Story: Leisure in traditional Māori society – ngā mahi a te rēhia

Page 4. Te whare tapere

All images & media in this story

The branch of knowledge that includes kōrero pūrākau (storytelling), waiata (songs), haka, poi, taonga puoro (music) and tākaro (games) is known as te whare tapere (the house of entertainment).

Kōrero pūrākau (storytelling)

Telling stories and listening to them was perhaps the most popular leisure activity in traditional Māori society. The Reverend William Yate, an early missionary in the north, wrote of Māori that ‘their most delightful recreation is talking, and telling wonders; which exercise occupies most of their idle hours, and many of those which are shrouded in darkness and ought to be devoted to sleep.’1

Pakiwaitara and pūrākau are general terms for stories and traditions. Kōrero takurua (winter-time stories) and kōrero ahiahi (stories told by the fire) are factually less reliable stories – more in the nature of jokes, yarns and anecdotes. As the names suggest, they were embroidered, with the primary aim of entertainment.

Storytelling was not simply entertainment; it was an important way of transmitting scientific knowledge, history, whakapapa and social mores. Samuel Marsden and other early missionaries were staggered at the ability of Māori to memorise and retain information, which was due to this oral tradition.


Waiata (songs) permeated every aspect of traditional life. There were waiata for every occasion, including pao (entertaining ditties), waiata tangi (laments) and pātere (songs of derision). Waiata were rich with historical, traditional and metaphorical references.

Every opportunity was taken to sing and to practise songs communally. Anthropologist Te Rangi Hīroa (Peter Buck) described how, in the evenings or early mornings, the old people would sing through their repertoire of songs while reclining in the tribal meeting house, and the older children would learn the waiata so they could join in with the community singing.

Hui whakataetae

At hui whakataetae, the people of neighbouring kāinga gathered to compete at sports and games. ‘Such contests might consist of physical combats, such as wrestling or para whakawai (trial of skill with weapons), or canoe racing (paddling), or ... games of skill, such as posture dances, ti rakau, [or] dart throwing ... Kite flying contests were also held ... The Tuhoe folk used to visit neighbouring villages to play a match of knucklebones or jackstones, the ruru or koruru of the Maori.’2

Haka and poi

Haka and poi were associated with most gatherings and were popular entertainment. ‘Contests were sometimes held between different hamlets, when a party of poi performers from a village would visit another in order to play against a local team. Such visits also took place in connection with the haka.’3 In the traditional context, haka referred to a wide range of dance styles, including many performed by women.

Taonga puoro

Taonga puoro (musical instruments) drew on the sounds of nature. As well as being part of many rituals they were played to entertain, and often accompanied waiata, haka and poi.

Instruments were made from gourds, bone, shell, stone and wood. They were blown by the mouth and nose, spun, shaken and struck.

Kōauau (nose flutes typically made from bone) were the best-known type of Māori instrument and were traditionally very popular: ‘it was an amusement in every to hear skilful players’.4

Tamatekapua and Whakatūria

Te whare tapere is an ancient institution that appears in old stories set in Hawaiki. One story tells of brothers Tamatekapua and Whakatūria using pouturu (stilts) to steal Uenuku’s breadfruit. Whakatūria was caught and tied to a post inside Uenuku’s whare. He watched Uenuku’s people engaged in the activities of te whare tapere, including haka, waiata, skipping, tutukai (a guessing game), and tī and punipuni (hand games).

Ngā hākinakina me ngā tākaro – sports and games

Adults and children of both genders took part in the sports and games that accompanied most social gatherings. As well as providing entertainment for players and spectators, these games taught tribal traditions and developed skills that were useful in warfare.

The marae, the open space within a kāinga (village), was the venue for kaipara (athletics and martial arts). In the summer, water sports such as swimming, diving and surfing were popular. On winter evenings and during bad weather, people played games like tī ringaringa (hand games), whai (string patterns) and karetao (puppets).

Children played with toys made from nature including tētere (flax trumpets), toparere (flax leaf gliders) and toy waka made from harakeke and raupō.

  1. Quoted in Elsdon Best, Games and pastimes of the Maori. Wellington: Government Printer, 1976, p. 14. Back
  2. Games and pastimes of the Maori, p. 14. Back
  3. Games and pastimes of the Maori, p. 105. Back
  4. Quoted in Brian Flintoff, Taonga puoro: singing treasures. Nelson, New Zealand: Craig Potton Publishing, 2004, p. 65. Back
How to cite this page:

Ross Calman, 'Leisure in traditional Māori society – ngā mahi a te rēhia - Te whare tapere', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 26 July 2024)

Story by Ross Calman, published 5 Sep 2013