players, but the game is not pursued as it formerly was. Chess he never favoured; cards he still plays to some extent; hop, step, and jump is a favourite; football is played, often in conjunction with Europeans. The concertina and mouth-organ are appreciated, and the jew's-harp is a universal favourite; but higher-class instruments do not seem to appeal so much to the Maori, save in the form of a brass band. Of late years the piano has gained in favour.
Any house used as an assembly-place by the people, and in which young folk indulged in amusements, may be referred to as a whare tapere. No special house was erected to serve as a place of amusement; the ordinary communal dwellinghouses were so utilized. Whare rehia, whare matoro, whare ropa, and whare pakimairo are other names applied to houses so utilized, while whare karioi seems to have been an old Polynesian name for similar places. At night these places were lighted by means of one or more fires made in small pits sunk in the floor. Wood of the maire tree was sought after, as giving a good light with the minimum of smoke. On fine summer evenings the village marae, or plaza, would present a lively scene with many young folks disporting themselves thereon.
All athletic games come under the generic term kaipara, while the expressions para whakawai and whakahoro rakau denote training with military weapons, military exercises. From one point of view all these native recreations might be placed under three headings—exercises, games, pastimes; but no dividing-line can be drawn in a number of cases. For instance, swimming, running, &c., may be practised as mere pastimes, but when the element of contest enters into such activities they become games.
Of the games viewed as desirable and beneficial exercises, the training with military weapons was held to be the most important. The younger lads were armed with light reeds, a thrust or blow from which was harmless. The avoidance of such light missiles by means of agile movements and parrying was a constant form of exercise, and known as para, makamaka rakau, taumahekeheke, and other names. Another favoured exercise was wrestling, known as whatoto, nonoke, and mamau. Occasionally young women joined in this recreation, when two would be pitted against page 130 one male; but my worthy old friend Kurawha, of Maungapohatu, was, in her youth, enough for any man to handle. In later days she shouldered a musket and took part in the Mohaka raid; while she and Whaitiri, another Amazon, were two of the most prominent fighters of Te Kooti's rearguard action in his retreat from Rotorua. Wrestlers would recite a charm prior to engaging in a bout of wrestling; at the same time the reciter would expectorate into his hand, and close the hand—presumably for luck.
Different forms of jumping were indulged in occasionally, but apparently this form of exercise was not much practised. Foot-races over short distances we hear little of, but contests over long distances took place, and these called for endurance. The competitors adopted the bent-knee jog-trot peculiar to bare-footed folk.
A peculiar game, termed ti rakau, poi rakau, and tititouretua, consisted of the players tossing light rods from one to another. The Tuhoe folk sat in a circle while playing, and used a short rod, four of them. These were swung up and down in time to a chanted song, while at certain words of such song they were thrown across or round the circle to be caught by others. The game called for considerable dexterity and quick sight. It was considered a desirable exercise for girls and young women, as well as for males.
There is no reliable evidence to show that the natives of New Zealand ever employed the sling to throw stones in war, and the fashioned sling-stones used in northern isles formerly are not found here. The sling proper may have been used here as a toy, but even that much is doubtful. The whip employed in casting spears represents quite a different principle.
Tree-climbing was, of course, a favourite exercise among the young, and fearless tree-climbers the natives were. In bird snaring and spearing operations they ascended the loftiest trees and went out on the branches to pursue their craft. In climbing the smaller trees a foot-loop (toeke, taparenga, and tamaeke) was sometimes employed.
In water exercises the Maori excelled, like his Polynesian brethren of warmer climes, and this was seen in his powers as a swimmer, his dexterity in surf-riding, and his fearlessness in jumping from a height. This so-called diving was really jumping, as the performer simply jumped off the height and entered the water feet first. The Maori practised the side stroke, and looked with dislike upon the page 131 breast stroke. Swimming races (kau whakataetae) naturally formed a pleasing exercise, and children learned to swim at a very early age. Surf-riding was practised both with and without a board, and also in small canoes, both plank and canoe being known by the same name, kopapa. It is interesting to see natives cross swift and deep rivers by means of treading water. Making for the opposite bank in a slanting, down-stream direction, they practically walk across in an upright position. The breastpole (tuwhana) was also used when a number wished to ford a swift, dangerous stream. Native children were encouraged to be fearless in the water. Where a suitable place for diving was not available, a stout pole or ricker was set up in a slanting position and extending out over the water. Performers ran up this beam from the earth, and jumped from its upper end into the water below. These kokiri were supported on a stout post. The moari or morere, our giant stride, was sometimes erected near deep water, so that when a player swung outward he could release his grasp on the rope and plunge into the water. These exercises had simple songs or short jingles peculiar to them, and which were chanted by the players. A curious incident occurred at Rua-tahuna early in last century in connection with this swinging practice. In a local interclan quarrel several persons had been slain, and their relatives, in order to avenge their deaths, erected two moari at Kiritahi. A song was composed, the effect of which was supposed to be a dispelling of their grief, and this song was sung by those who disported themselves on the swing. Truly, the ways of barbaric man are passing strange.
Canoe races (waka hoehoe and whakatere waka) were recreations that appealed to the Maori. In the excitement of a well-contested canoe race, with paddles as the motive power, the Maori would find one of his keenest pleasures.
Some native games required a considerable amount of dexterity and long practice. Thus in the game of koruru (jackstones, knucklebones) much practice was necessary to enable a player to acquire the necessary quickness and precision to carry out the various movements. This game was a favourite with young folk, who would sometimes challenge the players of another hamlet to play a match. Children's hands were sometimes manipulated so that the stones could be readily caught on the back of the hand. This was effected by means of repeatedly pressing the fingers back. At such games as this and matimati, &c., natives become very quick and alert.page 132
Dart-throwing was an old form of recreation that appears to have been one of the first to be abandoned after the arrival of Europeans. This was not the form of dart-throwing that might be viewed as a military exercise or training for spear-throwing. The dart (teka or neti) was merely a light reed, and was cast underhand so as to glance off the smooth surface of a small earthern mound. No mark was aimed at, but the longest cast marked the winner. Dart-throwing contests were sometimes quite large meetings, social gatherings of the people. Prior to casting his dart a player would expectorate upon it and page 133 recite over it a charm to cause it to make a good flight. This dart-throwing game was widely practised in Polynesia.
The game known as ti ringa, matimati, and by several other titles, also requires an extreme of dexterity and much practice. Two players place themselves opposite each other and go through a very rapid series of hand-movements. No. 1 makes a certain movement with his hands and utters the cry “Tahi matimati.” The other player must make the same movement so quickly that the two seem to be simultaneous, and also repeats the above cry. No. 1 rapidly makes a second movement to the cry “Rua matimati,” and No. 2 acts as before—and so on until the digits 1 to 9 have been called out, and then the cry with the last movement is “Piro matimati.” In some districts the cry differs, the word “Ti” being used instead of “matimati,” as “Ti tahi,” then “Ti rua,” and so on to “Ti ngahuru” or ten ti. The game called ku seems to be the same thing, but the word ku is used instead of ti. Hikawai is yet another form. The performance is one highly interesting to watch when played by experts.
The world-wide pastime of cat's-cradle, or cratch-cradle, was a pre-European usage here, and a considerable number of designs was formerly known to most of the people. Many of these designs are much more intricate than those known to us, and some require the services of several players ere they can be completed. The Maori used to use his teeth and toes in manipulating some designs. The ordinary name for cat's-cradle is whai, and a number of simple recitatives have been preserved that were repeated page 134 in connection with certain patterns. All designs had names assigned them, and some were said to illustrate certain activities of mythical heroes of yore, such as the ascent of Tawhaki to the heavens. This recreation was much patronized by young folk in former times, and adults also joined in it.
Another string game, termed patokotoko and panokonoko, was a simple one. Each player was provided with a looped string and endeavoured to catch therein the extended forefinger of his opponent.
Of all forms of amusement indulged in by the Maori in former times perhaps none were so much appreciated as the haka, or posture dance. The haka may be described as a series of rhythmical movements of limbs and body accompanied by a song, or at least by a series of short refrains. This recreation was indulged in frequently and by both sexes. Public feeling often found expression in the form of a haka, and they were organized in connection with a multitude of subjects. Where we write to the papers to ventilate or right some wrong or grievance, the Maori composes a haka directed against his detractor or opponent. Where we sedately shake hands with a party of guests on their arrival, the Maori chanted rhythmic refrains to them, accompanied by vigorous and equally rhythmical action: this as a welcome. These effusions were composed in connection with many matters. In some cases the arms alone were brought into play in time to the words; in others the legs and the whole body were violently exercised. The war-dance itself is really a haka performed with arms in hand, and the turanga a tohu is a war-dance (tutu waewae) performed for purposes of divination.
The most striking features of the haka are the distortions of the features and the excellent sense of time displayed by the performers. The manner in which natives can protrude the tongue and turn the eyes in a fierce glare is surprising, and as a contortionist the Maori has few equals. These things were much practised in former times, with the result that rhythmic movements and facial distortion were universal acquirements. The movements of Europeans in such exercises are extremely stiff and awkward in comparison, and one sees this awkwardness in some half-castes. Old women were often very prominent in these performances, and few uglier sights could be imagined than these old hags when leading a haka or wardance. The deep-chested, guttural sounds emitted by men page 135 page 136 in some of these performances, the frenzied appearance and motions of all-but-naked savages—these are features that excite astonishment in strangers to these weird exhibitions. The roaring chorus of some haka, and of the war-dance, may be heard far off.
When about to take part in public performances young folk adorned themselves after the manner Maori, and more especially was this the case when visitors were to be entertained. As to the origin of the haka, we have to delve into the past as it is recorded in Maori folk-lore. Here we find that one Hine-raumati (the Summer Maid), wife of the Sun, had issue one Tane-rore, whose dancing may be seen during the summer months in the quivering appearance of heated air. Hence that phenomenon is known as the haka of Tane-rore. Another version gives Parearohi as the name of the summer dancer.
The peculiar form of haka performed during mourning ceremonial is known as a maimai, and this saltatory exercise is allied to the tangi a Apakura, which is the most ancient of all dirges, for it is the ceaseless moaning of Hine-moa (the Ocean Maid), the ever-restless ocean. In this haka the performers indulged in those swaying motions of arms and body called aroarowhaki. The rapid vibration of the hands is a feature of many haka. In some cases the fugleman called for preliminary action by means of the following long-drawn cry:—
A-a-a-a! He ringa pakia!
Whereupon all performers commence, in perfect time, to clap their hands on their thighs. Again, the cry
A-a-a-a! He waewae takahia!
causes all to commence to stamp their right foot on the ground. The fuglemen then chants on in order to lead up to the first refrain, in which all join in time to the energetic motions of the haka.
The so-called poi (ball) dance is quite an effective exhibition, especially the old method wherein a long-stringed ball was used. The ball was made from a piece of canvaslike fabric stuffed with the soft, light pappus of the bulrush (raupo). These balls were sometimes adorned with long white dog's hair, in which case they were known as poi awe. It is of some interest to note that this ball game is also played by young native women of New Guinea. Many of the modern haka as seen at Rotorua and elsewhere, are pantomimic, page 137 and the movements illustrate the activities of a carpenter, the felling of a tree, rowing, paddling, &c. In no case, however, did the Maori evolve any form of such dancing as practised by us.
A very singular game, known as mu torere, was practised on the East Coast, but, so far as I am aware, was not known in other districts, a curious fact that seems to point to it as a late introduction or evolution. This game resembles draughts, but the board, instead of being divided into a series of squares, has an eight-rayed star marked on it. The central space from which these eight arms radiate is called the putahi, while the arms are termed page 138 kawai. Two persons play as in draughts, each of whom has four stones to serve as perepere, or “men,” and each arranges his men on four of the kawai; the putahi is blank. The moves are much the same as in draughts, the aim being to block one's opponent. I am not convinced that this game obtained in pre-European times, but if based on our draughts, why was not our form of playing-board employed? A game of draughts, called mu and konane, was known at the Hawaiian Isles, and seems to have been practised there when our early Pacific voyagers reached those parts. A great number of “men” were employed in the Hawaiian game, and it was probably introduced by early Spanish voyagers. Draughts is a very ancient game, and seems to have been known in Egypt in remote times. It is just possible that the knowledge of it has been brought from far lands in past times, as doubtless the knowledge of kites and tops was carried, but I have no knowledge as to its having been preserved in other parts of the Pacific area.
A number of pastimes seem to have been included in the term kai, such as riddles, puzzles, and others requiring skill and concentration. Our game of draughts is sometimes styled kai mu.page 139
As we have seen, story-telling was a much-favoured pastime among our native folk, as it always is among an unlettered people. Children had their own simple stories and fables with which they entertained each other. Youths and young women learned and recited folk-tales, myths, and historical traditions, many of the latter being encrusted with myth. Their elders listened to such recitals and corrected errors or supplied omissions. Entertaining tales came into the category of korero purakau. Some of these widely known stories told of the origin of man and of many natural objects—the popular fireside version of such; the esoteric version was never heard at such gatherings. A number of the tales were instructive, as illustrating the advantages of industry, courage, and other virtues, or the dread effects of transgressing the laws of tapu.
Fig. 46.—A Maori kite, Rotorua (Auckland Museum)
The far-spread pastime of kite-flying was an old institution in Maoridom. Not only was it practised by children, but men also took part in it, and the larger and finer specimens of kites were made and flown by adults. Kites were known by several names, as manu, pakau, and kahu. The superior ones were made by covering a light framework with bark cloth—that is, the manufactured bark of the aute tree. Inferior ones were made from more easily procured materials, as Mariscus ustulatus (a sedge) and raupo (a bulrush). Kites were often made in the form of birds (manu), but other shapes were also used, more especially perhaps by children. Charms were recited in order to cause the kites to rise in a satisfactory manner. The triangular form known as manu taratahi was flown with its narrow end upward. The style termed manu patiki is of an oval or diamond shape. Another form was that of a squat short-armed cross. Feathers were often page 140 page 141 page 142 used to adorn these kites. Some forms resembled those made by natives of the Cook Group. Kite-flying contests were held by our Maori folk in former days, and great interest was taken in such exhibitions.
Another well-known pastime was stilt-walking, the stilts used being as a rule saplings of mako (Aristotelia), a light wood when dry. The foot-rest might be an attached piece or the base of a branch. Stilts were known as pou toti, pou koki, and pou turu. Certain contests were held by youths and young men on these waewae rakau (wooden legs), such as races, the crossing of rivers or ponds, and even a form of wrestling or overthrowing each other.
Yet again we meet with a well-known form of recreation in the reti or horua, a simple form of toboggan much patronized by young native folk in former times. A short piece of hewn plank served as a reti, having two projections to accommodate the feet, which were placed one behind the other. The slide was a steep hillside. Children used very simple substitutes for a board in some cases, one such being the head of a cabbage-tree (Cordyline), and another a fan of flax (Phormium) leaves. Hawaiian children also used the close-set leaf branches of Cordyline as a coasting board.
The tarere, or bush swing, was simply a natural one, being any aka (stem of climbing-plant) that was suitable for the purpose and occupied a desirable swinging-ground, which would mean any place where the performers could swing out over a gully or slope. These aka stems would be cut near the ground and utilized as swing-ropes, their upper parts having a firm grip on the branches far above. The limber branch of a fallen tree sometimes furnished young folk with an excellent substitute for seesaw.
Skipping, termed piu, was practised, though not by single performers. In connection with this and many other games and pastimes certain short songs and jingles were repeated by performers.
The Maori boy possessed both the whip-top and humming-top, the former being the kind in common use; the peg-top was unknown. The generic term for tops is potaka. In top-spinning contests the performers had sometimes to whip their tops over hurdles consisting of small page 143 ridges of earth. Some of the humming-tops were made of small ripe gourds, into which a spindle was inserted. In former times the Maori employed humming-tops in a very singular manner—viz., in mourning for the dead; and ceremonial top-spinning has also been noted in other lands, European and Asiatic.
The children of Maoriland did not trundle hoops as we do by means of a stick, but threw them. They seem to have been smaller than those made by us, and were formed by bending a piece of pliant aka (stem of climbing-plant) and lashing the two ends together.
The game of taupunipuni seems to have been the same as our hide-and-seek, and that known as wi is our “tag,” of which there were two different forms. A childish pastime was that called tatau manawa, which consisted of the repetition of apparently meaningless jingles in one breath; to take a breath during the recitation was to fail. page 144 In another game boys stood on their heads while reciting such effusions.
A child's pastime, known as topa, koke, and niu, consisted of casting a broad leaf across a space, such as from bank to bank of a stream. The leaf was made to balance by inserting a grass culm in the midrib. Even this trivial pastime had its own special charms to cause the leaf to float well forward. Among the Ngati-Porou folk the topa page 145 was employed in divination, for the Maori resorted to curiously puerile acts in his endeavours to peer into the future. The name of niu applied to this pastime is the Polynesian word niu (coconut). The coconut was much used in divinatory acts by the Polynesian. The Maori has preserved the name but has forgotten its origin. The skipping of flat stones along the surface of water—our “ducks and drakes”—and other such pastimes appealed to native children as they do to ours. Toy canoes for racing were made from Phormium leaves. Boys were interested in constructing small models of fortified villages.
Young folk had a peculiar toy of the jumping-jack type, and called a karetao and karari. This was a small carved figure in human form, about 15 in. in height. Its lower end merged into a short shaft that served as a hand-grip. The arms of the figure were loosely attached by means of two cords, and by pulling these with one hand and shaking the figure with the other it was supposed to go through the motions of a haka. This toy was manipulated the while a time-song was sung. Some of these toys were page 146 page 147 very well carved, the designs of face tattooing being well executed.
A number of simple games and pastimes practised by children scarcely call for special remark.