Story: Traditional Māori games – ngā tākaro

Page 7. Flying kites, spinning tops and other games

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Manu tukutuku

Manu tukutuku (kite-flying) was a popular pastime, and also part of various rituals. Kites came in many shapes and sizes, and had names derived from birds. Small kites made from kākaho (toetoe stems) were known as manu taratahi. They were flown by children. Manu kāhu, measuring over five metres across, required a team of men to launch and fly them.

Tamapahore and Tamapahure

The Auckland suburb of Manurewa or Te Manurewa o Tamapahore (the rising kite of Tamapahore) gets its name from the story of two rival brothers, Tamapahure and Tamapahore. Tamapahore’s kite flew the highest and was the most graceful. Jealous, Tamapahure chanted an incantation to make his kite fly into the aho (line) of his brother’s kite, snapping it. Tamapahore’s kite flew far away to the east, followed by Tamapahore and his people. They eventually tracked the kite to Te Paeroa-a-Toi (the Coromandel Peninsula), where they ended up settling.

The frames of larger kites were made from mānuka (tea tree) and kareao (supplejack). The coverings were made from aute (paper mulberry), from which comes another name for kites, manu aute. The fine twisted cords of aho tukutuku (flying lines) was made from muka (flax-leaf fibre).


Karetao (puppets – also known as keretao, korotao, kararī and tokoraurape) were wooden figures usually about 40 centimetres high, carved in human form, and often with a facial moko. Their arms were jointed and could be moved with strings. Karetao could be made to imitate a haka through a quivering movement known as whākapakapa. They had their own type of song, called oriori karetao.


Pōtaka – spinning tops – were usually made from a hard wood such as mataī.

A giant controlled by strings

During the New Zealand wars of the 1860s, Tītokowaru’s men built a 5-metre-tall karetao at Tauranga-ika (about midway between Hāwera and Whanganui). Cut from a pukatea tree, it was placed above the front stockade of the pā. From the safety of a trench below, the pā’s defenders pulled on flax ropes to make the arms of the karetao perform haka moves.

Pōtaka tā (whipped tops) were whipped with a kare or tā, made from strips of harakeke (flax) attached to a wooden handle. They were raced, sometimes over karangi (small mounds or hurdles).

Pōtaka tākiri (humming tops) had a piece projecting at the top around which string was wound. They were spun with a papa tākiri, a stick about 15 centimetres long. Contests were held to see whose top was the loudest and spun the longest.

Another kind of humming top, pōtaka hue, was made by pushing a stick through a gourd, forming holes to produce sound.


Māori did not develop paketekete (the bow and arrow) for hunting or warfare. Southern Māori made toy bows and arrows from mānuka or pirita (supplejack). These bows were strictly for children, not being strong enough to be used by adults.

Pepepe and pīrori

Pepepe were toy windmills made from flax. They could be tied to a tree or carried by children as they ran along. Revolving toys called pīrori (also a name for hoops) were made from circular rolls of flax with strings through them. A game was played where two children would bring their spinning pīrori into combat until one was broken.


Hoops, called pīrori, porotiti or potaka, were usually made by bending vines into a circle and binding the ends. A common game with a pīrori was to have two teams armed with sticks, beating it back and forth between them.


Walking on pouturu (stilts – also called poutoti, pou tokorangi or waewae rākau) was a popular pastime. They were made from a length of light wood with a teka (footrest) lashed on. Stilt races were held, and so were wrestling matches on stilts. Stilts were sometimes used to walk through water.


In retireti (tobogganing) children used papa reti (toboggans – also called kōneke or pānukunuku) to slide down steep slopes, sometimes into water. The papa reti could be made from the leaf head of the tī kōuka (cabbage tree) or from a small, flat piece of wood with bumps for foot rests and a cord attached to the end to hang on to.

How to cite this page:

Ross Calman, 'Traditional Māori games – ngā tākaro - Flying kites, spinning tops and other games', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 24 June 2024)

Story by Ross Calman, published 5 Sep 2013