Arts and Crafts of the Cook Islands
Games and Recreations
Games and Recreations
Tutamawa was telling his son about the ancient homeland of 'Avaiki. The son asked, "E a'a nga mea rekareka i 'Avaiki" (What were the things that gave pleasure in 'Avaiki)? The father enumerated a number of games among which were teka (darts), pua (throwing discs), tupe (pitching discs), papa 'aka'oro'oro ngaru (surf boards). The son asked how each game was played, and the father explained.
Darts (teka) were made of cane (kaka'o) averaging 0.3 to 0.4 inch in thickness and of varying lengths governed by the method of throwing. The people of Aitutaki distinguished the following kinds of darts (70, pp. 335-340).
Tumutumu (fig. 156, a): cane 2 to 4 feet long, depending upon individual preference. The front end was wrapped with hibiscus bast which was covered with a coating of breadfruit gum (tapou). The thrower held the dart horizontally in his right hand with the forefinger over the proximal end, took a run of several yards, and threw it so that the heavier front end (kouma) struck the ground and ricocheted upward in a long flight, like that of a golf ball.
Okaoka: cane or slender hibiscus rod about two spans in length. The front end was usually wrapped with hibiscus bast or pandanus. It was thrown with both hands, the right holding the end, and the left holding the shaft.
Teka kiore (fig. 156, b): a piece of wood about 10 inches long and a little thicker than the thumb, with the front end sharpened and the other end blunt and with a coconut leaflet midrib stuck in it to form a tail. The dart was thrown against a mound to make it rise in the air, height being the object. It was said to rise high among the tree tops like a rat (kiore), hence the name.
Teka ta manu'iri (fig. 156, c): cane about 1 foot 4 inches long with a coconut-leaf midrib stuck in the back end. It was thrown with a strip of hibiscus bast with a knot at one end. The knot was placed against a node near the tail end and a turn around the cane passed over it. The bast strip was kept taut along the cane and twisted around the right forefinger as the hand held the dart near the fore end. This arrangement gave the thrower a longer purchase on the dart. The knot was released as the dart was thrown.
Teka koki'i (fig. 156, d): a wooden rod cast with a throwing stick to which was attached a short cord with a knotted end. The knot was fixed to one end of the dart in the same way as in the teka ta manu'iri, and the cord was wound spirally around the dart. The dart was laid on the ground and a sharp jerk of the throwing stick projected the dart forward, the knot releasing automatically.
Figure 156.—Darts, Aitutaki. a, tumutumu:1, front end wrapped with bast; 2, back end, with right forefinger placed for throwing, b, teka kiore:1, wooden body; 2, midrib tail. c, teka ta manu'iri, showing string looped over knotted end (1) and other end wrapped around right forefinger. d, teka koki'i with string looped over end knot (1), wound spirally around dart (2), and attached to throwing stick (3).
The Aitutaki term for throwing is uka. The okaoka is thrown into the air with both hands. When it strikes the ground, it runs on for a short distance along the ground. The tumutumu is the most popular form of dart, but it page 252requires great skill to throw it against the ground or the mound at the correct angle to get the proper flight. However, children play the game, and by the time they reach adolescence, they have become expert. The competitors can take as long a run as they like, but crossing the throwing mark disqualifies the throw. A marker indicates the longest throw with a stick, and as subsequent throwers excel, he shifts the stick. Each competitor has one dart, and after all have thrown they cross over to the other end, pick up their darts, and throw back from another starting mark. The person who gets the longest throw in each round counts one, and victory (re) is gained by the first to get a count of six. In team competitions, one team throws and their longest throws are marked. All throws that are ahead of the longest throw of the other team count. A well-thrown dart is a pretty sight. In a competition in Aitutaki in 1926, the longest throw was 86 yards.
In Aitutaki, scientific dart throwing was held to have come from Ngata-ariki, an ancestor who lived in the land of Iva. Most of the other islands have a story concerning some ancestor's prowess in dart throwing. Gill (28, pp. 118-121) records, a Mangaian story in which Turi and Tarauri, sons of the god Tangaroa, competed with the seven dwarf sons of Pinga. Turi was beaten time after time but Tarauri gained victory through a dart decorated with red feathers that was dropped from the skies by his divine parent. Hence, in Mangaia, Tarauri was regarded as the chief patron of the game.
The game (pua) of throwing discs (pua) for distance was played throughout the Cook Islands except in Mangaia, where pitching discs (tupe) took its place. The discs were made of ironwood and were fairly circular in form, with thick edges and with the two surfaces slightly convex so that they were thicker in the center than at the edges. In Mauke, they were made in three forms evidently to suit weather conditions.
Ra'i: largest size, used on a calm day.
Ape (Atiu, pupu): a smaller size but thicker for use on a windy day. They run better and can wobble at the end of the run without falling down, whereas the large ra'i fall over more easily.
Rakumu: a small size, thicker than the ape, for use on a very windy day.
Four discs in the Bishop Museum range in diameter from 119 mm. to 159 mm. None of them is exactly circular, for the cross diameters vary from 4 mm. to 7 mm. The rim thickness ranges from 23 mm. to 26 mm. and the center thickness is from 42 mm. to 49 mm. The largest and the smallest discs in the Museum collection are shown in figure 157.
Figure 157.—Throwing discs (Bishop Mus.): a, b (6565), island not recorded; c, d (C2822), Atiu. a, side view: cross diameters, 126 and 119 mm. b, edge view: rim thickness, 23 mm.; center thickness, 44 mm. c, side view: cross diameters, 148 and 144 mm. d, edge view: rim thickness 26 mm.; center thickness, 43 mm. (C2822 has circles drawn on each surface with a pair of compasses but they are modern additions without art significance.)
A tradition states that a Tahitian warrior named Taumata went to Mauke and took part in a disc-throwing competition. In spite of the fact that he did not use a hibiscus bast strip, he defeated the local champions. This excited so much jealousy that Taumata was subsequently killed.
In Mauke, women were not allowed to attend village competitions. During the day of the competition women were forbidden to eat food that lived in a page 254hole (ko'ao)—such as octopus, sea eels, conger eels, Tridacna, crabs, and crayfish—on the theory that the discs would make a hole in the ground (ka ko'ao) and thus shorten their flight distance.
Children play with discs cut from green breadfruit and this early training makes for later dexterity with the ironwood discs.
Figure 158.—Mangaian pitching discs (Bishop Mus., C2819; series of 10): greatest diameters of series range from 114 to 121 mm., but cross diameters in individual discs are identical, except for two which have a difference of 3 mm.; thick edge (b,3) ranges from 18 to 21 mm. with an average of 19.8 mm.; lower border diameter averages 4 mm. less than upper border diameter; greatest thickness in center ranges from 49 to 53 mm. with average of 50.7 mm. a, upper surface with central cone (1). b, side view: 1, central cone; 2, concave plane of upper surface around cone; 3, thick circumferential edge; disc is stained black, c, d, light-colored disc showing upper surface (c) and side view (d).
The mats were placed six or more yards apart according to the decision of the players, expert players desiring a longer distance. The narrower ends were proximal on the ground level, and a slanting bed of sand was built up beneath a mat, raising the distal end. This slant makes it easier for the discs to remain on the mats. The angle having been adjusted satisfactorily the four corners are anchored with wooden pegs.page 255
Figure 159.—Pitching disc mats (Bishop Mus., C2866). a, two split leaflet midribs, 540 mm. and 510 mm. long, each carrying 14 leaflets, were placed with butt ends 270 mm. apart and leaned outward so that opposing leaflets crossed diagonally at right angles. Starting from bottom, crossing leaflets were plaited in check. When each leaflet reached opposite midrib, it was doubled back over last leaflet crossed, tucked under crossing wefts on back for about 220 mm., and ends cut off. Thus lowest dextral (1) was doubled back over ninth sinistral (9′) and lowest sinistral (1′) was doubled back over eighth dextral (8). Plaiting proceeded upward with each weft fixed as in 2, 10′, and 2′, 9. At last wefts on either side, distal end border is formed, b, distal finish: plaiting could be continued until end wefts (14, 14′) met in a long point, but in this mat, Mangaians chose a shorter serrated edge with four points. End dextral (14) was accordingly engaged with five sinistrals, three (1, 3, 5) passing over it and two (2, 4) under it in a continuation of the check plait. Fifth sinistral (5) was doubled back over end dextral (14) and then end dextral (14) was doubled back on its own course which thus locked point (1′′) so formed. Remaining sinistrals (1-4) were doubled over end dextral (14) and with fifth dextral (5), all were tucked under crossing wefts on back to fix them. End sinistral (14′) engaged five dextrals in a similar technique, the point (2′′) being locked. Two pairs of wefts remained, and in each pair sinistral was doubled back over dextral and then dextral over doubled back part of sinistral to form two locked points (3′′, 4′′). c, filling in lower spaces: reference to a shows that there are three triangular areas at lower end of figure that would be better filled in to provide an even surface; on left, between two lowest crossing wefts (1 and 1′), a similar space on right, and open triangle below them. Right triangle was filled in by introducing four separate leaflets (1-4) and check plaiting them with uncrossed sinistrals on that side, commencing with highest (1) and running parallel with previous plaiting. Tip ends of introduced leaflets are tied together on underside of mat in a reef knot and their butt ends project beyond lowest sinistral. d, lowest new weft (4) was given a half under turn to become a sinistral and plaited in check with uncrossed dextrals forming left triangle. Its butt end crossed the seventh dextral (7) and was simply turned back on under surface without bothering to tuck it under crossing wefts. e, remaining three wefts were similarly treated in the order 3, 2, and 1 and so the three triangles were closed in a simple but ingenious manner. Total length of mat, 635 mm. greatest width, 395 mm.
The game was played as a foursome, two opponents seating themselves behind each mat. Two sets of five discs were used, one set in the natural color of the wood and the other set stained to a dark color. The opponents threw alternately from the sitting position, and their partners at the other end kept the score. The object was to land the discs as near as possible to the far edge of the mat and still keep them on the mat. Close throws were decided by the nearness of the discs to the far row formed by the spaces between the crossings of the leaflet wefts. Terms applied to the methods of throwing are: paku, in a high curve to drop directly on the mat, and tareki, to ricochet off the ground onto the mat. When an opponent's disc was on the mat, with plenty of room in front, the tareki throw could be used to ricochet the disc over that of the opponent and have it stop on the mat beyond the opponent's disc. If the disc ricocheted off the ground and then off the mat to jump the opponent's disc, the throw was called a rua tareki (double ricochet). If the opponent's disc was so far on the mat that there was not enough space beyond it for his own disc, the thrower tried to drive the opposing disc off the mat with a direct hit (pao tiro), and if his own disc remained on the mat, it was pao mau. If a thrower's disc was in scoring position, he could cast aside (tia) his last disc to avoid the risk of knocking his own disc off the mat and losing a score. If a disc turned upside down (ka'era) but remained on the mat, it scored the same. Sometimes a larger disc (katua) was used as the last of five for driving purposes.
At the end of five throws each, the disc or discs remaining nearest the far end counted for the score, but often there was no score because the last player drove his opponent off the mat and went off himself. The two opponents at the other end played in their turn. The score made by partners was added and the first side that reached a count of 20 took the victory (re). For affiliation of this game, see p. 455.
Though surfboarding (papa 'aka'oro'oro ngaru, board for riding the waves) was mentioned as one of the games of 'Avaiki, surf riding does not seem to have been important among the recreations of the Cook Islanders. I never saw it being practiced. Much depended on the locality of the coast with a long enough run from reef to shore to create suitable waves. Informants stated that the boards (papa) were made breast high and that the surf riders clasped the sides of the board with the breast against the end. There is no evidence that they stood on the boards as did the surf riders in Hawaii.
In Mangaia, there is a tale of Ngaru, son of Mokoroa, who indulged in surfing so much that his skin became very black through exposure to the sun. His wife complained, "Taku tane purotu kua na" (My handsome husband has become black), and she left him. To restore his original complexion, his page 257father placed him in a hole in the ground three feet deep, lined with grass and bark cloth. Ripe poro'iti fruit and pandanus from the coast ('ara ta'atai) were also placed in the pit. After being covered up for three days and three nights he emerged fair.
Kites (manu tukutuku) were popular with both adults and children. They were made of crossed hibiscus rods connected at their ends with sennit to form the outer margins of the figure and covered with bark cloth. The cloth was doubled around the sennit margins and the overlap sewn with fiber or stuck with breadfruit gum. An ironwood bodkin was used to pierce the cloth and the fiber threaded through the holes. A tail (ave) with a bunch of hibiscus bast was added to steady the kite. The string (a'o tukutuku) was made of hibiscus bast or banana fiber (kua) and was attached to the middle of the framework. Children made kites from the leaves of the chestnut tree.
In Aitutaki the following types were remembered (70, pp. 331-333):
Manu teketeke vai'i (fig. 160, a).
Manu patiki (fig. 160, b): so called from its lozenge shape which resembles a flounder (patiki).
Manu tangi (sounding kite) (fig. 161, c): this is a variation of the manu teketeke vai'i in which the front end is formed into a gutter and a flap of extra cloth vibrates in the wind to make a roaring sound.
Figure 160.—Aitutaki kites, a, manu teketeke vai'i:1, 2, 3, three hibiscus rods arranged as shown and lashed together at common crossing place; 4, sennit lashed to rod ends to form marginal boundary of kite, bark cloth covered over frame and overlapped over marginal sennit (4); 5, 5, two lengths of sennit lashed to frame and then joined to form tail (6); 7, flying cord attached to frame crossing but if head of kite flew too high, flying cord was advanced to short crossbar (8). b, manu patiki:1, 2, two hibiscus rods crossed; 3, sennit forming margins but not reaching after end of long rod (1); 4, tail; 5, flying cord, c, manu tangi: the framework of three rods (1, 2, 3) and the marginal sennit (4) is exactly the same as in a, as are the two pieces of sennit (5, 5) leading to tail (6) and fixation of flying cord (7); a curved piece of wood (8) is attached to front ends of diagonal rods (1, 2) and a short straight piece (9) is attached to middle junction and middle of curved rod (8). When cloth is applied to frame on curved side of stick (8), a gutter is formed at fore end of frame. A piece of cloth of same size as gutter is attached to free part of sennit (4) in front of curved rod (8) by doubling one end around sennit and sticking overlap with arrowroot paste. When kite is flown, wind passing down gutter makes flap vibrate with a roaring noise.
Three, more complicated, kites formerly made in Mangaia are figured by Gill (28, p. 122) (fig. 161). The framework was composed of a median longitudinal rod of miro with crossbars of reed (kaka'o) and marginal boundaries of hibiscus rods. Each kite had a tail to which was attached a bunch of feathers at the junction to the frame and another at the free end. Between the two bunches of feathers, a number of bunches of dry ti leaf were evenly spaced, the number corresponding to the number of stars in the constellation represented by the kite. Gill (30, p. 18) adds that the kites were usually five feet long and covered with cloth with painted devices. The tail was 20 fathoms long.
Figure 161.—Mangaian kites (after Gill, with tail of a shortened). a, 'ua moa (fowl's egg), egg shaped: 1, median rod of miro;2,2, crossbars of reed (kaka'o); 3, elliptical hoop of hibiscus; 4, 4, bunches of feathers at beginning and end of tail; 5, four spaced bunches of yellow ti leaves, representing constellation of "Twins and their parents" (Pirierua ma), b, perue, winged kite: frame as shown, with proximal and distal bunches of feathers (4, 4) and three intervening bunches of ti leaves representing the three bright stars in Orion's Belt (Tautoru). c, taiaro, club shaped: with lozenge-shaped frame, proximal and distal feather bunches (4, 4) and six intervening bunches of ti leaves representing the six stars in the Pleiades (Matariki).
Gill (28, p. 123) attributes the origin of kite flying to a contest between the divine brothers Tane and Rongo, in which the challenger Tane was defeated. He records a kite song composed by Koroa in about 1814 for a particular festival. Other kite songs have been recorded for Aitutaki (70, pp. 333-335). The composition of kite songs indicates the social importance of kite flying. Successful kites that flew high were regarded with affection and greatly valued by their owners. Gill (30, pp. 18-22) relates the story of-Ake, the chief of Atiu, who had twin kites that won the admiration of his people. They broke away in a strong wind and Ake calculated from the direc-page 259tion of the wind that they must have flown toward Mangaia. His son fitted up a double canoe and sailed to Mangaia where he found the kites. The sentimental value of the kites combined with seeking to recover his father's property, afforded the adventurous young man the excuse for setting out on a voyage of nearly 200 miles. The kite flying incident formed the preliminary to other adventures which followed.
Gill (30, pp. 18, 19) says that competitions were held among parties of not less than 10 kite fliers, "the point of honor being that the kite should fly high and be lost in the clouds." Each kite bore its own name. Gray-bearded competitors shed tears of joy as their kites made a successful flight. When the wind was too strong to pull down the kite, a little basket filled with fern or grass was looped on the string. The wind conveyed the basket along the string, and when it reached the kite, the extra weight caused the kite to descend slowly and safely. Sometimes people slept in the mountains after tying the kite string to a tree. At the end of the competition, a feast was held and the winner received the biggest share of food.
Tops and Teetotums
Tops (potaka) were made of wood (potaka rakau) or of the shell of small coconuts (potaka 'akari), the variety of nut which is termed rakita in Aitu-taki. The wood used was hibiscus, tamanu, and others. I did not see any old tops in use by children but was assured that the wooden tops resembled the pictures I showed them of Maori tops. Small husked coconuts could be spun with the meat still in them or the meat was rotted out with sea water in the same manner as the coconut water bottles. Some of the emptied coconuts had a hole pierced in the side which caused a sound as the top was spinning.
A strip of hibiscus bast was wound around the middle of the coconut top or near the upper blunt end of the wooden tops and the end twisted around the forefinger. The top was held between the thumb and forefinger, jerked outward quickly, and the strip pulled inward to give the top a rotary spin.
A whip was said to have been made from an aerial root of the banyan, about 2.5 feet long, one end of which was beaten to spread out and soften the fibers. The whip was used to keep the top spinning and the object of the competition was to see who could keep the top spinning the longest. Chants were recited by children and on the last word they all spun their tops by jerking the strip wound around them (70, pp. 328, 329).
Tops were evidently not so important among adults as they were in New Zealand.
A teetotum was called potaka miro because it was made from a miro berry through which a piece of coconut leaflet midrib was thrust until the point protruded a short distance to form the spinning point. The long end was rolled between the palms to cause the toy to spin.
Stilts (rore) were used by both children and adults. The pair I saw in Aitutaki (70, pp. 329, 330) consisted of hibiscus poles about 8 feet long, the foot rests attached about 20 inches from the ground. The foot rest was 10 inches in vertical height, 6 inches wide at the top, narrowed toward the lower end, and attached to the pole by two transverse lashings of hibiscus bark.
The stilts were used in Aitutaki by a group of young men who performed a dance in time to the beating of a drum and a wooden gong. This dance was a special feature given by the people of Vaipae village at festivals. Children stumped about on stilts or took sides in a game in which they tried to knock one another over. The Cook Islands stilts were evidently of such a simple form devoid of ornamentation that, unlike the elaborately carved and neatly lashed stilts of the Marquesas, no early ones were saved by collectors.
Ball tossing (pei or peipei) was a favorite game among women and was played less often by men. The balls were the fruit of the candlenut, and Savage (57) says that the seeds of the tamanu were also used. Nowadays, oranges are used.
The ball was tossed vertically in the air and caught in the left hand as it descended. Other balls were added until there were a number in the air, and the competition was based on the number a player could keep going for an appreciable time. To keep four going was fairly easy, but experts reached as many as seven or eight. While the balls were being tossed, a song was chanted.
The Mangaian legend of Ngaru recorded by Gill (28, pp. 225-250) states that Ngaru learned the game from the daughters of Miru in the underworld. When Ngaru later visited the sky world of Apai-i-te-rangi, he found a set of women whose sole employment was tossing balls—some keeping seven, others eight balls going at a time. A long song, composed for a fete in about 1790, deals with a competition between Ngaru and women of the sky world and then with women of the underworld in which Ngaru defeats his opponents. In the song, the following lines occur:
E pei ka topa i te rima o nga tupuna 'tu, Ball tossing came down from the hands of old-time ancestors, Na Teiiri na Teraranga. From Teiiri, from Teraranga.
However, the Mangaians gave Ngaru the credit of introducing the game into this world.
The game spread through central Polynesia to the east. In Mangareva (77, pp. 185, 186) it was very popular and high chiefs paid expert women for giving an exhibition of their skill at a special performance.
Jackstones (pere, to throw up), which resembles the old English game of knuckle bones, was played by children and adult women, usually with a large number of stones of the candlenut. It was played by two players or two pairs of partners. The principle was to pick up all the stones by different stages, each movement being accomplished while one stone was in the air. A large number of movements have already been described by me for Aitutaki (70, pp. 326, 327). The game does not differ materially in the other islands.
String figures ('ai) or cat's cradle are still widely known but a collection of them for the different islands of the group would require a special monograph. The string was formerly made of hibiscus bast or oronga. Many of the figures represent incidents in legendary stories, and others are in a series where one figure leads on to a sequence of others by slight changes. Many have chants which are recited as the figure is set up. The making of string figures was part of a child's education as well as recreation, and in adult life failure to form the various figures and to know the chants and stories connected with them was looked upon as a sign of ignorance.
A number of games in which material objects are used may be briefly enumerated.
Skipping (ta'iri kaka) was common among children. A length of vine was used as a rope swung by two children while the others skipped. Single skipping seems to have been absent (70, p. 324).
Swings were made with a single length of vine attached to the branch of a tree, and a crossbar tied to the lower end formed the seat (70, p. 324).
Toboggans (tupa'oro'oro) formed from the butt end of a coconut-leaf midrib ('aniu) were used on convenient hillsides, but there were no special sledges or sliding courses like those in Hawaii.
Coconut-shell shoes (tamaka ipu), formed of the stalk end of the shell with a strip of pandanus passed through the hole and knotted, were used by children. The strip passed between the big and second toe and the end of the strip was held in the hand (70, p. 323).
Passing a marked shell (tukituki teniteni) was a game in which children sat in a circle, all but one holding a half coconut shell without a hole. One shell had the stalk half that was perforated. In time to a chant, all the children beat upon the ground before them with their shells. Commencing with another chant, they passed their shells to the right and stopped on the last word of the chant. The child with the perforated shell was out (70, pp. 323, 324).page 262
Tip cat (ipanapana), a form of cricket with a stick instead of a ball, was described to me in Aitutaki (70, p. 325), as having been played in the Hidden Land of Taki-nuku-akau, but I doubt its age. It is easy for an informant to back up an assertion by tacking it to an ancient legend.
A number of toys were made by children from coconut or pandanus leaf.
The jew's-harp (pokakakaka) was a piece of coconut-leaflet midrib held in the left hand and vibrated with the right forefinger against a strip of coconut leaflet about an inch wide and bent in an arch in front of the teeth with the ends under the cheeks. Songs were sung as an accompaniment (70, p. 319).
A hoop (potaka) was a leaflet strip half an inch wide, the ends joined with a technique already described (70, p. 319). It was rolled along the beach, particularly when the wind was blowing. Though a child's toy, it was said to have been introduced into Aitutaki by the newly arrived ancestor Ruatapu to attract the attention of the resident chief Taruia (70, p. 320).
Windmills (porotaka) were made of two leaflet strips doubled and crossed at their middle to form four radiating arms (70, pp. 320, 321).
Spinners (kuere) were formed of a loop of coconut leaflet which spun in the wind (70, p. 321).
Bull roarers (patangitangi) of a simple kind were formed of a strip of coconut leaflet and leaflet midrib. When swung round and round, they made a humming sound (70, pp. 321, 322).
Leaflet canoes (vaka kopae) were young leaves of the coconut that were pinned together. This toy also is said to have been introduced by Ruatapu to intrigue the high chief Taruia (70, p. 322).