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The Maori: Yesterday and To-day

Chapter XVII. — Amusements of The Maori

page 199

Chapter XVII.
Amusements of The Maori.

In the old-time Maori kainga there was no lack of what may be called indoor games, for the diversion of the community in long evenings and in wet and stormy weather when the people were disinclined to venture abroad. Chief among the amusements in the whare-tāperé, the hall of pleasure and song, were the poi action song and the haka dance. In the poi the girls of the village delighted the people with dexterous rhythmic ball-whisk and tap-tapping of which the eye never tired, to the music of pretty and harmonious chants. The poi is as charming to eye and ear as ever it was, though the rangi or airs have become modernised and the Hawaiian ukulele has become the favourite instrument of musical accompaniment. The action song, as it should be called rather than dance, is infinite in its variety. In some poi performances the girls imitate the action of paddling a canoe; others are descriptive of the fluttering of wild birds and the pretty fantail; many are a series of lissome beautifully-timed swinging of the “tiny ball on end of string” to the sound of melodious and plaintive love songs. Some are rather mournful waiatas, chants of affection and longing; again there are ditties gay and sometimes Rabelaisian of words. The poetry of the poi is quite a branch of Maori folk-lore—mostly unwritten—in itself. The Arawa have a special facility in the composition of little lilting poems for this greatly favoured amusement; Ngati-Porou and Ngati-Kahungunu, too, have their resourceful poets, and they have skill in adapting pakeha tunes to the needs of the dance.

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In Taranaki I have watched and listened to poi acts of a quality differing greatly from the action-songs of other tribes. When I stayed at Parihaka one night the venerable Te Whiti, the one-time renowned prophet and leader of the Maori national party, invited me to accompany him to his meeting-hall and see his poi parties rehearse their songs and dances for the coming March assemblage of the faithful. The women and girls, numbering about thirty, wore a profusion of white feathers—the raukura, Te Whiti's badge—in their dark glossy hair. They gave one poi after another, some with long strings, an art requiring great skill and precision; they chanted and swung the poi, and swayed their supple forms for nearly two hours; and the earnestness and fire with which they chanted their songs made it seem more like a sacred religious ceremony than anything else. And that indeed was what it was; the poi chants were legendary, historical, and ritualistic; they recited the coming of the Taranaki people's ancestors from Hawaiki in the traditional canoes, they described the grievances of the Maori under pakeha rule, the tragedy of the war, the con-
A party of poi dancers, welcoming visitors to the meeting-house at Manukorihi, Waitara, North Taranaki.

A party of poi dancers, welcoming visitors to the meeting-house at Manukorihi, Waitara, North Taranaki.

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of the land, and they embodied some of the figurative utterances and cryptic “sayings” in which Te Whiti delighted. One long chant, as the grey old prophet told me, was one of his speeches or sermons delivered to the gathering on the Parihaka marae. There was something almost fierce about the delivery of this kind of poi, and the flashing black eyes, the tossing feathers, the high wild chant, combined to give a thrill to it all that the ordinary poi of the Maori amusement halls does not hold. Te Whiti's spirit has passed to the Reinga, but the old chants are not forgotten, and the raukura still on occasion is proudly worn by the Taranaki poi parties as they toss and twirl the rap-rapping ball of raupo, and raise the wild melodies again.

This is one of the legend-poems chanted by the Taranaki poi women; it is a paddling song traditionally handed down for six centuries, the chant of the chief of Aotea canoe to his crew on the voyage from Raiatea Island, in the Eastern Pacific, to New Zealand:—

Ko Aotea te waka,
Ko Turi tangata ki runga,
Ko te Roku-o-whiti te hoe.
Piri papa te hoe!
Awhi papa te hoe!
Toitu te hoe!
Toirere te hoe!
Toi mahuta te hoe!
Toi hapakapa te hoe
Kai runga te rangi.
Ko te hoe nawai?
Ko te hoe na te Kahu-nunui;
Ko te hoe nawai?
Te hoe na te Kahu-roroa.
Ko te hoe nawai?
Ko te hoe no Rangi-nui-e-tu-nui.
Tena te waka,
Ka tau ki Tipua-o-te-Rangi,
Ki Tawhito-o-te-Rangi,
Nga turanga whetu o Rehua.
Hapai ake au
I te kakau o taku hoe,

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I te Roku-o-whiti.
Whiti patato, rere patato,
Mama patato.
Te riakanga, te hapainga,
Te komotanga, te kumenga,
Te riponga, te awenga
A te puehutanga
O te wai o taku hoe nei.
Kei te rangi, hikitia!
Kei te rangi, hapainga,
Kei te aweawe nui no Tu.
Tena te ara ka totohe nui,
Ko te ara o tenei Ariki,
Ko te ara o tenei matua iwi,
Ko te ara o Rangi-nui-e-tu-nei,
Nguaha te kakau o taku hoe nei,
Ko Kautu-ki-te-Rangi.
Ki te rangi, hikitia;
Ki te rangi, hapainga;
Ki te rangi tutorona atu,
Ki te rangi tutorona, mai.
Ki te rangi tu te ihi,
Ki te rangi tu te koko,
Tu te mana, tu te tapu,
E tapu tena te ara,
Ka totohe te ara
O Tane-matohe-nuku,
Te ara o Tane-matohe-rangi,
Ko te ara o te Kahu-nunui,
Ko te ara o te Kahu-roroa,
Ko te ara o tenei Ariki,
Ko te ara o tenei tauira,
Tawhi kia Rehua,
Ki uta mai, te ao marama;
E Rongo-ma-Tane,

Aotea is the Canoe,
And Turi is the Chief.
The Roku-o-whiti is the Paddle.
Behold my paddle!
It is laid by the canoe-side,
Held close to the canoe-side.
Now 'tis raised on high—the paddle!
Poised for the plunge—the paddle!
We spring forward!
Now, it leaps and flashes—the paddle
It quivers like a bird's wing
This paddle of mine!
This paddle—whence came it?
It came from the Kahu-nunui,
From the Kahu-roroa,
It came from the Great-Sky-above-us.
Now the course of the canoe rests
On the Sacred Place of Heaven,
The dwelling of the Ancient Ones
Beneath the star-god Rehua's eye.
See! I raise on high
The handle of my paddle,
Te Roku-o-whiti.
I raise it—how it flies and flashes!
Ha! the outward lift and the dashing,
The quick thrust in and the backward sweep
The swishing, the swirling eddies,
The boiling white wake
And the spray that flies from my paddle!
Lift up
The paddle to the sky above,
To the great expanse of Tu,
There before us lies our ocean-path,
The path of strife and tumult,
The pathway of this chief,
The danger-roadway of this crew;
'Tis the road of the Great-Sky-above-us,
Here is my paddle,
To the heavens raise it;
To the heavens lift it;
To the sky far drawn out,
To the horizon that lies before us,
To the heavens, sacred and mighty.
Before us lies our ocean-way,
The path of the sacred canoe, the child
Of Tane, who severed Earth from Sky.
The path of the Kahu-nunui, the Kahu-roroa,
The pathway of this chief, this priest.
In Rehua is our trust,
Through him we'll reach the Land of Light.
O Rongo and Tane!
We raise our offerings!

At the final word “Whakairihia!” the dancers raise their twirling poi balls above their heads at arm's length; this is in imitation of the olden custom of the priests in lifting up the first-fruits offering of kumara to Rongo, the god of cultivated foods. Rongo and Tane ranked high in the Maori pantheon. Rehua, another atua mentioned in the chant, dwelt, according to ancient belief, in the tenth or highest page 203 heaven; he was a beneficent deity. Rehua is also the name of the star Sirius.

Games Ancient and Modern.

In these days the games of cards, billiards, and other fascinating pastimes introduced by the pakeha have displaced most of the old Maori village games, and the foxtrot and the infinite variety of weird dance-hall contortions are a feature of the social gatherings in the kainga. Maori string orchestras and Maori choirs delight many a pakeha audience as well as their own folk with their perfect expression of the soul of music.

Waikato half-caste girl, in dancing costume, old style, in wharepuni entertainments.

Waikato half-caste girl, in dancing costume, old style, in wharepuni entertainments.

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At Rotorua an endeavour was made some years ago to revive some of the old Maori games which had almost been forgotten, and some of these amusements are now reproduced in the popular entertainments given by the tribesfolk of Ohinemutu and Whakarewarewa. One of these interesting games of other days is the titi-torea (originally titi-to-uré), in which short sticks are thrown with bewildering deftness from player to player, to the accompaniment of a lively rhythmic chant. An example of these songs may be heard on the gramophone now. Another game is matimati, played with the open hands by two people sitting opposite each other; it is a trial of mental and manual quickness.

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.

The Whai.

Another very ancient game, but a more sedate one, of which Te Wheoro was the teacher at Ohinemutu, is the whai, done with flax string, in which curious designs are worked out. Some of these string games represent episodes in Maori-Polynesian mythology and history; as for instance Te Moana-nui-a-Kiwa (the Pacific Ocean) and the morning star, which was the guide and guardian of the Arawa canoe, and again Maui and his brothers; and there is a ladder-like design intended to represent the Aratiatia Rapids, on the Waikato River. page 206 One which never fails to amuse Maori audiences is the whai-mouti, worked out by two persons facing each other. In this the string is made to imitate two marionette-like figures making jerky bows to one another.

A woman of the Ngati-Maru tribe, Hauraki, wearing a greenstone neck-pendant known as pekapeka, intended to represent the New Zealand bat, after which it is called.

A woman of the Ngati-Maru tribe, Hauraki, wearing a greenstone neck-pendant known as pekapeka, intended to represent the New Zealand bat, after which it is called.

The Moari.

A picturesque sport of the Maori which one would like to see revived now that so much attention is being given to restoring some of the old-time customs and arts of the people is the game of the moari or morere, a kind of maypole and swing combined. This moari was usually a tree which grew in a convenient place over a river-pool or a quiet bay; sometimes on a bank overlooking a slope or a terrace some distance removed from the water. In the page 207 latter case the people on the ropes swung right round to the place from which they started. Usually the ropes were fastened to a kind of revolving cap, so that they would not be twisted. The moari on the waterside gave splendid sport, for all the players at a shout from their leader let go and plunged into the water.

Old Matuha, an Arawa veteran, recited to me a moari-pole pao or chant which he had sung often and often in his far-away youth on Mokoia Island, in Lake Rotorua. There was a very handsome girl there in those days, said Matuha, and her name was Tatai. She was the daughter of the chief Nini, who lived in Pukurahi pa, on the eastern slope of Mokoia. Her father made a moari for her diversion in this way: There was a rewarewa tree growing in a slanting position on a grassy bank at the pa. It was a tall limber tree; it had the elastic quality which made it just the thing for a moari. It was stripped of its branches, and eight flax ropes were fastened to its head, just below a tuft of leaves left on its tip. Each player had a rope and the jolly party swung far out with the impetus given by a short run and leap off the bank; and the maid Tatai flew out the farthest of them all.

“This,” said the whitebeard, “was the pao Tatai chanted, as we stood there each with a rope:

“ ‘E Nini e!
Whakaarahia a Kiri-hauhunga,
Kia rere atu,
Ko ahau ko Tatai,
I te taura whakawaho,
Kai te pehipehi
Nga wharau
I maunawa e-i!
Karawhiua!’ ”

“ ‘O Nini O!
Here stands your swinging-tree,
Made for our merry sport,
Your tree called Frosty-skin.
Here am I, Tatai,
Grasping the outer rope.
See how our happy players
Bend down the lofty tree!
Now off we go,
Whirling round and round our tree.’ ”

At the final word “Karawhiua!” the beauty of the kainga led off, and a charming picture indeed she page 208 must have made, her long black tresses flying behind her, a brief waist-mat her only garment. “Ah,” said eighty-year-old Matuha, “she was a pretty girl, Tatai. There are none like her around us here to-day!”

The Moari. [From a sketch by G. F. Angas.

The Moari.
[From a sketch by G. F. Angas.

A popular Lakeland diversion allied to the sport of the Moari was that known as rerenga-wai, or “flying into the water.” At many Rotorua lakeside villages trees, chiefly pohutukawa, which extended long branches horizontally out over the water, were made use of as diving-boards. A limb of the tree would be stripped of its twigs, the upper side adzed page 209 down and smoothed, and the end of the branch ornamented with carving. One Rotorua rakau-rerenga-wai was that which stood on the banks of the Waiteti stream, overhanging a deep pool. On summer days, when the waters of the streams and lakes glistened so invitingly, the young people of the village gathered by the water-side for the sport of the rerenga-wai. Throwing off their garments, the young men and girls stood out along the elastic tree spring-board, holding each other's hands, and sang in chorus a lively song, then plunged into the water. This is a specimen of the diving songs:

An Arawa Woman, Rotorua. [From a photo. by Allen Hutchinson.

An Arawa Woman, Rotorua.
[From a photo. by Allen Hutchinson.

Te koko e rere atu ra ra,
E rere ra i Puke-whanake,
Ki te kawe-korero
Kia Te Iripapa;
Kaore e hoki-i.
Ka tu au i te rahui whakairoiro
Na Tokoahu.
Kai te ruhi noa,
Kai te ngenge noa,
Ta te raumatihanga.
Po-o-o ki roto wai
Ruhi ai!

See yonder tui-bird that flies
O'er the slopes of the Palm-tree Hill;
'Tis a little messenger
Carrying tales to Iripapa.
It flies away, and won't return.
Here I stand
On Tokoahu's carven tree;
Here I stand
Weary of the summer's heat,
So into the water I'll go!

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The Sailing-Leaf.

The pastime of the koki, or koke, was one of which the Rotorua and neighbouring tribes were particularly fond. Nearly half way up the precipitous face of Matawhaura, where that forested mountain juts out like a wall over the deep waters of Lake Rotoiti, there is a bare bluff called Pakipaki, to which a steep track leads from the canoe landing below, and on which in former times a little fortified pa stood. Here the young people amused themselves with the game of the darting leaf. They gathered the large leaves of the wharangi plant (Brachyclottis repanda) which are dark green on the upper and white on the under side. These were attached to a light stem of some strong grass, and tails or streamers (hihi) were added, made of wiwi or other reeds or rushes, sometimes two or three feet in length. Then the leaves were held up and balanced in the hand, and after repeating a song in chorus the players darted them out over the lake, each striving to cast his rau-wharangi farthest. If there was a fair wind blowing, the leaves with their dancing hihi were carried for considerable distances. This is the song which the players chanted as they held their sailing-leaves aloft, a chant often heard at the present day among the Maoris of the Rotoiti villages:—

Ma tiki koki ki runga,
E tae ra koe
Ki wai-o-rikiriki,
Ki wai-o-rakaraka,
Te piho o te rangi.
Hoki hoki hoki mai, hoki!

Sail away, my leaf on high,
Sail thou o'er the waters far,
Fly up to the sky, and then
Come, come back to me again.