Story: Traditional Māori games – ngā tākaro

Page 8. Suppression and revival

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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. A similar game was played in circular clearings in pre-European times. Tapuae is played on a court and has some similarities to netball. 


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.

  1. Elsdon Best, Games and pastimes of the Maori, Wellington: Government Printer, 1925, p. 15. Back
How to cite this page:

Ross Calman, 'Traditional Māori games – ngā tākaro - Suppression and revival', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 20 June 2024)

Story by Ross Calman, published 5 Sep 2013