Impact of missionaries
From the 1820s missionaries tried to suppress traditional Māori sports and games, regarding them as manifestations of a pagan culture.
Strange new laws
The ethnologist Elsdon Best records a kaumātua saying: ‘We were much puzzled about the new laws made for our people. We were not to spin humming tops on Sunday, or peel kumara or potatoes; they were to be peeled on Saturday evening, or we must boil them in their skins. We were not to gather firewood on a Sunday, or fish, or bathe.’1
These pastimes declined through the second half of the 19th century, with Māori adopting European sports and games instead. Cards, draughts, horse racing, boxing, rugby and triple jump were some of the most popular with Māori. Waka (canoe) racing and kapa haka (team competition in poi and haka) were among the few traditional competitions that continued.
Within the Tūhoe iwi, a few games persisted into the 20th century. These included ruru (knucklebones), whai (string games), tī ringaringa (a type of hand game) and children’s games such as upokotiti (hand stacking) and kurawiniwini (a guessing game).
Revival of Māori sports and games
Since the second half of the 20th century there has been a revival of many traditional Māori sports and games. Modern sports have also been developed drawing from traditional competitions.
International poi culture
By the 21st century poi had an international following in new guises. Performers from around the world used fire poi (with wicks soaked in fuel and set alight) and glow poi (made from ultraviolet-sensitive materials, LED lights or glow sticks) to create dramatic performances in the dark.
Kī-o-rahi and tapuae
The team sports kī-o-rahi and tapuae became increasingly popular in the 21st century. Both are free-flowing games with the aim being to hit a poutupu (central pillar) with the kī (ball). Kī-o-rahi is played on a field and has some similarities to rugby. Tapuae is played on a court and has some similarities to netball. Supporters have said that these games are of ancient origin, but no mention of them has as yet been discovered in traditional or early European accounts.
In the 1970s interest in Māori kites was rekindled, with many people building kites to traditional designs, and artists making installations based on such kites. The revival of the Matariki festival played a part in this increasing popularity. Kite-flying was closely associated with traditional Matariki festivals.
Whakatere waka and waka ama
In 2012 waka ama (racing outrigger canoes) was a popular sport in New Zealand and worldwide, built on the rich Māori waka heritage. It traced its origins in New Zealand to the mid-1980s, with a national outrigger canoe association having been formed in 1987.
The sport’s popularity in New Zealand increased after the International Polynesian Canoe Federation (later International Va‘a Federation) World Sprints Championship was held in Auckland in 1990. In 2012 waka ama clubs existed around the country and New Zealand paddlers competed internationally.
An annual regatta featuring whakatere waka (waka racing) has been held at Ngāruawāhia since the 1890s.