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The Maori: Yesterday and To-day

Top-Spinners of the Arawa

Top-Spinners of the Arawa.

Two members of the Arawa tribe who took a particular pleasure in reviving the games of the past, once the example had been set them by Mr. Bennett, excellent minister of the Maori Mission Church—now the Right Rev. F. A. Bennett, the first Maori Bishop of Aotearoa—were my old acquaintances, the late Kiwi te Amohau and Te Wheoro, of Ohinemutu. In particular they delighted to show how the Maori played tops. The game of top-spinning was in olden days a great sport of the Maori, and not of the children, but of the elders, the kaumatua. These tops (potaka) were usually made of matai wood, and were six or eight inches high, but there were others carved out of the very hard and heavy black kara stone. The tops are used in two games or contests—(1) Potaka-tākiri, or whipping-tops, and (2) potaka whawhai, or fighting-tops. There is also the potaka-piki, or climbing-top game, in which the top is made to climb a string, but this, said Kiwi and Te Wheoro, was learned from the Europeans. The potaka-tākiri is a trial page 205 of strength and skill and endurance. There was an old Native track called the Ariki-roa, leading through the manuka scrub from Ohinemutu for about half a mile to the lakeside near Sulphur Bay, passing through what is now the European town of Rotorua and the Sanatorium Grounds, and this was a favourite top-whipping route. The contestants would whip their potakas along the whole length; it was a trial of skill in keeping the tops going.

The potaka-whawhai is an even more strenuous diversion, in which each Maori, with a whip of flax, drives his top against the others, and the clashes rouse the spectators to a great pitch of excitement, as first one and then the other warrior-top seems to deliver the hardest blow. Sometimes both recoil from the battle knocked out, and the top-owners themselves end the contest as hot and tired as if they had been engaged in a haka.

Kiwi and his old friend Te Wheoro often gave exhibitions of the potaka-whawhai, and it was amusing to see those two grave deacons of the church, stripped to the waist, dashing at their wooden tops and lashing them against each other with yells of excitement, like a brace of boys at school.