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The Coming of the Maori

Military Games and Exercises

Military Games and Exercises

The safety and welfare of a tribe depended on its military strength and efficiency and so the youth were early trained in the use of weapons. Children armed with a flax flower stalk (korari) were taught to spar by their parents and when they were old enough, they were taught the strokes and parries of the various weapons as well as the accompanying footwork by an expert warrior. The earlier training took the form of games.

Spear throwing was a favourite pastime with the young. The spears were formed of the kakaho flower stalks of the toetoe raupo, straight stems of bracken fern (rarauhe) with the ends bound with flax, rods of light mako wood, and even manuka. The wooden spears were about 6 feet long with blunted ends. Opponents stood some distance apart, and one threw while the other avoided the missiles by dodging, parrying with a stick, or, as they became expert, by catching occasionally with the hand. Thus as they became older, spears could be discharged in quick succession, and the expert could sidestep one, parry a second, and catch the third with the left hand. Spears were also thrown at a mark to practice aim.

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Ti rakau or touretua was played with rather thick sticks roughly two to three feet long. As demonstrated by the Arawa people, the players knelt in a circle with two sticks each. In time to a chant, they beat the sticks together and then threw first one and then the other to the neighbour on the right, sticks being thrown in a vertical position. Each threw the first stick in the right hand, caught the incoming stick with the empty hand, threw the second stick with the left hand and caught the incoming stick with that hand. The passing of sticks, first right then left, continued for some beats and then the two sticks were beaten together. The tempo of the chant was quickened and great dexterity in catching and passing had to be displayed to remain in the game. Those who dropped a stick fell out and the circle lessened until the last one left in was declared the victor. The game taught dexterity in catching with both hands and made the catching of a spear in battle not so difficult.

Ti ringa or matimati as the first name implies is a corollary of the preceding ti rakau game but played with the hands without any sticks. The players stand facing each other and, in time to a chant or various calls in which matimati is often repeated, they make quick movements with both hands such as slapping the thighs or the breast, and jerking both hands towards the right or left or up or down. The game, as expounded by the Arawa, starts with both players beating on their thighs with the word matimati, and the player who has drawn the start, makes one of the various movements. His opponent has to make a movement simultaneously on the same beat of the chant and as he does not know what the other is going to make, it is likely to be different. The object of the opponent is to anticipate what the next movement is and by doing the same movement simultaneously, he takes the count with a score of two. On the other hand, the person who has the count tries to prevent the next movement from being anticipated over a number of beats and each failure of the opponent to catch the movement in that series of movements counts two to the holder. Each player keeps repeating his score in time with the movements, which are rapid. The first to score ten, wins. A number of variations occur. This game also teaches quickness of eye and hands to anticipate an opponent's arm movements and was probably of some use in close hand-to-hand fighting.

A catapult of a kind, termed tipao on the east coast, is described by Best (18, p. 17). A pole of green titoki was fixed upright with the butt in the ground, and a cord fastened to the upper end was pulled by a person to bend the pole considerably. Another person, standing behind the bent pole, held a stone against the front bend with the fingers from behind. At a signal, the cord was let go and the released spring cast the stone forward with considerable force. It was used by boys in sport and never became an offensive weapon.

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The various exercises that made for physical fitness but did not require any apparatus were running, jumping, boxing and wrestling.

Running (oma), when competitive, was termed omaoma and the speedy runner grew up to be an asset to his tribe in chasing ceremonial challengers and in the running battles which often took place. Competitions over measured distances were not known but the young people at social gatherings fixed their distances according to flat land that was available. Long distance races between fixed points were sometimes arranged more as a test of stamina than of speed.

Jumping (tupeke, rerere) was mostly confined to the long jump but no landing pit was made. The lack of any idea about accessories was probably the reason why the high jump was not popular. A pole was sometimes used in vaulting (tutoko) on the flat or over a stream but never for height over a bar.

Boxing with the bare fists was more in the nature of private quarrels when no weapon was handy. The forward thrust with the front of the fist was termed mekemeke but a blow with the little-finger side of the fist was termed moto. Boxing contests such as occurred in Tonga and Hawaii were apparently unknown.

Wrestling (mamau, whakatoto, nonoke) was probably the most highly regarded of the athletic exercises and had a terminology for the various holds and tricks. Catch-as-catch-can, holding by the arms alone, and holding around the body as in the Cumberland style were all used. The champion wrestler of the tribe acquired much honour and matches were often arranged with the experts of other tribes.