Story: Traditional Māori games – ngā tākaro

Page 6. Games of skill with words and hands

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Kai – word games

Word games (also called panga and maka) took many forms. Tātai whetū (also called tatau manawa, pū manawa or tatau kaho) were tongue twisters that had to be memorised and recited word-perfect in one breath.

Tutukai and kurawiniwini

Tutukai and kurawiniwini were guessing games. A group of people chanted while passing an object between them, attempting to conceal it from the person who was ‘in’. When the chanting stopped, that person had to guess who held the object.

Tī ringaringa and other hand games

These games were very popular. Tī ringaringa was played in pairs, one player making hand movements while reciting a chant that begins, ‘Ka tahi tī, ka rua tī …’ The other player had to follow the movements and the chant, without making a mistake.

Other hand games (or variations on tī ringaringa) include hapi tawa, hipitoitoi, hei tama tu tama, kū, matimati, punipuni and pokirua.

Looking for trouble

There is debate over whether mū tōrere is a traditional Māori game. Some say it is an adaptation of games like draughts and checkers, with the name ‘mū’ adapted from the English word ‘move’. Others say the game is traditional, possibly derived from an older game called kurapakara. Whatever the case, in 1912 the ethnologist Elsdon Best recorded this whakataukī from Mohi Turei of Ngāti Porou: ‘E mū tōrere mai ana koutou ki a au, e hoa mā?’ It means, ‘Are you just playing with me, or are you looking for trouble?’1


This game (also known as pānokonoko) was played by two players, each with a cord made from a strip of tī kōuka (cabbage tree) leaf. One end was formed into a noose held open between thumb and forefinger. The object of the game was to catch your opponent’s finger in the noose while avoiding getting caught yourself. Each player had a female companion termed the ruahine (which usually refers to an old woman). After capturing the opponent’s finger, the victor touched his opponent’s hand and then that of his ruahine, which was said to transfer his opponent’s hā (life-force).


Upokotiti (or tarakoekoea) involved a group stacking their hands one on top of another while chanting.

Ruru – knucklebones

Ruru (kōruru, kai makamaka, tutukai and ruke) was usually played with five small, flat stones, although the number could vary. Players progressed through stages and chanted accompanying verses.

Mū tōrere

Mū tōrere was a board game for two players, using a star-shaped board likened to an octopus. It had a centre space (pūtahi) and eight kāwai (tentacles). Each player had four perepere (men). The object of the game was to move your perepere so as to block the other player.

  1. Quoted in Elsdon Best, Games and Pastimes of the Maori. Wellington: Government Printer, 1925, p.110. Back
How to cite this page:

Ross Calman, 'Traditional Māori games – ngā tākaro - Games of skill with words and hands', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 22 June 2024)

Story by Ross Calman, published 5 Sep 2013